Keeping baby safe on the plane need not be expensive

Sep. 26, 2012 at 11:47 AM ET

Graco /
The Graco FastAction Fold Travel System combines a stroller and an infant car seat for around $200 -- and it's the lightest on this list.

Ironic, isn’t it, that a 10-pound bundle of joy requires about the same size bag as a 200-pound business traveler -- not to mention a stroller and a baby seat? Travel systems aim to consolidate some of that bulk by combining everything into a single buggy. This option also promises some savings over purchasing the components separately, a boon for parents when the government pegs the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 near $300,000 for a middle-income family. Safe, high-quality travel systems start at well under $300.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable travel systems.

  • The Graco FastAction Fold Travel System (starting at $200) comprises a stroller, an infant car seat that can accommodate a child up to 30 pounds (a slightly cheaper 22-pound version is available as well), and a base for securing the seat in a car. On-the-go parents who have posted reviews of this travel system online appreciate that the stroller folds up easily with one hand. It’s also the lightest on this list: The car seat weighs 7.5 pounds and the stroller 22. (Where to buy)
  • The Chicco Cortina Travel System (starting at $270) is also available in two different versions that carry children who weigh up to 22 or 30 pounds, although the larger one generally tops $300. The car seat earns an above-average rating for ease of use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In reviews, parents agree that the seat is simple to install and also admire this travel system’s quality, sturdiness, and styling. (Where to buy)
  • The Graco Stylus LX Travel System (starting at $244) is the heftiest among these picks, but reviewers say it handles well and, like the other Graco model, requires only one hand to fold up. Reviewers like the cushy fabric on the car seat, which has a 30-pound capacity, and report that the stroller appears to provides a comfortable ride. (Where to buy)

Parents can continue to use these travel systems even after their children outgrow the included infant car seats. The strollers themselves carry toddlers up to 50 pounds. They feature seats that fully recline and conveniences such as cup holders for both parent and child.

All the travel systems on the list above include important car seat safety features, including a five-point harness that secures small passengers over the shoulders, around the hips, and between the legs. The seats are designed to lock into place in a car using the LATCH system, which is required in vehicles manufactured within the past decade. (The acronym stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children.) The NHTSA warns that a car seat must be installed properly in order to protect a child effectively. All the car seats on these travel systems meet government safety standards and rate at least average when it comes to ease of use. Be sure to check the NHTSA website before you buy for complete ratings and up-to-date information about product recalls.

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