Car Travel With Multiples

[Car] Traveling just to grandma's house can involve fascinating logistics when you have more than one infant. How do you fit the car seats in --especially if there's an older (or younger) sibling? How do you keep the troops occupied?

Sometimes it feels like you need an equipment trailer just to get to the doctor's office. Car seats, high chairs, strollers, diaperbags, not to mention people, all have to be loaded into the car -- which is why so many parents of mulitples opt to buy a van. But, never fear, here are some tips to get where you are going in the old family car.

Please send comments or suggestions to Lisa

Car Top Carriers

Duane writes:

Well now that our Windstar has 4 carseats we have no room for a double stroller, twin gear, and general luggage. We will be traveling across country this summer and need some suggestions. Does anyone have any advice on luggage carriers that go on the roof of your vehicle. We saw a soft cover, but do not remember where - can you help.

Thanks in advance!

LLBean has a collapsible car top carrier in lots of different sizes. They are really neat. They guarantee all their products for life, for any reason! The only thing you ahould watch out for of course is someone taking a knife and stealing your stuff. Be careful.

We borrowed a soft car top carrier from a friend in the past. It was nice in that once we got where we were going, we could unload it & simply fold it up for storage. One of the disadvantages was that it was less waterproof (& we picked a RAINY week to vacation) which can be solved by putting things in garbage bags before loading them into the carrier. Another disadvantage was that the soft-type carriers cannot be secured as well. This means that if you stop overnight before you reach your final destination you'll have to completely unload it, or trust your fellow travellers not to help themselves to your belongings. Both of these were issues we hadn't considered until after we were on the road. It did have the advantage of easy storage when it wasn't in use (as I mentioned before) and was much less expensive (I believe my friend bought hers at Target on clearance for under $40).

We have also borrowed the "turtle" type car top carriers (we have GREAT friends) and those have worked well too--much bulkier--you feel like Chevy Chase in one of the Vacation movies. They do take a bit of getting used to, especially if you're driving in high winds. Also, it pays to plan well what you put in the carrier, vs. the car/van-- although items in the carrier are not impossible to get to, it certainly isn't easy to reach the things on the bottomof the load-- especially when it's raining (also learned from aforementioned trip)

This is probably way more information than you ever wanted--hope some of it is useful.

(I'm sending this to the list because I feel it may have some general interest)

As with most things, there is a cheap way and a right way:

First, the cheap way:

Sears sells a car-top carrier called the S-Cargo. It's made of thin plastic and is quite large. It straps to the top of your roof (although it sits on foam pads, I wouldn't want to put one on my car for fear it would scratch the paint). I've never used one, but it's somewhat flexible, so probably a bit rattly. Will certainly increase wind noise*. You can probably get it for less than $100. I'm not sure how this works with cars that don't have roof gutters.

* Since you'll be spending a lot of time on the road, this should be a major consideration for you.

Second, the right way:

Buy a Thule roof rack and cargo box. This is a component system: you need to buy towers, adapters and load bars, and then a box. They sell various sizes of boxes depending on their intended use (most are meant for skiis but they have one general purpose one - the Weekender - which is the lease expensive and holds about 16 cubic feet). Expect to spend at least $400. Advantages are it's a lot more sturdy and aerodynamic, and you can also buy bike carriers for the load bars. If you get long enough load bars you can even carry bikes and luggage at the same time. Thule makes adapters for just about any car; I'm sure the Windstar would be no problem. Try your local bike shop for this stuff. There's another brand, Yakima, which sells similar stuff, but they're a little more expensive and they don't have as good a selection of boxes. But have a look - they might suit your needs better.

Third, a combination:

Buy a Thule roof rack and mount an S-cargo on the load bars. This would prevent paint damage and mitigate any mounting concerns (although it will require purchasing some U-bolts and drilling holes in the S-cargo).

There's also something called a Burro Box (check out It's a huge box that fits on top of a minivan. It's $800 Canadian (don't know if they ship to the US).

For more options, you might want to do an AltaVista search on "luggage carriers".

Note: They do ship to the US. Information is on the Web site.

I second everyone else's comments on the Thule stuff, very nice, but $$$.

If your windstar has the factory roof rack you can certainly use a soft carrier. We bought a 18 Cu Ft bag from Performance Products for about $100 for use on our Explorer, which has basically the same rack as the Windstar. Sorry, I don't remember the brand name. But, I have since seen similar and less expensive ones at Kmart, Meijer's, and WalMart. I know one is marketed under the Samsonite brand. The only thing bad about ours is that it is black , so things inside get pretty warm when the car is parked on a sunny day. Most car roof racks are limited to 100 Lbs or less, but even so we could get the following inside ours.

Another thing, is every roofbag I have seen says water repellant (not water proof), even though ours never leaked, I wouldn't put anything in that absolutely can't get wet. If you do want/need roof racks or a solid roof box, Yakima is another brand you might consider. I think REI outfitters (nationwide stores and mail order, has both brands.

We have the Yakima Space Case, which is a hard plastic carrier that is mounted on Yakima roof racks. We love it because it holds so much stuff, much more than it looks like it does. It was expensive, about $500, but much cheaper than buying a bigger vehicle or renting a large van everytime you go on a trip.

In response to the question about car top carriers:

As with most things, there is a cheap way and a right way.... Second, the right way: Buy a Thule roof rack and cargo box.
My husband and I second his advice. We bought the second largest Thule box and the extra long load bars for our Dodge Caravan because eventually we will be transporting our bikes and the box at the same time. We travel to visit my family in Maine several times a year, and there is no way we could fit all of our stuff in the van's storage space. My husband says that the box loads up easily and is very secure. It was expensive, but we feel it is a worthwhile investment.

(BTW, Thule is pronounced "Toolie": the "h" is silent and the "e" is long.)

We bought a Kanga Typhoon roof pouch from REI for $150. It will hold 15 cubic feet and is durable coated vinyl and highly weatherproof.

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