One of my least favorite parts of air travel with young kids is lugging a car seat with me. Of course, car seats are a travel necessity. Naturally, I’ve toughed it out, dutifully lugging them through dozens of airports over the last 6 1/2 years of my life. I’ve tried a number of products to streamline and simplify this process: bags with wheels, lighter weight car seats, an infant car seat plus stroller frame combination, and more.
One option I had never tested until recently was a rolling cart for my child’s car seat. The concept is simple: strap the car seat to a folding luggage cart and roll it – with or without your child in it – behind you through airports. While I’ve heard of some parents MacGyvering a regular luggage cart and a few bungee cords to accomplish this feat, there are several specialized products on the market that are made exclusively for carrying car seats.
The best known of these products is the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate. It gets 4 1/2 star reviews on Amazon, and I’ve heard good things from a few friends who are frequent travelers as well. With a solo international trip to Panama looming with two kids in tow where I knew I’d need a car seat, I reached out to GoGo Babyz to (finally!) give their product a try.
My Go-Go Babyz Travelmate Experience: The Highs & Lows
I must say that I adored the product at first. I was kicking myself for not investing in one earlier. Assembly was a breeze. I was done in under 5 minutes and needed nothing more than a small Phillips head screwdriver and a little brute force to pop the wheels into place on the axel.
Once the Travelmate is assembled, the car seat attaches very securely to the device, thanks to a special ratcheting mechanism to easily take out slack in the strap. Once I practiced a few times, I could install a car seat on the Travelmate in under 30 seconds. I only wish that car seat installation in cars was so easy!
Our big travel day to Panama was soon upon us. I took the Travelmate to use with our Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat, which has become our go-to seat for air travel due to its small size and light weight. Going through security with the Travelmate was easier than I’d expected. At the TSA line at San Francisco’s international terminal, the agents didn’t even make me take the car seat off of the Travelmate (the two strapped together won’t fit through the x-ray machine on the belt). Instead, they did a quick hand inspection and I was on my way.
But then my luck ran out. As I walked to our gate on one of SFO’s moving sidewalks, the wheel of my Travelmate popped off. I figured it would be an easy fix to just pop it on again. Unfortunately, the wheel kept falling off over and over again. I looked carefully at the inside of the wheel and saw that the internal plastic where the wheel attaches to the axel had cracked.
We were close to our gate, and I was able to manage the rest of the way with my 2 year old son and 6 year old daughter. I took my son out of the Travelmate and held his hand while walking with him. I balanced the Travelmate with the car seat on it on a single wheel and pulled it behind me. Thank goodness my other child travel companion was old enough to walk by herself. If I had been traveling with another younger child, I would have been in big trouble. Upon arrival in Panama, I did the same one-wheel balancing trick while walking with my son until we got our bags. I then put him in a travel-sized baby carrier I had smartly packed in my carry-on to get us the rest of the way. It was frustrating and challenging at times, to be sure. These were the very kinds of logistics I had been hoping to avoid.
Once we arrived in Panama, I wrote to Go-Go Babyz to see if anything could be done about the broken wheel. I must say that I was impressed with their individualized customer service and responsiveness. Ultimately, given the short duration of our time in Panama as well the fact that our next stop in Cancun coincided with the Thanksgiving holiday, the company was unable to ship me a replacement wheel in time for either of my next two flights. Luckily, my husband was joining me for those two legs. With more hands, we managed, but we were not happy to be carrying the car seat and the toddler ourselves.
One challenge we experienced after the breakage was that with one wheel removed, the long metal axel kept slipping out of the Travelmate entirely. For that reason, we ultimately took the axel out and packed it in our suitcase for our final return trip home. We then strapped the rest of the broken Travelmate to the car seat and decided to check it. Ideally, we would have packed the entire Travelmate in our checked bag but we found it was a half inch too long to fit into our largest suitcase. If I had been traveling with a Phillips head screwdriver, I could have removed the handle for it to fit, but we weren’t quite that prepared. When I got home, a new wheel was waiting for me, and the Travelmate was easily repaired for our next trip.
I did a little research to determine whether my situation was just a complete and total fluke or indicative of a more concerning product defect. I mean, what are the chances that a brand new product breaks under very light use when a travel blogger is reviewing it? Not big. And it’s probably every company’s worst nightmare when it does.
While there are definitely not widespread reports of breakage, the Amazon reviews for the product did indicate that a handful of other purchasers have had the very same wheel breakage issue. But many more had used the product dozens of times in tougher circumstances and had it hold up beautifully. Just my luck!
That said, from what I inspected, I think the design could probably be re-thought to make the axel and wheel combination stronger. The connective plastic seems to be a potential week spot. I’d use the Travelmate again for a trip on which we needed to take our own car seat, but I’d definitely also have a contingency plan in place. What ultimately saved me was that we had a very lightweight car seat we could still carry ourselves as well as a baby carrier as a back-up for transporting our toddler.
So, is the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate right for you, even given my harrowing travel tale with it? Perhaps. Here are the pros and cons as I see it.
Pros & Cons of the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate
1. Easy assembly: 5 minutes and minimal tools. Ikea could learn something from this product!
2. Ease of use: Getting the car seat on and off of the Travelmate is super-simple. I also found it fairly easy to pull. It seemed about the weight of a full-size rolling suitcase when I had my (very light) Cosco Scenera NEXT car seat in it and my 25 pound 2 year old in the seat. This was quite doable for longer airport distances. You do have to be a little careful with it, particularly when tipping it to start or stop, to avoid jerking your child around too much.
3. Fits in overhead bin: The Travelmate folds up small and flat for easy storage under the seat in front of you on the plane or in the overhead bin.
1. Risk of breakage: Again, I don’t think this risk is super-high, but it is extremely frustrating if it does happen and leaves you no real options. Because it is a specialty product, the Travelmate is much harder to replace or repair on the go than “standard” baby gear like a stroller or car seat. For that reason, plan for contingencies!
2. Cost: At about $80 on Amazon, the Travelmate doesn’t come cheap. In fact, one of the major reasons I had not tried this product earlier is that I didn’t know if I’d get my money’s worth from it. Whenever possible, we try not to take car seats with us on planes. We often visit family that has a car seat waiting for us at our destination and occasionally just rent from our car rental company (Hertz offers free car seats to AAA members). The trips where we’ve needed to bring a car seat with us beyond the infant stage have been few and far between. I know there are a lot of families, however, who very much prefer to use their own car seats for safety reasons. This product is a must-have if you have a strong preference for using your own car seat. But if you aren’t the type of traveler to take a car seat with your often, the value becomes a tougher call.
Have you used the Travelmate when traveling with a car seat? What has been your experience?
Disclosure: Go-Go Babyz provided a complimentary sample for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own.