There’s a best stroller for every activity, and that includes travel. Yes, it’s true. You might need a different stroller for traveling than you do at home – and very possibly a cheap one that can withstand a few bumps and scrapes along the way (have you seen how strollers get thrown around if you check them? Ouch!)
If you want to stay sane as you traverse airports near and far, travel strollers must have a few qualities: one-hand fold and open (you’ll be holding a baby in the other hand), good wheels that don’t slide all over shiny airport floors, supportive and versatile enough to last through the carrier phase, baby phase, and three-years-old-but-still-too-tired-to-walk phase, and — most importantly — cheap enough that you won’t cry if it emerges from under the plane with the foam handles ripped. (Which has eventually happened to all my strollers, over the years).
But even within the travel category, there’s still a wide range of useful strollers. For example, you could consider anything from a super basic umbrella stroller all the way up to these new-fangled super compact foldable strollers fair game for travel…that’s a big (and wildly different in price) range. But if I was flying to Tokyo with a baby, you bet your booty I’d be ordering one of those foldable strollers. They claim you can drive those directly onto the plane and fold them up small enough to go in the overhead compartments. I’m sure the cabin crew hates them, but they might be worth a nasty stare or two. They sound amazing for use on public transportation and places you may have to carry your stroller around.
My Personal All-Around Favorite Travel Stroller
I’ve flown with a lot of non-walkers, and my favorite all-around stroller for air travel has always been one like the Graco Travelite. They always change the models slightly over the years, and this is the one that most resembles my favorite from years ago. It folds up easily and relatively small while still being sturdy — with an “arm bar” — so that my younger kids don’t feel like they are falling out. One of my main complaints about basic umbrella strollers is that they seem pretty useless until the kid is over a year old. They just aren’t supportive enough. This stroller has worked well for my kids as soon as they are able to sit up, and it’s cheap enough that I don’t panic about it getting trashed when I check it.
My one complaint about the Graco Travelite is that apparently its front bar isn’t appropriate to click in a carrier. Graco has solved this problem with the Jetsetter Ultra Compact Stroller, which looks awesome…it’s just double the price of my old standby.
Kristin’s favorite travel stroller is the Summer Infant 3D Lite, which clocks in as a little more expensive than the Travelite (but watch sales or be flexible about your color options on Amazon and you can get a deal), which is a similar idea – a basic-but-not-too-basic lightweight stroller that’s cheap enough that you won’t panic if it gets some damage. Both the Travelite and 3D Lite weigh right around 15 pounds, compared to 20 or more pounds for many larger strollers. And those pounds matter when you’re on the go.
The Basic Umbrella Stroller
Here’s what I know to be true about umbrella strollers: Don’t waste your money on the super cheap ones. I thought, how bad can it be? When the hard plastic wheels slide rather than roll across the airport floors…that’s how bad.
My main advice? Don’t get distracted by bells and whistles. Sun shades frequently just fall off and you can put a hat on your kid (ignore this advice if you live someplace super sunny and really need the shade) and cupholders aren’t necessary either. We are going for cheap, small and functional. Is it comfortable enough that your child will actually sit in it? How do the wheels roll? That’s it.
If it’s at all possible within your budget, upgrade from the $10-$20 umbrella strollers to the high-end umbrella strollers like the Travelite or 3D Lite.
The All-Terrain Stroller
Completely useless for plane travel but critical for other adventures, all-terrain jogging strollers are pretty awesome. I have a Bob Revolution that has seen better days, but I’ve loved it. It’s way too big to take on a plane. It’s kind of a pain to even get in the car. But it can go on the beach. It can go on trails. And it can hold pretty big kids — in fact, more than once it’s held two kids in the seat and one on the foot rest (which I would not recommend).
Its canopy will actually keep rain off my kiddos, too, which is pretty great here in the Pacific Northwest. Its air-filled tires are my favorite feature. We have reinflated the tires millions of times and replaced the inner tubes, too. If cared for, this stroller will last forever.
As a plus, if you ever feel inclined to try actually jogging with a stroller — it can do that, too.
The Double Stroller
If you have more than one child under the age of three, you’re going to need a double stroller. I’ve always been slightly afraid of the double-wide, and my kids were far enough apart in age that a double-wide umbrella stroller was never the right fit for us.
My choice was the Graco Ready2Grow Stroller. Its selling point is a second seat that converts from facing forward, to facing backward, to being removed entirely so that it functions as a sit and stand stroller in addition to a double stroller.
We took this one to Disneyland, which included taking it through an airport and in a taxi. I wouldn’t say it was easy as it’s a whole lotta stroller, but it did fit through the X-ray machine, and it was SUPER valuable at Disneyland. I had three kids at the time — 18 months, 3-years-old and 6-years-old, and all of them took turns on it.
The Popular Stroller I Don’t Recommend
When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up as bottom of the barrel. (There’s a life lesson for you.) The one stroller type I never had much use for is the big bulky type that comes with “travel systems.” Stroller companies sell these along with matching baby carriers. The strollers are big, pretty, supportive with lots of under stroller storage space, and the ability to grow with your child.
All of which sounds great, and these strollers are good for your everyday zoo/park/suburban adventures. (Yes, I’ve owned one of these, too.) My kids always loved the little snack trays on the front.
Here’s the problem: They are huge when they fold up, which makes them a real pain to travel with. I always look at how small it is folded and think about how hard it will be to get it through the X-ray conveyor belt at the airport. If something is going to be that big and bulky, it better at least go off road, which these don’t do very well.
“What about the baby carrier?” you ask. Baby carriers attach to some lightweight travel strollers, or you can get an all-terrain stroller and buy an attachment that will work with your carrier, or you can buy a car seat carrier (like this one by Snap N Go), which just adds a bare frame with wheels to your baby carrier car seat.
With three kids, I stand by my stroller trifecta: a great small travel stroller, an ATV version of a stroller, and the double stroller. I have to defend owning several strollers constantly against the complaints MonsterDad, but they’ve gotten me this far. And it’s important to stand up for what you believe in, right?