Friday, March 18, 2011

Top kid travel gear: Cosco Scenera car seat

Littles snoozing in the Scenera at Flagg Ranch, Yellowstone National Park (15 months old)

This post is part of a series on top kid travel gear.

Funny, we actually did not purchase our Cosco Scenera car seat with the intention of using it while traveling. We bought it when Littles was about 1 year old to leave with her sitter/nanny, so that she could drive Littles during the day while she watched her. We chose it because it is cheap (about $40 at Walmart) and gets great safety ratings.

But as it turns out, it's a perfect travel seat as well. It is lightweight, so it is easy to drag around the airport. It is narrow, so it fits easily in airline seats. It comes with its own handy bag for travel. And since it's cheap, I never worry about it getting lost or damaged while in transit. If that does happen, it will be no big deal to just buy a new one!

The Scenera does rear-facing from 5-35 lbs and forward-facing from 22-40 lbs. Littles still fits easily into the seat at 3.5 years old.

Downsides? There are a few:

  1. The straps get twisted and stuck much more easily than on the more-expensive Britax seats that we use in our own cars. It's a bit of a pain, which is why we don't use the Scenera as our everyday seat.
  2. The Scenera is less padded, although Littles has never complained about it.
  3. We've found that it requires some sort of leveler (such as a rolled-up towel or a pool noodle) when installed rear-facing in most cars. We have yet to get organized enough to carry a pool noodle with us when we travel, so we usually end up rolling up a sweatshirt or coat to get from the airport to the hotel, then borrowing a hotel towel to get the seat at the right level for the rest of the trip.
  4. While it is compatible with our older version of the GoGo Kidz Travelmate, it doesn't attach as securely as the Britax seats do. It's also not at all compatible with the newer Travelmate quick release strap.

Due to that last point, I think we'll end up traveling with the smaller of our two Britax seats (a Roundabout) on our future trips, now that we have the Travelmate quick release strap. But I sure will miss traveling with the Scenera. Having an extra seat for travel is a bit of a luxury, but it's really nice to not have to hassle with reinstalling the car seat when you arrive back home late at night and have two tired kiddos on your hands!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top kid travel gear: GoGo Kidz Travelmate

This post is part of a series on top kid travel gear.

As I've written previously, we prefer to gate-check our car seats, even when we don't bring them onboard the plane, to minimize the risk of any damage issues. Unfortunately, car seats are pretty bulky and heavy, making them a royal pain to lug around the airport.

Enter the GoGo Kidz Travelmate. It's a set of wheels that attaches to a convertible car seat, allowing you to wheel the car seat around the airport. So easy!

I first bought the Travelmate back when Littles was 11 months old. We were in the process of moving from California to Texas, and had a month where Littles and I were still living in California, but Hubby had already moved to Texas. During that month, I had two trips back-to-back that I had to take alone with Littles. For the first trip, I stuck her car seat inside our full-size stroller so that I could wheel it around the airport. That worked OK, but when we got on the parking shuttle, I had to pull the car seat out of the stroller, fold up the stroller, and put the stroller and car seat on to the parking shuttle. Then I had to reverse the process upon arriving at the airport. Repeat the process and then reverse the process when clearing security. And so on. Did I mention I was also trying to keep track of a newly walking Littles through all this, not to mention all our other bags?

So, on our way to the airport for the second trip, I stopped by Babies R Us and picked up a Travelmate. It provided the same mobility as the stroller, but was much faster to set up/break down (just raise/lower the telescoping handle) and less bulky overall.

A couple of tips and quirks regarding the Travelmate:

  • We have the older version (UNIQR). The Travelmate attaches to the car seat by means of two thumbscrews.
  • There is a newer version as well (QRKIDZ), which offers a quick-release strap with a buckle, in place of the thumbscrews. GoGo Babyz sells the quick release strap separately, so we recently got one. I'll update my review of the Travelmate after we've had the chance to travel with it!
  • We have used both a Britax Roundabout and a Cosco Scenera with the Travelmate. The Roundabout attaches more securely than the Scenera does -- so it does work a little better with certain car seats. (Note: The Scenera is only compatible with the UNIQR version.)
  • The car seat + Travelmate does not fit through the x-ray machines at most airports. We ask TSA to hand-scan the whole thing, to avoid removing the Travelmate from the car seat, because with the UNIQR version, it takes some time to take it off and put it on. TSA is usually happy to comply with the hand scan request.
  • You can install the car seat + Travelmate directly into the airline seat. The orange wheels have quick releases on them, so you can quickly remove them when installing the seat and then replace them at the end of the flight. (Do not install the car seat + Travelmate in the car, as the Travelmate is not crash-tested.)
  • Once Littles got bigger, we found that it was better to remove the Travelmate from the car seat onboard the plane, because when it was attached, it put her a little bit closer to the seat in front of her for kicking purposes! Not good!
  • I wouldn't recommend using the Travelmate as a full-time stroller at your destination. For starters, it would mean removing and then reinstalling your car seat every time you wanted to use the "stroller." Also, I just don't feel like the Travelmate is sturdy enough to take the abuse that a stroller takes. It would certainly work in a pinch, but I wouldn't plan on walking for hours with your kid in it.
  • Along the same lines, I should point out that we don't typically travel with a stroller at all. We use a baby carrier (such as our Ergo) for kid-hauling duties at our destination. If we did actually need a stroller, I think we would ditch the Travelmate, and just wheel the car seat around the airport using the stroller, like we did in our pre-Travelmate days. Then we'd have it to use at our destination. But since we don't need the stroller, we're able to travel a lot lighter by relying on the Travelmate and Ergo instead.

Bottom line? We never, ever, ever fly without our Travelmate. I think it's a great investment for any family that flies frequently, especially if one parent needs to travel alone with the kid(s). That said, at $90 new, I don't usually recommend it to families that don't fly frequently, especially if they're planning to bring a stroller anyway. If you're only flying once or twice a year (or every few years!), you can probably put up with just dragging the car seat around for that trip.