Thrifty parent: Should you opt for a travel system?

Consumer Reports News: July 13, 2009 03:13 PM

If you’re in the market for a stroller and infant car seat, this question has undoubtedly crossed your mind. A travel system offers one-stop shopping: It consists of an infant car seat, a car-seat base for your car, and a separate stroller all in one. With these systems, you create a carriage by snapping an infant car seat into a stroller. When your baby can sit up, then you use the stroller without the car seat. The snap-on car seat is generally positioned atop the stroller so the infant rides facing you—the person pushing. Once your baby can sit up, she can ride in the stroller seat without a car seat.

Pros: A travel system allows you to move a sleeping baby in an infant car seat undisturbed from car to stroller and vice versa. Some also have a seat that fully reclines, so you can use it as a carriage, with the infant car seat. (See all stroller types.)

Cons: With travel systems, a car seat and stroller are typically sold together. But you can also create your own by combining a car seat and stroller. If you select the car seat first, you have to live with the stroller it works with (and vice versa). An alternative is to choose a stroller that holds car seats from a number of manufacturers. With all travel systems, you have to push around a car seat and a stroller, which can be bulky and unmanageable on stairs.

Verdict: Consider your lifestyle before buying a travel system. If you’re a city dweller who negotiates more subway stairs than highways or if the trunk of your car isn’t too roomy, you may be better off with a separate car seat and a compact stroller that offers a reclined, safely-enclosed space that’s appropriate for a newborn, or an infant car seat with a car-seat carrier frame. Buying a travel system forces you to think about the type of stroller you’ll want to use now and later. If you’re not ready to make that decision, buy an infant car seat and an infant car-seat carrier frame. That should tide you over until your baby outgrows his infant car seat (at about a year).

Thrift tip: It can be cheaper to buy a travel system as a unit rather than as separate components. We estimate that you can save $60 to $100 that way. Plus you won’t have to match the car seat and stroller yourself. But be sure to evaluate the stroller as a stand-alone item first, since you’ll be using that longer than the infant car seat that goes with it.

Learn more about every kind of baby product in our latest Consumer Reports Guide to Baby Products, available in our bookstore and in bookstores nationwide.

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