Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have really taken the travel world by storm the last several years. My hometown of San Francisco is the home turf to both companies, so I’ve used ridesharing a lot. While hopping in a Lyft or Uber is easy enough after a night on the town or working late at the office, it can be a whole different experience for families. Taking Lyft or Uber with kids certainly adds additional considerations. Plus, ridesharing in the current world we live in has some extra complications that may give parents pause.
Over the years, I have used Uber and Lyft with my kids when traveling in wide variety of places. 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. I recommend doing this before you plan to use a ridesharing app on a trip so you aren’t fumbling with credit cards and kids in transit!
There are sometimes promo codes for newbies to get discounts on your first few rides, so get a referral from a friend before signing up. Or feel free to use mine (LESLIE620998 for Lyft)!
When you need to be picked up, go into the app and select that you want a ride (both of these apps have several other options these days like food delivery, scooters, etc.!). The app will automatically geolocate you where you are standing.
Sometimes the correct address is found but you can adjust in a few ways from there. You can drag and drop the pin to the right physical 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.
You’ll also input your destination into the app as well – either by typing in the name of a destination (like an airport name) or an address. If you’ve ever used Google or Apple Maps to get directions, the apps will work similarly at this step.
Finally, request the kind of car size and amenities 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 each car type arrives. If you are traveling in the future, it’s even possible to schedule a ride (with an 15 minute estimated pickup window).
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 show 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: Tips & Tricks
1. Use Uber & Lyft to save money & earn rewards.
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. And for families sharing a single ride, they often beat services like airport shuttles that charge per person.
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 Lyft referral code for $15 in ride credit: LESLIE620998. Note that offers change regularly but this is current as of 12/4/2021.)
Frequent users should also join related loyalty programs to earn additional discounts for the spending you already do. Here’s a sampling of some rewards options as of December 2021:
- Uber Rewards: Earn points & redeem for future ride discounts, free rides, and other perks
- Lyft & Hilton: Earn 3 Hilton Honors points per $1 spent on rides after linking your Hilton account
- Lyft & Delta: Link your SkyMiles and Lyft accounts to earn earning 1 mile per $1 spent on Lyft rides in the U.S.
2. Ridesharing helps 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 occasional tricks 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. 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.
Since 2020, however, standard cars are listed in both services as guaranteeing seating for just 3 passengers. Most drivers prefer to keep the front seat open unless absolutely necessary to maintain some social distancing, so I recommend that families of 4 get a bigger car if its an option.
So what are the bigger car options? Lyft XL and UberXL both offer cars that seat 5 passengers. Usually these will be larger SUVs or minivans. If you have more people or a ton of luggage, it make be more economical or ultimately give you more space to split into two standard cars.
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. Thankfully, bringing your own car seat works logistically at least for this kind of trip. 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 Uber Car Seat (formerly known as UberFamily) 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 compact 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 recently got a whole lot better with the release of the Pico car seat from WAYB in 2019 (purchase here). It’s a super compact, foldable 5 point harness car seat intended for kids ages 2-5. It is small enough to carry with you in a backpack around a city where you might use ridesharing services with kids.
For lots more information and options, be sure to check out my guide to the best car seats and boosters for air travel.
5. Watch for 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 clearer about signaling to riders when a surge was in place. Now, it’s all a bit more opaque and dynamic. You’ll see a 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 a few minutes earlier for the same trip when demand was lower. Sometimes, the surge pricing will be more extreme with one car type when there are less drivers with that car on the road.
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 (especially internationally) 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 – or at least easy.
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 few cities where Uber and Lyft operate but aren’t allowed to do airport pickups (even if ridesharing services can’t pick up at an airport, most allow ridesharing services to drop you off).
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 there. 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 – keeping 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.
Speaking of walking off-site, an increasing number of airports have more remote pickup locations for Lyft and Uber rides. Curbs by baggage claims were simply overrun by too many cars when these services got very popular. Often these pickups just mean an extra walk of a couple of minutes to a central spot in a parking garage, but some of them are so remote that taking a shuttle is required – like at LAX. Determine whether you can juggle kids, strollers, and luggage on a shuttle before using ridesharing in airports like this.
8. Make sure to understand the safety options available.
A lot of families are hesitant to use ridesharing services because of safety. To be sure, there have been a couple of scary ridesharing stories over the years to hit the headlines. That said, I’ve taken hundreds of rides with these services now and never felt threatened, even as a woman traveling solo or a mom traveling with my two young kids and no other adults. I have reported one driver for unsafe driving (more just confused and flummoxed in an unfamiliar area than anything reckless). And I got an immediate and swift response from Lyft when I did.
Now, Lyft and Uber have both built safety features into the app that are tied to your phone’s geolocation services. You can report issues with the click of a button which makes these services a lot safer going forward.
Speaking of safety, a lot of families of course have pretty valid health concerns about any form of shared transit in these days. As of December 2021, both services require masks for all riders ages 2 and up, like all public transportation options nationwide. Lyft further requires that you warrant that you are symptom free before using the service.
But there can be a difference in what policy is and what happens in practice. Families using these services should be aware that mask compliance by drivers can sometimes be hit or miss. Particularly in destinations where most people have quit wearing masks in other businesses, drivers may not wear a mask properly or not wear one at all. Be prepared to ask nicely that they do or even cancel the ride if you suspect this is going to be a problem. As long as the weather is ok, a lot of drivers will keep windows cracked if you request it – ventilation is never a bad addition to make your ride safer!
Have you taken Uber or Lyft with kids? What were your experiences?