Key questions to ask in finding the perfect stroller or travel system for your family travel needs
I have a confession to make. I own 6 different pushchairs. And 6 different car seats for that matter, plus two boosters. I’m not ashamed; I used to blush a little but I’m comfortable now with my fleet, with a perfect justification and purpose for each purchase, honest!
It wasn’t always this way. We used to be a one-stroller, one-car seat kinda family. When we lived in London. When we had only one bundle of joy to worry about. When these things seemed like the most important, life-defining decision we’d need to make for our child.
We spent hours researching our first purchases. Like all new parents, we wanted the best; we were one of those couples surreptitiously making notes at the park on what other people were pushing. I think Dad’s find gadgetry their area of baby preparation responsibility and take it deadly seriously. After all, mums are doing the entire baby baking, swollen ankles, leaky boobs, nausea, head spins, cramping, nesting kinda stuff. Seems fair.
How and why we chose our strollers
There were small heart palpitations when we realised we were about to spend more on our daughter’s first chariot than a small used car. We overcame this by explaining to ourselves
“that’s ok, we’ll get a travel system that can convert from newborn to toddler, then become a double. We’ll only need to buy the one then and we’ll likely get at least three years use out of it then sell it”.
How wrong we could be. Within six months we had already purchased a second, collapsible stroller for travel – a Maclaren. Within 18 months we were looking at an upgrade upon discovering the heinous cost (and size) of converting our first love into a double for number 2 – it could not physically fit into the lift in our building without being completely collapsed so here came our first unplanned upgrade.
Then we moved to the Middle East. We may as well of completely scrubbed any previous research criteria and started all over again. Our needs had completely changed, we hardly ever took walks from the house it was too hot. We were constantly in and out of the car and needed a double that could be flexible to our travel needs. We also needed to leave a stroller at my son’s nursery for walks in the garden and naps, roll on more research.
Then I got pregnant with my third. We had become avid travellers by this point, there was no way an extra child was going to slow us down, but with lots of walking and exploring, where were we going to put them all? I don’t mind babywearing but not for long distances.
Every holiday we have taken a different combination of pushchairs at the different stages of our children’s lives – from doubles to two singles, to car seat and chassis only. I doubt we will need all three in strollers again as our oldest has just turned five.
Key questions to ask when choosing a stroller
Rather than let all these years of research go to waste, here’s the lowdown on some of the key criteria that I recommend you look for in selecting a travel stroller:
- Do you regularly travel by car? (Look for something with car seat adaptors)
- Do you have lifts/stairs doorways to contend with? (look at overall dimensions and weight)
- Will you be taking buses or regularly in situations where the stroller needs folding? (Look for easy or one-handed collapse function)
- Will you need to carry shopping too? (look at size and accessibility of shopping baskets, will it fall over if items hang off the handle in handlebars?)
- Will you be going off-road or only on smooth surfaces (think about tyres – size and pneumatic vs solid)
- Will you regularly be jogging or exercising? (think about three-wheelers)
- Will you be flying regularly? (think about ultra-compact)
- How tall are the regular pushers? (look for adjustable handlebars)
- Do you need the stroller to last through infancy into toddler year? (look for convertible bassinet style into an upright seat – how tall can they grow, is it adjustable?)
- Do you intend having more children, if so what age gaps? (Look for convertible options)
- Will you be out in adverse weather (look for rain covers and how well they actually protect baby and bags)
- Do you want an older child to sleep? (check if they can comfortably recline, do sun shades actually cover in a reclined position?)
Extra advice when looking at double strollers:
The two basic designs are side-by-side or tandem, where one sits forward of the other.
- Side-by-sides can be troublesome in narrow locations but overall are slightly easier to manoeuvre than a tandem. (Remember if testing these in a shop, add lots of weight for when there are two older children!)
- Tandems do not collapse easily, almost always coming in several parts which is not easy to deal with when you need to quickly fold, e.g. getting on buses, carts etc.
- Don’t compromise on seat size, if you are purchasing a double for a toddler and infant, make sure the seats are still wide enough and tall enough for the older child to fit, a more robust double jogger stroller may be suitable for your larger kids.
- Check from what age the infant can fit; some side-by-sides will go completely flat and adapt for a bassinet, others they can only sit in from 3 months+ with a head support.
- Do the two seats work independently, i.e. if one wants the sunshade over but the other doesn’t, or if both children need to nap together do both seats go flat?
Stroller selection tips for avid travellers
- Accept that no matter how much you research, absolutely no pushchair DOES.IT.ALL. You need to select the one that works best the majority of the time, then for the odd time you need something different like taking a flight, can something be borrowed or an extra pushchair purchased second-hand for occasional use?
- Unless you simply love babywearing all the time and never travel too far, accept that if you have more than one child less than three years apart (or even four!) you should invest in a double. If you still love your single, try and store it for those interim years as there will be a day again where you only need a single.
- It is worth paying more for a better brand if you want it to last the distance; good quality pushchair brands have good reputations for good reasons.
- Collapsible strollers that fit in an airplane overhead locker like the Mountain Buggy Nano or Yoyo might be great when you have one child or multiple adults; when you have multiple children or travelling solo just remember when it's not being used it's another thing for you to carry as well as the kids and the bags.
- I strongly suggest spending the little bit extra for a travel bag / gate check bag to store your stroller; these things can be quite roughly handled by baggage handlers and frequently break, so give them something with a handle to hold it by, even getting items shrink-wrapped and making a handle with tape will do. (We also photograph our baby equipment before travel so if there is any damage you can prove condition prior to travel back to the airline).
So what are the “must-haves” on your family stroller(s)? And own up, how many have you owned, or still have?!
(PS- As we're coming into the end of our stroller years, we've now we've now owned 8 different strollers! You can see the comparison of our favourites over the years here)
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