When Claire was born, we were living in the UK and had no car. We had to buy an infant car seat (they won’t let you take the baby out of the hospital without one!) but our selection criteria were pretty simple.
We wanted one that didn’t come with a base, because we didn’t have a car and we would only use the car seat on the occasional taxi ride. If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely choose something different, and something with a base – once we got to Kenya and got a car, I realized that strapping that thing in with a seatbelt was a pain in the butt, but also it just doesn’t feel that secure. If you’re curious, the seat we used is the Recaro Young Profi Plus. I like it, but we’ll be borrowing our friends’ Britax infant car seat with a base for Baby Mgeni #2 (BM2), arriving in March.
Purchasing a car seat is a complicated affair under normal circumstances, but living in a country where car seats are largely unavailable locally makes it even more tricky. While you may find a car seat in Baby Shop or Nakumatt, you’re unlikely to find brands you recognize, and the price will be exorbitant. Most people seeking out car seats in Nairobi – expats and Kenyans alike – will purchase their car sats in Europe or North America and ship or carry it back to Kenya.
We bought a convertible car seat for Claire at 4 months, partially because I was tired of strapping the infant car seat in with the seat belt, and partially because I couldn’t be bothered to lug Claire / car seat up the 5 flights of stairs to our apartment at the time. We went to the US to visit family when she was 4 months old, and we left our infant car seat behind in Kenya. I bought our chosen convertible car seat online and had it sent to my father’s house. He put it in the car to pick us up at the airport. For anyone living overseas who wants to buy a car seat at home, this is a great approach. It saves you the hassle and expense of having to carry (and pay for) two car seats on the way back…
I did a ton of research when deciding which car seat to buy, taking into account safety ratings, size / weight of car seat, and cost. In the end, we bought the Britax Marathon 70.
I bought it because:
- It gets great safety ratings
- It is convertible (can do rear facing AND forward facing)
- I’ll be able to use it pretty much forever. Kids up to 70 lbs can use it, which in Claire’s case will probably be until she’s 13 years old and no longer needs a car seat… Skinny minny. 😉
The downsides… It’s expensive, it’s big, and it’s heavy. So, in general, probably not the best car seat for someone who travels like we do. Melissa Lee from Sweetly Voiced wrote a travel-with-kids piece for her blog, and she mentioned a cheap, mega-light Cosco seat from Walmart for $40 that they use for trips.
I bought one last year, intending to keep it in the US, but I actually brought it back to Kenya to use for travel here. It is so great to fly with, it weighs just 10 lb and is easy to move around. The downside of the cheap, light seat is that it’s more difficult to install, especially rear-facing. I’m actually now convinced that ease of installation is what makes expensive car seats expensive. That, and the Cosco seat inexplicably gives my daughter dread locks, EVERY TIME. I will never understand that.
No matter which seat you get, I would definitely recommend getting a VERY sturdy car seat cover with wheels and a pull handle for when you travel. Considering that you might spend over $200 on a car seat, you don’t really need it getting broken, scratched or torn in the cargo handling at the airport. And having a bag with wheels means you can pull it behind you while you push your luggage cart. (No matter what you do, car seats won’t stay on the luggage cart. I’ve tried everything.) I love the Britax car seat bag, it’s very sturdy and fits the Britax perfectly. (And since Britax is one of the biggest car seats on the market, it easily holds our much smaller Cosco Scenera and probably pretty much every other car seat you could imagine.)
Whatever you do, DO NOT get the much less expensive JL Childress “Gate Check” bag. We had one, and it actually fell apart in one use. The Babies R Us brand one fell apart too after a couple of trips. We’ve taken the Britax bag on many double-long-haul flights now, and it has yet to disappoint.
A lot of people really like those wheelie things with handles that make the car seat like a rolling suitcase.
I personally really like getting rid of the car seat at check in, and I know Claire wouldn’t like riding around like that, so we’ve never done it. But if you’re big into bringing your car seat on the plane, then it might be worth a try!
Choosing a car seat is a big deal – it can be a significant investment, and it’s going to keep your kiddo safe on the crazy roads out there. There are loads of convertible car seats on the market, and even more articles about which one is the best for your family’s needs. I hope this post gives you some useful information as you navigate the convertible car seat maze…