Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have really taken the travel world by storm the last few years. As a San Franciscan, I use Uber and Lyft a lot to get around. My hometown is the home turf to both ridesharing services, meaning that coverage and response time are excellent. Taking Lyft or Uber with kids, however, adds a few new considerations and sometimes even some complications.
I also have used Uber and Lyft when traveling in quite a few places, even with my kids. I’ve had almost uniformly excellent experiences from everywhere from Orlando, Florida to Panama City, Panama. (There was that one time when my then-two year old threw up all over me on an Uber in Panama, but we won’t go there….). Here is what other traveling families need to know about using Uber and Lyft.
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How to Use Uber & Lyft: Ridesharing Basics
First things first for beginners — if you’ve never used a ridesharing service, the way it works is pretty simple. Download the company’s app to your smartphone and set up an account with your credit card linked to it. There are always promo codes for newbies, so get a referral from a friend or feel free to use mine (THOMAS027614 for LYFT and leslieh84 for Uber).
When you need to be picked up, go into the app. It will drop automatically drop a GPS pin in the location where you are standing. If you want to be picked up elsewhere or GPS got your location a bit wrong, just drag and drop the pin to the right spot or enter in an address manually. In some locations (especially airports), there are designated rideshare pickup spots. Both the Lyft and Uber apps will prompt you to go to those spots and sometimes even give you choices to indicate which door number or zone you are standing in.
Next, input your destination into the app as well. Finally, request the kind of car choice you need (there are quite a few options – more on that later). You’ll be able to see approximately how many minutes you will need to wait until your car arrives.
After making a request for a car in the app, your driver will then come to you. You can watch his or her progress via GPS in the app. The app will shower you what your driver and the car will look like (as well as the license plate number) so you can spot it approaching. The app further allows you to text or call your driver if you need to communicate additional information which sometimes happen if you can’t quite find each other. Hop in when your driver arrives and be pleasant and courteous. Remember: the apps allow drivers to rate YOU just like you rate THEM!
After you take the ride, just hop out and be on your way. The fee is charged to the credit card you have on file and promo codes are automatically applied. Lyft and Uber both now allow you to add a tip for your driver after the ride is over for at least a few days. Rate your driver in the app as well.
What Families Need to Know About Using Uber and Lyft
1. Uber & Lyft will save you money.
The major reason that all travelers – including families – should consider ridesharing services is budget. Ridesharing services are usually quite a bit cheaper than taxis or car services in most cities around the world.
In addition, both Uber and Lyft regularly offer promotions to entice new members to join and try them out, saving even more money. If you aren’t already a member of either or both, sign up whenever you spot a good promotion. (And if you want to support Trips With Tykes, you are welcome to use my referral codes. My referral code for Lyft is THOMAS027614 and offers $10 in free ride credit. Use promo code leslieh84 for Uber to get $3 each off your first 2 rides – $6 total. Please note that these offers change regularly but they are current as of 2/17/2019.)
Frequent users can even now join the new Uber Rewards loyalty program which can help you earn additional discounts for the spending you already do. Uber Rewards is available in about 25 cities nationwide as of February 2019 but will be rolling out to more very soon.
2. They’ll keep you from being ripped off.
In some international destinations, cabs are known for ripping off tourists, especially in cities that don’t have metered taxis. Haggling with a driver is the last thing I want to do when I’m juggling two kids and trying to get where I’m going. Because technology tracks Uber and Lyft drivers and charges by the mile, it keeps the drivers honest. There are definitely the occasional trick that a few rideshare drivers try to pull (like pocketing a cancellation fee by saying a passenger wasn’t at the pickup spot), but I’ve always been able to get Uber and Lyft to refund in these circumstances. And these are much fewer and farther between.
3. Make sure to select the right vehicle size.
The bigger the car you request, the more you’ll pay with ridesharing services. Obviously, the key for families is to get the smallest car possible to fit everyone plus luggage. The risk, however, is that the car that arrives will be too small and you’ll have to waste time requesting another.
My family of four (including two small kids) has never had an issue squeezing into a regular Lyft or a standard Uber (called UberX). For many years, we did this with one car seat and one travel booster, so we were a bit more compact than families with more than one child of car seat age. If you want more space for car seats or have a bigger crew, opt for a bigger car size. Lyft XL and UberXL both are cars that hold 6.
4. Plan for car seats.
Speaking of car seats, the biggest challenge in using Uber and Lyft with younger kids is the car seat dilemma. A lot of families find themselves using ridesharing to and from the airport when bringing your own car seat works logistically at least. But if you want to use Uber or Lyft for city touring, you can’t exactly bring a large car seat with you to then lug around all day while visiting a museum or attraction.
I will admit to going without a car seat on a rare occasion in an international location where car seats are not the norm (and for a short trip only), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in the United States doing that. Many Uber and Lyft drivers in the US will deny you a ride if you don’t have a car seat for a child of an age that requires one. It’s too much potential liability and they risk being ticketed for disobeying state laws.
Luckily, Uber offers UberFamily (also called Uber Car Seat) in a few cities. This service includes a single car seat for an additional charge, usually around $10. The program is in New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Orlando but unfortunately doesn’t show any signs of expanding. You’ll see the option in the app if a car is available in your area. Just be aware that car seats are forward-facing so they are ideally for kids ages 2-6 (the New York city program allows children starting at age 1 to ride, with the Car Seat Lady’s blessing). See my complete guide to using Uber Car Seat in Orlando, which I have personally used with my son.
What if you aren’t in an Uber Car Seat city? In most cities, parents have to think through the logistics of using ridesharing with kids that much more.
For older kids of booster age (4+ and 40+ pounds), I’d recommend traveling with a portable booster seat like the Bubble Bum or the mifold travel booster that you can carry yourself. No extra fees or waits, and you’ll already know how to use your own device.
For babies who are still in the infant “bucket” car seat, it isn’t too hard either. I’d recommend combining your infant bucket car seat and a stroller frame to use as your stroller at your destination. If you plan to travel a lot, the Doona all in one car seat and stroller is pretty revolutionary too, albeit expensive.
It’s that in-between toddler stage when most kids are in a large convertible seat that is the most challenging when using Uber and Lyft. Luckily, for kids ages 2-5 at least, the options are about to get a whole lot better. I’m waiting with bated breath for the release of a brand new product coming out in spring 2019 that I think will revolutionize this space — the Pico Car Seat from WAYB. It’s a super compact, foldable 5 point harness car seat intended for kids ages 2-5. It will be small enough to carry with you in a backpack around a city where you might use ridesharing services with kids. We’ll of course have a review here at Trips With Tykes just as soon as samples are available.
5. Know about surge pricing.
One risk to using Uber and Lyft is periods of high demand. Both services implement surge pricing when cars are in short supply. The apps used to be a lot more clear about signaling to riders when a surge was in place. Now, it’s all a bit more opaque – you’ll see the price displayed when you request a car but you won’t know that this rate is a little bit more than what it was an hour earlier for the same trip when demand was lower.
The bottom line? If you are in a busy city during a busy time, just be sure to plan ahead and budget for surge pricing if you are going to use these services. Also know that there are truly busy times when you might not be able to get a car period – like New Year’s Eve in a major city.
6. Have – and use – both apps.
Uber is still in more cities than Lyft at this point, but I strongly recommend that you know how to use both apps for travel to cities in which they both have coverage. Being able to look at both gives you more flexibility. On some occasions, the wait for a car on one service is substantially shorter. In other situations, one service may be charging higher pricing but the other is not. You’ll save money and time making Uber and Lyft compete for your business.
7. Airport pickups are not always possible.
Many families will likely use Uber and Lyft primarily for trips to and from the airport (that’s when you are most likely to be able to bring and use your own car seat). But it’s very important to know that there are still a number of cities where Uber and Lyft operate but aren’t allowed to do airport pickups.
Before traveling to a new city and expecting to just hop in an Uber upon your arrival into the airport, check to see if it is available. When this post was originally published way back in 2016, for example, neither MCO airport nor LAX allowed Uber or Lyft to pick up on their property. Luckily, both have implemented a change to allow the services, but quite a few other cities – especially internationally – are trying to ban them. While I know many a solo traveler will hack that problem by walking a few hundred yards off-site and meeting a car there, that isn’t as easy for family travelers who likely aren’t as mobile with luggage and little ones.
One final tip: even if ridesharing services can’t pick up at an airport, nearly all of these airports allow ridesharing services to drop you off.
Have you taken Uber or Lyft with kids? What were your experiences?