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Bringing Baby? Lighten Load by Renting Gear


There's nothing like parenthood to make you nostalgic for the carefree travel of your college years. Back then, I frequently arrived at the airport at the last minute, sprinting to the gate with all my gear stuffed into a single carry-on bag.

And now? I practically need a Mack truck to transport my precious 18-month-old's "essentials" for a one-week vacation.

On one sad day at the Detroit airport last fall, I learned the hard way that I cannot simultaneously push my lightweight stroller and pull a large rolling bag, especially when both shoulders are loaded with tote bags filled with toys, jars of baby food, utensils, bottles, nipples, diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, a blanket and medicine.

I decided then that I would find a way to travel light, even with a young child in tow.

To my delight, I learned that you can rent much of the baby gear you need in most major cities--not just cribs and highchairs, but also small things like baby monitors and toys. Toys!

You can even arrange to have the goods delivered to wherever you're staying before you arrive and picked up after you leave.

I tried out the rental route during a May trip to San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and it was a divine luxury--but one I would use sparingly.

The baby and I shared a medium-size rolling suitcase filled with our clothes, shoes and toiletries that was only slightly larger than the suitcase my husband hogged for himself. We checked both of those.

I also packed one tote bag with two toys, a snack, a sippy cup, diapering supplies and my purse. My husband carried a second tote bag with the video camera and other valuables. He also carried the baby's car seat, the only piece of baby gear we could not avoid because we needed it for the cab ride to the airport.

No stroller. No portable highchair. No portable baby bathtub. No bedrails. No portable playpens. No baby monitor. No stair gates. No suitcase full of toys. In short, none of the heavy, bulky stuff that had been so unwieldy on past trips to visit family and friends.

This time, the airport was manageable.

Waiting for us when we arrived at our (single and childless) friend's four-story loft in San Francisco were a full-size Peg Perego Prima Pappa highchair, a Baby Trend jogging stroller, Safety First stair gates and bathtub, Fisher-Price Bounce 'n Play playpen, baby monitor and bedrails, and a plastic storage tub filled with age-appropriate toys (classic and high-tech), all delivered by Littleluggage, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in renting baby equipment. Everything was either new or new enough, and impeccably clean.

Cost: $255, including delivery and pickup.

It was worth every dime.

The portable baby gear we would otherwise have lugged typically isn't as sturdy or comfortable as mid-range or top-of-the-line models. My portable highchair wouldn't have worked in my friend's apartment at all. It's essentially a hammock seat on a metal frame that attaches to a table, and my friend's small antique dining table had no lip on which to attach the contraption.

Taking the rest of the stuff would have been a drag, and buying duplicate items seems wasteful, although Ericka Lutz, author of several parenting books (including "On the Go With Baby"), suggested that one option would have been to buy inexpensive items at a children's secondhand store, then donate them back. But she agrees that it is an investment in time over money.

When Lutz traveled with her daughter, she occasionally took used goods, but more often she simply made do. "Part of it is stripping down to what you need," she said. "Some of it you can just do without."

"People for centuries have raised babies with very little gear," she added. "You don't need a highchair. If the child is old enough, he can sit on telephone books. You don't need a baby bath. You can bathe a child in the sink."

OK, I could have done without some of the things I rented, but it was nice to have all the comforts of home.

The stroller we rented was the same brand, model and color as the one we use at home. We took the baby for walks two and even three times a day, and he loved the novelty of strolling in a bustling city rather than the quiet suburb where we live.

The only thing we didn't use much was the playpen--I had to use it just once for a few minutes during the five days we spent in San Francisco--but I had rented it merely as insurance. I wanted a 100% secure place for the baby while I made him a meal, for example, considering my friend's description of his new apartment: "Some of the stairs don't have drops, they just float," he told me during one telephone call. "Is that a problem?"

Luckily, it wasn't quite the death trap I had envisioned.

And although I would rent again under similar circumstances, on many trips I wouldn't need as much equipment. For example, I doubt that rented baby gear would be necessary at a vacation resort, where you're typically eating in restaurants or at poolside and where the hotel would have highchairs.

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