Why schlep all that baby gear when your family hits the road? Rent cribs, car seats and toys for stress-free kid travel.
The first time we ever traveled with our daughter, we brought so much stuff that it wouldn’t fit into either one of our compact cars.
We were driving to Washington, D.C. for a weeklong trip to visit my mother-in-law, and lordy, did we have gear.
Toys. Portable crib. Sheets for the crib. Pillows. A hundred blankets. A stroller. A car seat. Baby gates. A highchair. The list goes on and on. I was so certain that we needed to toss in the kitchen sink to survive a week away from home that we ended up renting a minivan.
Three years later, I would like to believe I am a little wiser in the ways of packing for my kid. It’s easier now, of course, since she ditched the baby gates and portable crib a long time ago, but we still have plenty of stuff.
So we bought a minivan.
Did I say “wiser?” Scratch that. “Lazier” would be a better way to put it.
We did, however, learn to draw the line when it comes to bulkier items like, oh, furniture. Several Thanksgivings ago we put the portable crib in the basement when it became clear one very, very long night that our girl was no longer interested in sleeping in a giant mesh square with a cardboard mattress.
We spend a few days every November at my husband’s grandparents’ house, and the portable crib was essential to our ability to bunk there. Otherwise, one of us was sharing a 30-year-old twin bed with our then-toddler—and I don’t think I need to tell you moms who drew the short end of the stick on that one.
“You’re 5 feet, 7 inches,” my husband said, standing before me in all his 6-foot glory. “I won’t fit. She’ll fall out.”
Eight sleepless hours later, I knew we had to find a better alternative.
Before our next visit I turned to my trusty friend the Interwebs and did a Google search for “crib rental Cleveland.”
Voila! Hundreds of Web sites offering the essentials for short-term rentals. Cribs, strollers, crib mattresses, car seats, bedding … you name it, you can rent it. Four days later we arrived in Ohio to find a crib all set up in the den, for the very reasonable price of $75 for four days. That figure included delivery, set-up, break down and pick up.
Apparently, lots of smart moms and dads knew about this cool service way before I did. Just ask Lindsay Kearns of Champaign, Ill. She’s rented baby equipment multiple times. Some of her favorites have been Little Visitors (www.littlevisitors.com) in Las Vegas and Babies On the Go Rentals (www.rent4baby.com) in Portland, Ore. Little Visitors has multiple locations throughout the country.
“We’ve rented baby equipment while traveling about five different times in five different locations in the last two years of my oldest son’s life,” says this mom of two boys. “We’ve rented pack n’ plays, strollers, bags of toys, play gyms—different things based on our son’s age, the duration of our stay and the nature of our stay.”
Kearns says she finds such services “well worth the money” and expects to continue renting gear now that she has a newborn, as well as a toddler.
“While our son is getting older and needs less baby-equipment wise, our newborn will surely necessitate the continuation of our rental trend,” she says.
John Wierzba is the owner of Baby’s Away, one of the largest baby and child equipment rental services in the United States, and he says the baby-gear rental business is booming.
Founded in 1990 by a mother living in Breckenridge, Colo., Wierzba bought the company in 1998 and now oversees 70 locations nationwide from his home base in Denver.
“People are definitely traveling more, and traveling more with their kids, in spite of the economy,” says this father of three. “I haven’t checked all the statistics, but I think part of it is that the birth-rate is rising. I think what we’re seeing is an echo of the baby boom. Baby boomers’ kids are now having kids of their own.”
He’s right: according to The Washington Post, the fertility rate in the United States rose 2 percent between 2005 and 2006, meaning that the average woman will give birth to 2.1 children. This is considered a benchmark in population growth, one that has not occurred since 1971.
The most popular rental items for Baby’s Away are, of course, the holy trinity of childcare: cribs, highchairs and car seats.
Baby’s Away operates in vacation spots like Florida, Cape Cod, Mass. and Hawaii, but also boasts locations in metro areas like Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. While the business does have a small selection of customers who are dealing with temporary work assignments or relocations, the majority are families traveling with their kids.
Wierzba oversees the locations, but contractors—almost all of who are grandparents and parents themselves—manage daily operations. Those with children and grandchildren of their own are closest to the customer, he adds.
“Parents and grandparents aren’t going to put any child in something that isn’t safe.”
Safety is the main concern of Tonia Tomlin, author, organization professional and mom of twins.
Tomlin is the founder of Sorted Out and author of the book, Chaos 2 Calm: The Moms-of-Multiples Guide to an Organized Family, which will be published in September, 2008.
Based in Plano, Texas, Tomlin is planning a trip to Cabo San Lucas and is looking into renting baby equipment for her twin daughters, Peyton and Sydney.
However, she will not sacrifice safety for convenience, she says, and neither should you.
“If you are renting items (like cribs and car seats) you need to make sure they are up-to-snuff,” Tomlin warns. “For instance, I am personally calling the resort to ask for reputable service providers, and I also advise bringing your own sanitizing products and bedding.”
Wierzba acknowledges that safety is a factor in renting baby gear, and he says his company is up-to-date on all Consumer Product Safety Commission warnings and recalls.
“We get emails from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and we forward them out to everyone,” he says, adding that most safety warnings these days deal more with plastics and toys. “These days, you see very few safety recall issues with cribs. In the 1990s, most of the manufacturers corrected most of the safety issues.”
Speaking of toys, have you ever tried to decide how many My Little Ponies to take with you on a road trip? Or better yet, tried to figure out how to pack wooden blocks in your suitcase?
I’m lucky that my mom and mother-in-law keep a small supply of “grandma toys” in their homes, but not everyone has that luxury. Of course, some kids will be content to explore their new environment when traveling, but others need more stimulation.
Well, along with the holy trinity of highchair-car seat-crib, you can also rent toys.
“One of the items we get the most positive feedback on is our bucket of toys,” Wierzba says. “We call it our babysitter bucket. Parents love it.”
Sure, what’s not to love? Toys your kid has never seen before? Bonus. Toys you don’t have to jam into your luggage? Double bonus.
Tomlin points out that you can sometimes spend less time and money (think rising fuel prices) by purchasing items like toys, booster seats, portable cribs and car seats, and shipping them to your destination.
“If you rent a full-size crib it can be as much as $20 or $40 per day, plus delivery charges,” she says, “These days you can order inexpensive versions of these items (online) and pick them up at a store location at your destination. Then when you are done you can donate them to the local homeless shelter or sell them on eBay.”
Either way, buy or rent, rest assured that you don’t have to succumb to the minivan madness that took over my family. You can travel light and make sure your family is safe and comfortable by taking advantage of either of these options, based on your time and budget.
Now if only I could find a place that rents massage tables and a masseuse, life would be complete.
Themes: Family Travel
Check out the Sit-n-Stroll OK, this thing was a real boon when our boys were smaller. It's perfect from about 12 months to 3 years. You can wheel them through the airport, then collapse the wheels and use it as an FAA approved seat on the flight. When you arrive at your destination, wheel 'em through the airport and then use it as a car seat. Very cheesy infomercial like voiceover, but a great product.
Car seat rental The car seat safety geek in me balks at renting a car seat. With so many people using them it is one example where I would opt to pick up a $40 Cosco Scenara at the destination. (Which only works for the 40 pound and under set.) The last time I searched, higher weight harnessing seats---for kids over 40 pounds---were not available.