When traveling with small children, the stroller is often the key item that will make the difference between a terrible vacation, a fun vacation, and an amazing vacation. Many people will tell you to bring an umbrella stroller when you travel. Don’t listen to them unless you are less than 5 feet tall and will only be pushing it on very smooth surfaces. Also avoid double-wide strollers. They do not work anywhere except suburban America. There is no way you could take it down a grocery isle in most other countries. In some cases, you may not even be able to get through the door.
If high-intensity travel is your goal, you should instead get what the city dwelling Europeans that don’t own a car buy. Get the best stroller you can afford. Get it lightly used if necessary. If you are imaging a urine covered monstrosity, you will be amazed by how little some people actually use their stroller. Inspect it carefully, and you might be surprised by what you can find. Just make sure that you don’t buy it from someone who used it like we did. Regardless of whether it is new or used: yes, it will get dinged on the airplane. Yes, it will add extra weight on the train. But you will enjoy traveling with it. Spend the money and get it.
When selecting a travel stroller, make sure:
- It is not much wider than the width of your body.
- The handles are tall enough to be comfortable for everyone in your family.
- The wheels are sturdy enough to handle cobblestone.
- If it has inflatable wheels, also get an emergency repair kit.
- It is easy to fold and unfold.
- It is easy to carry with one hand on a train. One person needs to keep a hand free for this.
- The seat will fold down for naps.
- It is comfortable for the child.
- It is durable and can withstand rough treatment by airplane baggage handlers.
The First Single Stroller
We started with a Maclaren XLR, as it was one of only three strollers my super tall husband could comfortably push. Even then, I usually needed to push it down a steep hill. He got the uphill. Yay me!
It was fine for travel, but cobblestone and gravel was where it started to melt down. We would often have to take James out and make him walk or carry him whenever it got too bad. Thus, defeating the purpose of bringing a nice stroller.
On the other hand, we were mostly able to walk from sunup to sundown. James could sleep, walk, or enjoy the ride at will. We had few constraints on our schedule.
The Double Stroller
When John came along, we knew we did not want a double-wide stroller, so after facing sticker shock on the stroller we wanted, we went on Craig’s List and bought a very lightly used Phil and Ted’s Sport Stroller for an incredible price (we were planning to negotiate, for an even lower price, but the sob story about the miscarriage changed our minds). This was a game changer! It was super maneuverable, the inflatable tires were excellent on cobblestone and gravel, and it was easy to fold and unfold.
The main down side is when you run over a nail and end up with a flat. The first time this happened, it was a pain to deal with. But after we put together our emergency kit that included a patch kit, a travel pump, and a spare tube, we were set! Something like this, plus a tube would work.
The next down side is that it unfolds into two pieces, which takes some getting used to and you want to figure out how to carry it in one hand, but after that, it is fine. The actual space it takes up is minimal in comparison to other strollers. Note that this was many years ago, so our info on current competitive products is limited.
The last down side is that it is a bit heavy. But then again, what do you expect from an extremely rugged and durable double stroller that can withstand cobblestone, gravel, and easy hiking trails.
We used this stroller extensively. On arrival to a new destination, most of our luggage would go in the front seat. A child or the other suitcase would go in the back seat. The other child would walk, go in a front/back/hiking carrier, or be carried in someones arms. I would push, Jeremy would deal with the rest of the luggage and any children not in the stroller. It was as close to perfect as we could imagine! I lost 10 pounds with the first kid, and another 10 pounds with the second kid. Now that they pull their own weight, my weight has returned.
Once we dropped our luggage off, we were set. Since, as toddlers, our kids were close to each other in weight, we could interchange them between the front and back. Often, we would keep the youngest buckled in the front, and the oldest would sit unbuckled in the back and would get in and out as he got tired of walking or bored of sitting. This was great training for being able to walk long distances. The kids could nap in the stroller. If a child fell asleep in the back seat, and the other child got out, we had to use caution to keep the stroller from tipping over, but otherwise, it was great!
If a situation was unsafe or precarious (crazy traffic, wild animals, museums, etc.), it was easy to contain them.
It was narrow and short enough to fit in almost any situation. Many people were surprised when kid number 2 would pop out of the back seat.
The only surface we ever had trouble with was soft sand in Hawaii. The stroller simply would not budge, even if both kids were out of the stroller. Other than that, it fit every need we had. Assuming we didn’t care about footprints, we could even store a small daypack and large SRL camera in the storage basket at the back child’s feet. If we really needed more space, we would use a saddlebag or two, but be aware that this will increase the width. Often, we would just use a backpack instead, or would hang the saddlebags by the handle bar, if needed.
Once the kids got older, the stroller started to show its age. Pieces of foam would randomly fall off the handlebar, so we wrapped it in black electrical tape, which eventually started to leave sticky residue on our hands. We had to stitch up some small tears in the fabric. The patch kit had been used many times and we had replaced at least two tubes. The airplane travel and intense usage had taken its toll. Even so, remember that even if the airlines ding up your ridiculously expensive stroller, it is still worth it since your enjoyment at your destination will be significantly higher than any other option. If you travel frequently, and walk ridiculous distances, it is money well spent. Just note that if you have a fitness watch, you will register next to zero steps, even if you walk from sunup to sundown.
Converting the Double Stroller Back to a Single Stroller
As the kids weight increased, we took off the second child attachment, turned it back into a single stroller and made one child walk while the other rested or napped. If cobblestone wasn’t an issue, we would bring our original stroller since it wasn’t as heavy. This worked quite well, even if we got some odd looks and befuddled comments. “But your child is 5 years old, why can’t he walk?” The person was probably thinking, “Those lazy Americans!” Well, we like to walk from breakfast until dinner. Is that a reasonable expectation for a 4 and 5 year old? Of course not. Ignore the looks and comments and use it as long as your kids fit in it and can’t walk for an entire day.
Even if your kids only remember the photos, you will generate some amazing memories and you will develop life-long habits in your children that will make travel with them easy as they get older. If you want to be a family that travels extensively, get used to the idea that you are doing it for yourself, not for the kids. If they get something amazing out of it, great, but don’t expect it. Sometimes kids will randomly say things like, “Wasn’t the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel really cool?” On the other hand, I still remember when we asked John where he wanted to go next. His answer was an instant and enthusiastic, “Switzerland!” Feeling proud of myself for instilling a love of travel, I asked him why. His answer was, “They have bunk beds there!” Umm. Okay. I guess we could also go to Ikea. Sometimes what they get out of the trip is different from what you get out of the trip. It’s okay. They are kids. There are pros and cons to travel at each age. Let them enjoy their travels for their own reasons. You can enjoy the trip for your reasons, and as your children grow, hopefully their reasons will start to match yours.