How many times have I been asked if I think a family should take their car seat on vacation when they’ll “only need it a couple of times,” particularly in a taxi when they know they’ll be legal without one? Plenty. But for those who will be traveling mostly by train or public transportation during their trips–when the ability to travel light makes a great difference in their travel plans and bottom line, it’s an understandable question.
Well, guess what? For those who will be traveling with a child 3 years old and 30 lbs. on up, I say yes, leave that car seat behind. Take this instead. Because I’ve been recommending the RideSafer travel vest since before the first edition Travels with Baby was published, I was delighted when Safe Traffic System offered me one of their first new & improved models released to the public. I tested ours out with each of my children to see how it worked at different sizes. Here’s what I found.
The RideSafer travel vest at a glance:
- A safe alternative to car seats or boosters for children over 3 years and 30 lbs.
- The new small fits children 34″ to 52″ tall, 30 to 60 lbs.
- The new large fits children 45″ to 57″ tall, 50 to 80 lbs.
- Meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 (FMVSS 213) for use in cars
- The Deluxe / RS2 models can be used with either shoulder seatbelts or lap belts in conjunction with a top tether anchor point (tether is included).
- The RS3 model (less expensive) does not include the tether and must be used with shoulder safety belts only.
- An optional crotch strap is included.
What’s changed? You might still see some old copy around assuming all that’s changed are the colors, so do be aware that the new version offers a better range of fit, with small accommodating smaller children (it used to fit from 38″ tall and 35 lbs.). Also, the newer models have one belt buckle rather than two. The new belt paths are also a little easier / faster to use, and the optional / removable top tether strap enables you to use it quite securely in a center seating position where applicable (more comments on this below).
Favorite features of the RideSafer travel vest:
Your child can actually wear just the RideSafer travel vest (minus the head rest and optional crotch strap) and buckle into a taxi, rental, or relative’s car safely, allowing you to travel with little more than a padded vest in the side of your carry-on bag.
It weighs 3 lbs.
The removable padded head rest adds comfort for long drives.
Kids can actually recline in back seats that offer the option.
For bigger families requiring multiple car seats or a combination of car seats and boosters, this also makes it much easier to fit three children across the back seat even if two are still in proper car seats.
That alone could save you some money on rental car upgrades or having to request a minivan taxi rather than a standard cab.
If you plan to use the CARES flight harness for a child 3 years or older, this is your perfect on-the-ground companion and car seat replacement. Zip it into the side pocket of your checked suitcase or carry-on and it will be handy on arrival.
No expiration date: I can’t pass up this opportunity to point out that, unlike other car seats, the RideSafer has no expiration date. Which means it doesn’t become gradually less safe through years of use, and it doesn’t need to end up in a land fill a few years from now.
Carpooling with kids: If you carpool with other people’s children, you can use this as a space-saving back-up to an extra high-back booster seat you can simply stuff under your seat. And as mentioned above, you can fit three kids across smaller back seats when at least one is wearing the travel vest.
How it works:
1. Slip the RideSafer travel vest onto your child and close the heavy Velcro front panel, then click the belt and adjust, as you would do with a safety belt.
Optional: Add the height-adjustable head rest for comfort (it’s not there for safety).
2a. With shoulder belts: Have your child sit in the seat and open the appropriate shoulder belt cover (as shown), then route the shoulder belt through the metal guide. Then route the lap portion through the two slots on your child’s lap (as shown below). Buckle the seat belt, pull up the shoulder belt to tighten as needed.
2b. With lap-only belt and tether: Hook the tether strap (included) to the two metal latch loops on the shoulders of the travel vest. Have your child sit and route the lap belt through the two guides on the lower portion of the vest, then tighten the belt. Attach the other end of the tether belt to the corresponding anchor point in the car and tighten the strap.
While it sounds great that you can use this with lap-only belts as well as shoulder belts (unlike safety boosters), you are only supposed to use it with lap belts when a top tether may also be used. In the wider world of travel, many lap-only belts you encounter will be in older vehicles that pre-date car seat tethers.
Depending on the vehicle and your child’s size, he may have trouble seeing out the windows. For kids that get car sick, this could be a problem. On the flip side, kids who get car sick riding in side position seats may have the advantage when able to use the RideSafer vest in the center position (with a shoulder or lap-only belt and tether) and enjoy a better view out the front window.
Also, on my 40″ tall child the back straps had some slack, and there is no way I see to shorten the straps. However, she seemed plenty secure when belted in with both shoulder belt and lap + tether strap configurations. The design doesn’t allow for “slack” in the front of the vest where the safety belt guides are, so I don’t think this is a safety concern.
As far as fit is concerned overall, many parents have reported that the large was REALLY large on their children, and considering that the small overlaps in size up to 60 lbs. or 52″ tall, you might go with the small unless your child is already well into the second size range. As you can see, it’s also a great fit for my lanky 6-year-old.
Yes, kids, my own included, continue to surprise us with their love of the “astronaut vest,” and while I was in hysterics watching as my oldest daughter insisted on wearing our vest with the head rest even as she did her homework at the kitchen table, as a grown-up traveler I feel a little silly about the double dose of American flags printed on the shoulder belt covers.
Still, both kids love it enough to fight over who gets to wear it. I love it enough to wrestle with getting a second for our family for upcoming travels. Since I always like to include a few suggestions to the manufacturer for future enhancements–and in case anyone wants to jump on board with a “Travels with Baby edition.” Here’s how I would improve upon this already great travel product:
Reverse the openings of the Velcro shoulder strap covers. This will make it much easier for the older children to thread the seat belt through by themselves.
Create an adjustment to shorten the back straps a little for the smallest children (now available in the newest model per my suggestion!). 😉
The Diono RadianRXT is a folding car seat, which can be used from birth, and later converts to a belt-positioning booster seat. With its narrow width and FAA-approval, it is airplane-cabin friendly when used forward-facing (seat height makes it tricky to recline rear-facing in narrow seat rows). When not needed it folds and can be carried by a shoulder strap. Read all about it in Best Convertible Car Seats for travel.