Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top kid travel gear: Safety First Go Hybrid Booster


When Noob outgrew his infant car seat last December, we opted to move him into Littles' old convertible seats, and purchase new seats for Littles. I selected two seats that convert from forward-facing 5-point harness seats into belt positioning booster seats as the child grows. In Hubby's car, Littles sits in a Graco Nautilus, and in my car, a Safety First Go Hybrid Booster. Both seats are our everyday car seats at home, but I chose the Go Hybrid specifically with an eye towards traveling as well. Our recent trip to Panama was our first opportunity to see how the Go Hybrid performed on the road.

The Basics
The Go Hybrid provides a forward-facing 5-point harness for children who are at least 1 year old and between 22-65 lbs. It does not rear face, so I do not recommend it for children under age 2, per the AAP's recently revised car seat usage guidelines. Hence why Noob doesn't use this seat.

It also converts to a backless booster for children who are at least 3 years old and between 40-100 lbs. Again, remember that just because you can use it as a booster does not mean that you should. Please review this information to determine whether your child is ready for a booster seat. Littles is 4 years old and just shy of 40 lbs right now, and I have zero plans to convert this seat to a booster anytime soon.

I also want to call out that the Go Hybrid does not convert to a high back booster, only to a backless booster. There is some great information about the safety of each type of booster here. High back boosters are considered to be a little safer, but I’m not too worried about this. When the time comes to move Littles out of the harness, if I’m not comfortable with her being in a backless booster, I figure we’ll move Noob into the Go Hybrid’s harness, and buy a new high back booster for Littles. High back boosters are much cheaper and lighter than regular car seats, so this should be a very workable solution both at home and while traveling.

There is detailed information on this seat’s limits and measurements at car-seat.org.

The seat has a unique design with a soft, flexible back. Because of this feature, it is very light, weighing in at around 8 lbs, and it also can fold up to be just a little larger than the base. This makes it an excellent seat for for traveling! It even comes with a handy (although somewhat thin) travel bag. Here is Littles' Go Hybrid in its travel bag:


Also because of this flexible back, the seat requires a LATCH top tether. It is unusable without it. Ironically, that means that this fabulous travel seat is not usable on an airplane! This is fine for our purposes, because Littles has not used a car seat on an airplane in nearly two years anyway. (If you like the Go Hybrid for the car but want protection on the airplane too, check out the CARES harness, which will provide compact and lightweight protection while in flight.)

At home
The Go Hybrid has been Littles' seat in my 2007 Honda Fit Sport for about seven months now, and I love it. Installation was a breeze when using LATCH. I did try a seatbelt install, and could not get it tight enough to be safe no matter what I tried, so I've stuck with LATCH.

(As a side note, LATCH anchors are typically stated to have an upper weight limit of 48 lbs -- check your car manual to confirm. This is based on a child-plus-car-seat weight of 68 lbs and the assumption that the average car seat weighs around 20 lbs. Since the Go Hybrid is much lighter, it can safely be used with LATCH anchors with a child weighing up to 60 lbs.)

The Go Hybrid works great as an everyday seat. The harness is a little unique in that it is tightened on either side of the child's legs, rather than in the middle, as most seats do. But it's easy to use once you get used to it, and I find that I have a lot fewer problems with twisted straps in this seat vs. our other seats. Her preschool does a car line drop-off, and the various teachers who come to get her each morning never have any trouble with the harness. I also love that it's an "infinite adjust" harness, so I don't have to take the seat out of the car to adjust the harness height.

The seat does not have a lot of padding, and on the rare occasions when Littles does sleep in the car, her head slumps in a way that doesn't seem comfortable at all:

7e (2)
At home, June 2011 (almost 4 years old)

But I should note that the head-slump thing happens in the Graco Nautilus, too. And for the record, Littles has never complained about comfort. She seems to really like this seat. In particular, she loves that the low-profile design puts her closer to the actual car seat, so she's able to reach her books, toys, etc. It really looks more like a "big kid" booster seat than a "little baby" convertible seat, so it's a great way to keep older kids harnessed longer!

On the road
But there are lots of seats that work great for everyday usage. What really sets the Go Hybrid apart is how well it works while traveling.

Because the seat folds up so small, it was a breeze to travel with. We were able to place it on top of one of our large rolling suitcases when walking around the airport. This was fantastic, as it meant that Littles' car seat didn't "use up" one of our hands. One person could handle one large suitcase, Noob’s car seat on the GoGo Kidz Travelmate, and the Go Hybrid. The other person could handle two more large suitcases. Had we used a regular car seat for Littles (on a Travelmate, of course), we would have had to leave one suitcase – and some of our stuff! – back at home.

The downsides of the Go Hybrid? The reliance on LATCH proved to be a little bit of a pain. Our cab driver at the Miami airport got pretty annoyed with us because it took a while to find the LATCH anchors and tethers in the unfamiliar car.

Also, not every car comes with LATCH (or ISOFIX, as it's called in many other countries). If you're renting a car in the USA, you shouldn't have any problems, but if you're traveling internationally or if you'll be driving with a friend who might have an older car, you should confirm that LATCH will be available.

Also, due to the soft back, the Go Hybrid must be installed in a seat that has a back high enough to support it, when used in harness mode. That is, when your child is seated in the Go Hybrid, the car seat's back plus the headrest (if available) must be at least as high as your child's head. We didn't have any problems with that on this trip, but it's something to look out for, especially when using this seat with taller children.

The verdict
I love this seat and highly recommend it! It is a wonderful everyday seat, and the fact that it works so well while traveling is simply icing on the cake. This is hands-down the best car seat I've seen for traveling, as long as you're confident that you'll have LATCH at your destination.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trip log: Panama

Locations: Playa Blanca Resort, Panama City

Dates: July 7-17, 2011

Ages: Littles = 4 years 1 month, Noob = 17 months

Methods of transportation: Flying to get to Panama. We had to go through Miami, as there are no direct flights from Dallas to Panama City. We opted to do overnight layovers in both directions, so we left the Miami airport and spent the night in a hotel, rather than doing straight shots between Dallas and Panama City.

On the ground in Miami, we relied on taxis and hotel shuttles to get around. In Panama, we rented a car.

Accommodations: Vacation rental at Playa Blanca Resort, found through www.vrbo.com. Regular hotel rooms for two nights in Miami and one night in Panama City.

Sleeping arrangements: We spent the bulk of the trip (7 nights) in the vacation rental. It had three bedrooms, so Hubby, Noob, and I stayed in the master bedroom, my sister-in-law stayed in a second bedroom, and Littles had the third bedroom to herself. Noob slept in a pack-n-play provided by the vacation rental owner; the rest of us slept in beds.

In the hotel rooms, Noob slept in the Peapod Plus, and Littles slept in one of the beds.

Eating arrangements: We bought food at a grocery store in Coronado (about half an hour away) and cooked almost all our meals in the condo. The vacation rental provided a high chair, which made eating with Noob much easier.


Hanging out at the beach. In addition to the beach at Playa Blanca itself, which was just a short walk from our condo, we also visited two other beaches (El Palmar and Santa Clara) located nearby. There are lots of these up and down the Pacific coast from Panama City, so you can take your pick. Many of these are open to the public but do charge an entry fee -- El Palmar cost $10 per car, and Santa Clara cost $3 per adult.


Riding horses on the beach!


Hanging out in the pool at the condo.


Visiting El Valle (about 40 minutes inland from our condo), a cute little town with a nice arts and crafts market, along with the Chorro Macho waterfall.


Watching ships pass through the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, from the terrace of the excellent visitors center.


Key piece of travel gear: My solarveil mei tai carrier. We were in and out of the water all week, so it was nice having a carrier that I could use wet or dry. Also, the ocean was sometimes a little rough, so on those occasions, I loved putting Noob in the carrier so that he could dip his toes without being washed away.


Biggest challenges: Getting Noob's passport, as I explained in a previous post! Also, during the trip itself, we were worried about the kids and/or us getting sick from the food or water, so we were cautious about what we ate and drank, especially at first. But we found that food/water standards in Panama are much higher overall than they are in many other Latin American countries. None of us had any problems with illness.

What worked well:

  • Overnight layovers in Miami. This did extend our trip slightly, but it was so nice not having to get off one plane and get right back on another one. It also greatly cut down on the stress of trying to make our connection, especially when our outbound flight was delayed by an hour.
  • Mia's car seat. This was our first trip traveling with the Safety First Go Hybrid Booster, and it worked out beautifully. I'll write a full review later.
  • Using a vacation rental. Some of our favorite features of our condo, compared to a hotel room:
    • Separate bedrooms and a living area. This allowed the adults to hang out in the evenings while the kids went to sleep.
    • A full kitchen. Our food costs were ridiculously low, and it was so much less stressful eating in the condo vs. packing up the kids to eat out.
    • Washer/dryer in the condo. This allowed us to cut down dramatically on the clothes we brought.
    • Little extras, like the pack-n-play and high chair for Noob, a telescope for Littles to play with, a collection of kid-friendly DVDs, etc.
  • Being within walking distance of the beach. For example, this allowed all of us to go to the beach after breakfast, and then one of us could walk back to the condo with Noob when it was time for his morning nap.

What didn't:

  • Having to install/uninstall the car seats multiple times (due to the Miami layovers), in multiple unfamiliar cars.
  • Not speaking much Spanish. Luckily, my sister-in-law (who lives in Panama) was able to translate.
  • Line drying. Being in the tropics during rainy season is not conducive to swimsuits, towels, etc. drying quickly!
  • Sharing a bed with Littles. On our outbound layover in Miami, we booked a room with a single king bed to save a little money, and on our last night in Panama, Littles shared a fold-out couch with my sister-in-law. Littles is all over the place when she sleeps, and so the adult(s) did not get much sleep those nights :)