Travel system strollers for babies are essentially a combination stroller, infant carseat, and baby carrier. They come with three components: a stroller, a carseat/carrier that clips to the stroller, and a carseat base that you can leave in the car and simply snap the carrier into.
The good news: a good travel system stroller will give you a sturdy stroller that will last your child well into toddlerdom, and a sturdy carseat that may carry your little one until they’re ready for a toddler seat. The bad news: travel systems are heavy and more costly than strollers or carseats, though cheaper than the two together.
For this reason, you should ensure you choose exactly the right travel system before you plunk down your money.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Travel System
Put cost aside. Though you are buying baby items on a budget, spending a little more now will almost certainly save you considerable cash later on. (If you decide you simply can’t afford the one that you choose, you may want to just go with an infant carseat and a standard stroller instead; lower-end travel systems are prone to breakage and other problems.)
The first thing to look at is weight. You’re going to have to lug the travel system stroller and infant carrier around with you, and if you can’t lift them into the car, or if the carrier feels heavy to you without a baby in it, they may not be a good choice. However, weight is also associated with the sturdiness of the travel system. Heavier travel systems are generally more likely to be sturdy and hard to break. You want a happy medium. The only good way to determine this is by handling the system in the store, but you may be able to get an idea of what you’re looking at by reading customer reviews as well.
The second most important thing is the safety of the car seat unit. The best carseats are detailed in Consumer Reports; as of 2007, the Graco line of travel system infant seats are rated at the top. If the carseat unit is safe, the stroller will also be sturdy and safe.
At the store, take all the units apart and put them together. Often on lower-end systems, the carrier/carseat is hard to snap onto the stroller, a definite negative. If you’re at the store with a shopping cart, try to snap the carrier onto the cart; if you can’t figure out how, ask a salesperson to show you. Some carriers are difficult to get onto shopping carts or fit in inverted restaurant seats, making them problematic when you try to get around with your baby. Unfortunately, the carriers rated for 30-pound babies – the ones on the best systems, in my opinion – are also likely to have this problem.
While you’re disassembling and assembling, check out the other features: the stroller storage basket, the parent organizer (if there is one), the child’s play tray. One trick is to pick up a display doll nearby and put it into the stroller, the same way you would a baby, then see how hard it is to manipulate the stroller around the “child.” This also works well when checking out how hard it is to fasten the carseat safety belt.
The back of the stroller should recline fully, and also sit up fully so at six months your baby has proper back support.
Push the stroller around the area, making sharp turns and, if possible, moving from carpet to uncarpeted floor and back. Is it hard to push? Or does it corner easily and stably? Do this with the infant carrier unit snapped onto the top; this tends to make the travel system a little top heavy, and gives this assessment a better workout.
At last, look at how well the linings of all units come out for washing. Babies can be wrapped in plastic and still make a terrible mess, and toddlers are worse. You want to always get the most washable travel system possible.
My Current Choice of Infant Travel Systems
Right now, I’m planning to get the Graco Quattro Tour Travel System. Like all the good Graco stuff I’ve found this year, the patterns and colors are hideous; I wanted bright primary colors and I’m finding English tweeds – browns and blacks and grays. But the essential parts of the travel system are excellent.
The carseat/infant carrier is on the heavy side, but not as bad as some other systems, and it’s rated for a thirty-pound child. Better yet, it’s the top-rated infant carseat on Consumer Reports, and has reasonably good ratings from others who’ve used it for their own children. While it’s large and does not fit easily into most shopping carts or on restaurant high chairs, I’ll take that inconvenience for the tradeoff of the seat’s safety.
The coverings on both seat and stroller are easy to remove and launder; the parts that don’t come off, according to parent reviews, are not terribly difficult to clean.
On the stroller, the footrest folds all the way up, protecting a sleeping child’s feet. The back is very adjustable, with four slots ranging from fully upright to completely reclined. The basket on the bottom is roomy and folds down so you can easily access your stuff while the child sleeps above (more important than you might think!) The child’s tray folds out and in easily, making it simple to put your little one in the seat; and the parent’s organizer tray at the top has tons of space and hiding spaces.
But one of the best features, in my opinion, is the way the stroller folds. Most strollers fold by dropping the handle straight toward the ground, forcing the wheels in contact with the child’s tray – not exactly hygienic. But the Graco Quattro stroller sort of accordions toward the ground. The wheels remain on the ground, and the rest of the stroller folds down into the basket area. Areas you want to keep clean and sanitary stay well away from the wheels.
At the Graco website, you can see a video of this in action. It’s just as easy to do as the video makes it look – raising the bar for other stroller manufacturers.