A bit of a diversion from my idea to write about my craft projects but someone asked me today about travelling with small children as we have done quite a bit with our child and I always struggled to find information on the web about this.
I'll do a couple of posts about various aspects of travelling with kids. We have been on short trips to Australia (4hour flight) as well as gone to Thailand once and Japan twice before our daughter turned 4. Travelling with car seats has several issues. Delicious baby has lots of information http://www.deliciousbaby.com/travel/family-travel-tips/special-considerations/carseats/. Based on our experiences here are my thoughts below.
1. How to take on the plane
A case of damned if you, do damned if you don't. Ours is too big to fit in the plane and you definitely risk damage to your seat putting it in the hold, but if travelling to places like Thailand or Japan renting on arrival is not a option easily available so you will need to take yours. My preference is in a clear plastic bag. The time we put ours in another bag to protect it and packed stuff around it one of the plastic buckles got broken - obviously having been under considerable force so I figure it is more likely to be thrown in on top if it is in a plastic bag - so far so good for our current seat. It pays to check the seat over carefully when you get to your destination. If you are planning on a lot of travel it would be worthwhile getting one to use on the plane although I can imagine this being a hassle for sleeping on long flights , ( I can't imagine our daughter managing to sleep for 7 to 8 hrs upright in her car seat without waking) best practice is not always practical- our daughter always lies across the seat with the lap belt across her hips and head on my knees.
Most airlines will also make you sign a disclaimer against damage. If you are planning lots of travel to destinations that you want a stroller too then one of the convertible models that doubles as both may be worth the investment.
2. Using you seat at your destination
Fine in places like Japan where cars all have diagonal belts but don't expect tether strap bolts - better to have a car seat which doesn't need them. We have a Phil and Teds one that just needs the diagonal belt. Thailand however was a different story - we did 2 long trips by minivan - no belts and scary driving. We ended up securing our car seat using rockclimbing slings and caribiners to the minivan seat and our daughter (26 months old at the time)was in her 5 point harness that is part of the car seat. Not road safety approved way to secure the seat but it was either that or no seat belt and missile child! The same for bus trips in Japan - icy winter roads and although there was a lap belt to secure the seat with it felt dodgy so we backed this up with climbing tape system we brought with us for this.
The other advantage of a car seat in the bus is that it elevates a small child so they can see out of the windows.
3. Other options
Renting seats - yes in some places but variable quality of car seat and you don't know the seats history - has it been in an accident? etc. In NZ and Australia I have had good experiences renting with new looking and good quality seats. I looked at renting as an option in both Japan and Thailand and could not see anywhere for either country. You could probably buy car seats at the destination but if the country does not have mandatory car seats for children I understand they can be hard to find. There are some harness systems available but the one's I have seen all require a tether bolt directly behind the seat and a lap belt to use - and so most vehicles won't have both of these. Likewise the adjusters for diagonal seat belts for kids over 14kg - the places where I would have wanted this the vehicle never had a diagonal belt - my experience suggests the places you could use these are also countries that finding a rental car seat would be easy too.
Travel by train where you won't need a car seat is always a good option!
Hope this inofrmation is helpful, I'm happy to answer any questions about Japan or Thailand travel with kids too so leave a comment if you wish too.