Is there a better way to do this?
August 31, 2012 12:01 PM   Subscribe

How do you make sure you have a car seat waiting for you at a rental car company when you are travelling internationally? Details and crazy plan inside.

We live in France and are planning a two-week vacation in Florida next winter. We have two kids aged 4 and 5. We are going to rent a car for the entire two weeks and I have a few concerns about getting rental child seats from the hire car company 1) It will be about $110 per child for the two weeks 2) I've heard stories of car seats from hire car companies that are not in good shape (filthy) 3) I'm worried that the seats won't be available once we are all standing at the rental car company's counter after a 15-hour trans-atlantic flight.

So, I have this crazy plan: Our flight arrives in Miami at 9 p.m. Mom and the kids get a taxi to the airport while I pick up the car. The next morning I go out and buy two seats, except the next day is a Sunday and not much will be open. So I plan to have the car seats delivered to me at the hotel before we arrive.

Is this plan feasible at all? Is there a better way to accomplish my goal? Who do I have to butter up at the hotel to make sure my stuff gets delivered? Does anyone have any positive experiences with American rental car companies? Please tell me there is a better way to do this!
posted by pandabearjohnson to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's easy to order stuff from Amazon or whoever to be delivered to your hotel. Phone the hotel and ask how they want it written on the packaging instructions -- usually it's something like P.B. Johnson - arrival Dec 15 / Hotel Name / Hotel address. On check in they should inform you a package has already arrived for you.

I do this a lot -- and around Christmas time, even more people do this. Hotels all have methods for accepting packages for clients.
posted by jeather at 12:07 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, EVERYTHING will be open on Sunday. You will be able to buy car seats. This is America!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2012 [15 favorites]

Sunday is also not really a limiting factor for stores being open in most of the US -- stuff might not open until 9 or 10 am so, but most everything (especially the big box type of stores that will have car seats) will be open.
posted by brainmouse at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts:

1. Why don't you just drive Mom and kids in the rental car from the airport? At worst, you would be driving the kids without car seats, which is exactly what would be happening if they were in the taxi (except the taxi driver is probably a crazier driver than you). At best, the car seats from the rental car company would be acceptable.

2. I doubt much at all will be closed in Miami on a Sunday. Certainly the places where you might by car seats (e.g. Target) would be open.

Sorry, but I don't know about the reliability of getting car seats from car rental companies.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2012

You're wrong about the stores not being open. For example, Walmart sells car seats and they will certainly be open on Sunday morning (many never close, others open at 6am). Find out where you can buy one in person and check the hours of the store.
posted by ubiquity at 12:12 PM on August 31, 2012

Taxi from the airport? They will still need carseats. If you take a shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel, the carseat requirement is waived. Even if you can get the taxi driver to take you, there are cops everywhere at the airport. Not gonna happen, IME.

And given the laws in Florida, you're more likely to get backless boosters from the rental agency.

Many places for car seats will be open - Target, WalMart, KMart, Babies R Us, Toys R Us, Buy Buy Baby.

Many hotels will take delivery of packages for purchased carseats. My reccommendation is this relatively inexpensive full-back booster.
posted by tilde at 12:13 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call the hotel and ask for the concierge. If no concierge, ask the front desk staff. They should have some idea of how to answer these questions for you. Many parts of Florida are very family-oriented.

Often, hotels can recommend car seat or baby gear rental services, that will drop the items off at your hotel for you.

You can also try calling a car service that has carseats in order to get Mom and the kids to the hotel on that first night. I would not ride in a car without a carseat, taxi or not, unless it were an absolute emergency.

$110 is close to what it would cost for two car seats.

There are also vests that work similarly to carseats but are easier to travel with, depending on the age of the children that is an option as well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have had good luck with car seats, I just make sure to call them at least twice to remind them I will need one, and I will call right before my flight. They have always had one installed for my 2 year old. Sometimes they even forget to charge me for it! And once they upgraded me for free so the seat would fit. Score! Just call and be polite.
posted by katypickle at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2012

i've shipped stuff from amazon to hotels before. it works pretty much like jeather says. also, it's florida, land of disney, kid vacations and multiple stores that cater. you will not have a problem finding things open.
posted by koroshiya at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2012

Also, everything is open on Sundays here in America. Target, Wal-Mart, Babies R Us, they will all have car seats.
posted by katypickle at 12:16 PM on August 31, 2012

At four or five years old, it appears that your children are legal in just a seat belt and without anything in a taxi:

Every operator of a motor vehicle as defined in this section, while transporting a child in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, shall, if the child is 5 years of age or younger, provide for protection of the child by properly using a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device. For children aged through 3 years, such restraint device must be a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat. For children aged 4 through 5 years, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat, or a seat belt may be used.

posted by jeather at 12:17 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's more info about the Rider Safety Vest I was talking about.
With the Ride Safer Vest your child can travel safely without a car seat or booster from 3 years and 30 lbs. Think of it as a "wearable booster seat" you can pack in the outside pocket of your carry-on. After your flight, have your child put it on outside baggage claim while you wait in line for your cab. She can wear it like a normal vest, or add the optional crotch strap for the safety of a 5-point harness--something you won't get from a regular booster, and the comfy removable head rest. This is also a great option when you want to save space in a small rental car and/or have another child (or two) in a car seat. At home, you can keep it handy in your trunk for carpooling with friends. Like booster seats, however, it is not approved for use in aircraft. A removable head rest offers extra comfort when desired. Weighs 2.5 lbs. without head rest, under 5 lbs. with it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:20 PM on August 31, 2012

I've traveled internationally and within the US and IMO there's no real way to guarantee there's a functional seat waiting. Despite reservations and phone calls in advance to stress the need, I've shown up at locations and had to wait with two kids under 4 while they call to other locations looking for seats that work. In the end, I guess it's been worth it. I'd rather that than no car seats or all travel by taxi without seats, and it's part-and-parcel of learning to be flexible while travelling. I make sure to have "fresh" activities and snacks in the event we have to wait. As long as your reservation clearly says you requested it, most companies have to make good on that.

As for buying something in the US day of arrival: easy. Maybe even browse the website of the two stores you think are closest (BabiesRUs, Target, Walmart?) so you can grab exactly what you need quickly.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:21 PM on August 31, 2012

The Walmart closest to the Miami airport is 3.6 miles and appears to be open 24 hours. So, you could also get the rental car, go buy car seats, and go pick up mom and kids back at the airport.
posted by freezer cake at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is an option but I've always been able to check car seats for free, with the rest of my luggage. (unless your kids don't already have car seats?) It has been pretty painless thus far.
posted by sutel at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

It should be free to check your car seats, unless you don't already have any. As a bonus, the kids get to use their familiar car seats, and you don't have to worry about setting the straps.

On the other hand, for kids aged 4 and 5, you can use low-back booster seats( + seat belts), which are cheap and easily available. (Agree with WalMart or Target as good options.) They should be about $20.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:56 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

freezer cake is right. It's also a bit of a skeevy bit of town after dark, but they have on site security.

And honestly, unless you've been in the area (there's construction around the airport and other weirdness) I would take a taxi to that WalMart and back.

For a quick turn around, I'd see if you can use "ship to store" (might not be available for international customers) to ship to that WalMart or the local FedExKinkoOffice (FedEx Office®—Miami 10005 NW 41st St) if it's closer and open for you.

Yes, backless boosters are as low as $20, but I would not recommend them. I've driven in FL a number of years and you don't want to mess with them for kids that age for such a short time.
posted by tilde at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2012

Am I missing something--My guess is there will be a car seat available--if it is dirty ask them to clean and sanitize it, if it is shoddy use it until you buy one--if one is not available use seat belts and buy one that evening--which as said, will not be a problem. From Broward Co. Fl. Sheriff office "For children ages 4 - 5, a separate carrier, an integrated child safety seat, or a safety belt may be used"
posted by rmhsinc at 1:18 PM on August 31, 2012

Thanks everyone. Not that it matters but here are some thoughts:
1) I wouldn't consider driving in S. Florida with my kids in anything less than very high quality car seats. They've got the craziest car wrecks there.
2) I'll never fly w/ car seats again, never, ever.
3) the Rider Safety Vest looks interesting, good to know about it
4) And most obviously - I can buy a car seat 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week? Wow, say what you like about the good ole USA but it is a shopper's paradise.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 2:52 PM on August 31, 2012

I wouldn't consider driving in S. Florida with my kids in anything less than very high quality car seats

If this is the case, you should definitely get your own/ship your own.
The car seats I've gotten from essentially all of the major car rental places have ranged from "it'll do" to "what is that mystery substance".
They've all been universally bottom of the line seats, with basic buckles and straps. The instructions are often nowhere to be found, which makes for an entertaining project in a rental car pickup parking lot at 4 in the morning.

That said, I've never found an expired or broken seat and they've all obviously met the relevant federal or European standards. But if you're looking for the high sided, easily adjustable, well-cushioned type of seat, it's not what you're going to get from a rental company.

We eventually just bought a basic but good quality seat (with a cover) that we check through as free luggage.
It has not only paid for itself in monetarily (since those car seat fees add up) but in saved time and hassle.
posted by madajb at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2012

i have rented car seats from car rental companies a few times. Hawaii, San Diego, and Las Vegas. Each time the car seat was brand new or seemed to be brand new. Two times, they led me to a room and just let me pick them out. Las Vegas and San Deigo

Sounds great huh?

Now for the horrible part. These car seats are seemingly brand new, you have to put them together, adjust all straps, and fit them in the car yourself. Sounds awesome after a long flight!
posted by couchdive at 3:55 PM on August 31, 2012

We have the carseat tilde linked to for my sister's house for my 3.5 year old. No, it isn't the BEST CAR SEAT EVER, but for less than $50, it is totally fine.

If I were in your situation I would
1. take the shuttle to the hotel or take a taxi with car seats to the hotel.
2a. have the car seats at the hotel waiting for you, ordered on Amazon (I do this ALL THE TIME)
2b. you get rental car by yourself, go to WalMart or Target and buy two car seats

Amazon > going out and getting them for price and ease.
posted by k8t at 5:44 PM on August 31, 2012

I have the carseat/booster that Tilde mentioned, too. It took about 15 minutes to put together & required a screwdriver to install the arm bits. If you're going to buy something, I'd recommend finding the user manual for the model you want & reading it ahead of time, so that you don't run into any surprises. I wouldn't want to be looking for a screwdriver in an airport parking ramp at 4am.

If you want a 5-point harness booster (instead of one that just uses the car's seatbelt), the Evenflo Maestro is inexpensive & gets good reviews. I've seen it on the shelf at our local Target, but not at Walmart. We also have the Graco Nautilus in our other car; it's about $130-150 and is available at Target & Walmart. The box for the Nautilus is HUGE and I had trouble getting it into our compact car.
posted by belladonna at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2012

Sounds like you have a plan. Those car boosters are pretty unfold & go.

Post trip, I thInk if you leave them in the car they will just be disposed of. I've used Family Rental for high chairs & strollers for on off events when I had no other option & sold some stuff to them. They might meet you at the airport to buy 'em off you, receipts and all; can't hurt to try.
posted by tilde at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2012

I have these as secondary seats for my 4.5 year olds. They're inflatable and you can travel with them.
posted by pyjammy at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2012

Belladonna, we posted at just the same time. I thought those were fold and go, thanks for the in-person scoop. I tested that one at the store only.

Pyjammy, those look interesting - but I can't see how they prevent submarining? I use a booster with a submarine clip but I don't see one on there.
posted by tilde at 12:47 PM on September 4, 2012

tilde, I suppose they don't, but then neither do the high-backed boosters we use on a more regular basis, so it wasn't something I was looking for as a feature.
posted by pyjammy at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2012

That is specifically why I asked; it says on their website that it prevents submarining; I'm guessing if there's no front clip that you've noticed, then it must be the action of the hip and shoulder cinches/clips (not sure what else to call them)?

Given my skinny caboodles, I went for the front clip style for my piece of mind but they're impractical for travel (when I am not the primary parent).
posted by tilde at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2012

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