Little Traveller - Equipment Rental for Kids little traveller

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Travel with Convenience

Lisa Kadane, Calgary Herald

November 25, 2006 — I've been garnering looks of awe at the airport lately.

Not because I'm dressed in my airplane best, but because I'm crazy enough to travel by myself with a baby. The last three times I've flown with Avery, we've been daddy-free.

That may sound liberating. It's not. It means I'm held hostage by all the travel paraphernalia I have to haul to the check-in counter, and then the remaining stuff I must lug to the gate.

Plus, at the security check, I have to collapse the stroller, ship it through the x-ray machine, kick off my shoes, peel off my jacket and slip off my belt (cue strip-tease music) -- without letting the toddler wander off.

Since Avery can't really carry her car seat -- or even her diaper bag -- all that weight rests on my shoulders. Hence the smiles of pity at customs as I push the stroller with one hand and the baggage cart laden with super-sized suitcase, portable crib and car seat with the other hand.

In Seattle last month, where baggage carts cost $3 US to rent (they're free in Calgary), I simply shouldered the car seat like a backpack, pushed Avery and the stroller while pulling the steamer trunk-on-wheels.

The trek from where the car rental agency van dropped me off to the Alaska Airlines counter can only be described as a prolonged sherpa experience.

Stacey Corbett doesn't think I'm nuts, just unaware of the options for renting baby gear in many North American cities. In June, she started One Tiny Suitcase, a baby-equipment rental company based in Calgary.

Her premise is that if you wouldn't check an ExerSaucer or high chair when you fly, why would you schlep around a playpen and a car seat? Toting a toddler is enough of a challenge.

This luggage juggling is compounded over the holidays when Christmas presents are thrown into the mix.

Corbett, 29, and a mother of twins, hatched the idea for her company after trying to travel with her two-year-olds -- and their car seats, playpens and strollers -- to Hawaii for a holiday. She noticed most major U.S. cities have at least one baby rental store, so why not Calgary?

It turns out Corbett wasn't the only Calgarian with that bright idea. The same month, Colleen Thorpe, 34, mom to a three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, launched Little Traveller Rentals, a baby- and toddler-gear rental outfit.

Thorpe's brainstorm hit after a trip to New Zealand, where she noticed many towns had companies renting such equipment. She also discovered many airlines' baggage policies aren't family friendly, charging travellers for baby gear.

Corbett says while most airlines offer a free service for checking strollers at the gate, they can't guarantee the condition on arrival. What if it breaks, or worse, goes missing?

"I definitely have customers that phone me because their stuff gets lost in transit," she says.

Corbett adds most car rental agencies can't guarantee a car seat will be available, and some only offer toddler -- not infant -- seats.

One Tiny Suitcase and Little Traveller Rentals loan out car seats, strollers, playpens, high chairs, baby swings and baby gates (among other items) at daily and weekly rates. Both companies offer a delivery service, too.

It's not just Calgary grandparents renting equipment for when the grandkids visit. Thorpe and Corbett get calls from families coming to Calgary and Banff as tourists.

New Calgarians travelling home to Toronto or Vancouver this Christmas needn't worry. Many major Canadian cities offer similar services (see sidebar).

If there's one reservation people harbour about renting baby equipment, it's the thought of securing a crib over the phone only to arrive and find out it's an antique. But, Corbett says, just as Thrifty wouldn't rent you a 1974 Pinto, her company doesn't rent outdated or unsafe baby gear.

"When people come into town, they expect to get what they have at home," she says.

All of her items are in new condition and are brand names, from Peg Perego to Eddie Bauer.

"If you're going to spend $15 a day on a stroller, it's got to be a $500 stroller," Corbett says.

Although it sounds convenient, I'm not totally sold on the idea. For starters, I couldn't part with my stroller at the airport -- it's such an ideal restraining device.

But I can see the merit in renting toys and a high chair for an extended stay at Grammy's. After all, a toddler can't play with porcelain figurines or eat from a bar stool for long before something gets broken or spilled.

lkadane@theherald.canwest.com

Baby on Board is an occasional travel column that chronicles writer Lisa Kadane's adventures with her family's newest addition.

Baby-Equipment Rental Companies Across Canada:

Colleen Thorpe and Stacey Corbett, who own baby-equipment rental companies in Calgary, advise Christmas travellers to book gear now to avoid disappointment. Car seats and portable cribs are the most popular rental items.

© The Calgary Herald 2006