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car seat use is not commonly found in taxis and Ubers in Panama City, Panama
City Streets from Above Panama City, Panama

Traveling abroad without car seats is one of the ugliest aspects of family travel. Don’t believe me? Peruse through the forum section of TripAdvisor and look for a question about car seat use. The comments can get downright nasty, and the judgment is fierce. Prior to doing this, I’d never considered traveling without a car seat, but things change as we become more experienced travelers.

So far we’ve been to 2 countries with our toddler from ages eight months to 4 years (Thailand and Panama.) In both countries, car seats were not only impossible to find, but it also seemed like they were nonexistent. The taxis rarely had seat belts in the backseat, let alone the ability to install a car seat. It leaves me to beg the question, what do tourists do when they travel with kids under 5?

Back home, we are uncompromising when it comes to car seat use. We make sure to upgrade seats when our kids reach the height and weight limits. We even check car seat connections every time we get in the car. If I could keep my kids rear facing until they were sixteen, I would! So it’s taken quite a bit of resillience not to be so agitated and in full security mode when traveling with toddlers.

Alternative ways to get around car seats use

Car seats are not commonly found in cars in Panama City, Panama
Narrow streets in Casco Viejo, Panama City

We heavily considered traveling abroad without car seats when we decided to take our first trip. I researched lightweight car seats that we could carry while sightseeing on foot, baby equipment rental companies and even car seat alternatives (there are none.) In the end, we decided to travel to places where we could keep car travel to the bare minimum and used our seats when we could.

When we choose a destination, we look for hotels that are central to the things we want to do. That way we can either walk there, take a metro or bus. I’ve used car services on occasions and requested a car seat, but that doesn’t mean they have one available. We avoid cars as much as possible, but please understand that sometimes in some places, cars are our only option.

Metro and subway system is a good alternative to car travel when you have no car seat while visiting foreign countries.
Underground Metro Station entrance, Panama City

Although my kids are pretty still in cars, I sit in between them in the backseat with both arms around them. I recognize this is no comparison to car seats, i do this so that they can avoid being tossed around on winding and bumpy roads.

I know, it doesn’t sound like an ideal situation but it was the only thing we could do. Most millennials and gen-xer will probably label us as the “world’s worst parents,” but we do take safety seriously. When we can avoid a car while traveling with our kids, we do so. My husband and I have grown to appreciate public transportation. We’ve invested in a good pair of walking shoes, stroller and a backpack carrier. Read this guide to help find your perfect backpack carrier.

Car seats for travel

So what can you do when traveling somewhere that permits car seat use? The good news is that there are a number of good travel seats on the market. Below are the seats we use when traveling domestically and abroad when feasible.

Rear and front facing

lightweight car seat makes a good travel option.
Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat

The Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat is lightweight and easy to install. It can also be used as a front or rear facing seat. This seat uses either the traditional seatbelt or latch system.

A booster seat

The Mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat is a favorite among traveling families for many reasons. For one, it’s compact. Its portable size is designed for kids, aged 4+, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall. It’s perfect for families traveling or on the-go-consistently using public transportation or uber.

Help us out!

I want to know some of your personal experiences with car seat use while traveling abroad. Have you ever had to go without one? Does car seat use (or lack of) determine the destinations you choose to travel to?

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