Baby Carrier vs Stroller, How to Get It Right for Your Best Vacation

Olivia in the Osprey Poco Plus

“Does this smell?” I asked Jo about our Osprey carrier. From the other side of the room she responded “Yes.” Earlier in our trip we had walked for twelve days from Porto, Portugal to Compostela de Santiago, Spain, averaging 13 miles / 21k a day.  After a comfortable train ride back to Porto, we had to confront some hard truths.  The Osprey was in desperate need of a washing. Feeling inspired, I took the carrier into the shower, soaped it up, and rinsed.  I then carried the still dripping frame pack through the hotel room as my cleaning trophy.  I was proud of what I had done, both me and the carrier were fresh again.  But I was met with dismay.  Upon seeing me, Jo quickly asked,“what are we going to carry Olivia around in all day?” I had not thought that far ahead. And at my urging, we had left the stroller at home. But this moment was travel-gold disguised as wet, and admittedly, still musty nylon.  My impulsive shower wash forced us to find a new way to carry our daughter.  It also made us reflect again on one of the first family-travel questions I was ever asked. 

“It looks like you don’t take a stroller with you when you travel, would you recommend leaving it at home?” When I first heard that question, I was extremely biased, and responded with a resounding “yes!” Then, I had traveled exclusively with carriers, and I had always opted for the hands-free terrain-versatility that they offered.  But, I was speaking from my limited knowledge base; I had never experienced the back-saving advantages of a stroller. With the framed carrier sodden we came up with two solutions. The first one was to use the soft carrier with Olivia on our back.  That was merely a variation on the theme I knew well.  The second solution, however, was the game-changer.  I also went down to ask the hotel if they had a stroller that they lent out to guests, and as it turns out, they did. We now had a genuinely new option to try out in Porto. 

My first stop with the bright red umbrella stroller was the gym. Why? Because that’s  where the sterilization wipes, sprays, and unlimited amount of paper towels can be found. I sprayed and wiped the entire stroller down to a standard that even Jo was proud of. While I clumsily pushed the stroller through the hotel door Olivia took a look and exclaimed “oh, nice!” and started to climb in. Porto, Portugal and its steep cobbled sidewalks and streets combined with its availability of all types of public transport made it a perfect place for testing child transport superiority. With an unencumbered back, we rolled our daughter into a day of sightseeing. 

The stroller performed much better than expected over uneven cobble stone side walks. Olivia did not seem to mind the bumpy ride and it even helped put her to sleep at times. Taking the bus to the seaside with the stroller was not as easy as it would have been with one of the other hands-free baby haulers, but it did allow me to sit down on a bus for the first time in a while. The other huge advantage is how easily we could transfer responsibility of carting Olivia around. The responsibility of carrying Olivia in the outsized Osprey frame pack is exclusively mine. The soft carrier usually gets strapped to whatever parent Olivia choses as her mule at that moment, but then stays there. The stroller could easily be toggled from one parent to the other. 

There were some drawbacks to a stroller, especially in the storied cities, towns, and villages of the “Old World.” In Porto, many sidewalks taper to 2 feet across.  At times they completely disappear, and we tried our best to walk in single file, one shoulder to the wall.    Keeping the stroller out of traffic while avoiding oncoming pedestrians was a full time job. In crowds the stroller was also at a disadvantage.  Many Portuguese did not see our stroller, or pretended they didn’t.  As we jostled our way through the thick of humanity, we wondered if we were the only ones concerned for our little stroller.  We had by then affectionally dubbed it “Little Red,” and knew, objectively at least, it was easily visible. 

not sure if this was a sidewalk but we had to walk in the street

Portugal has recently been awarded the United Nations’ first award for being an Accessible Tourist Destination. What it took to get that appellation, however, was not clear to me.  Looking for ramps and elevators became a constant occupation. Overall, Little Red was a welcomed relief from the long days of carrying Olivia, and if nothing else, it forced us to look around more, and find a path we may not otherwise have taken. If we had to carry it between hotels or through airports, however, even my tepid support might be tamped down. Calling or emailing your hotel or vacation stay and finding out if they can provide one is the way to go. 

The next day, with the Osprey frame pack still not completely dried, we used our Lilly Complete. Generally, we only put Olivia in this carrier to get through busy areas such as airports, train stations.  We’ve also adapted it to be our on-the-go sleeper. We have traveled so much that it is now her preferred place to sleep. As an all day carrier, however, we were uncertain.  We were trying a new back position which would bring her flush against my back, and we would attempt to keep Olivia in it all day. The biggest concern was overheating, for all parties involved.  The close-to-the-body position turned out to be optimal for shopping in the small shops around Porto. With the large frame pack, I am always afraid that I will turn and knock something over.  And despite its moniker, “Little Red” always felt in the way. Jo also felt much more comfortable carrying Olivia in the Lilly Complete over the Osprey. Jo feels unbalanced while using the Osprey, which makes sense.  It is optimized for me, 100 lbs bigger, and a full foot taller. The Lilly Complete also kept our hands free as the Osprey would, but with a soft exterior, allowed easy storage when Olivia wanted to walk around. The biggest draw back was encountered at snack time.  Because Olivia is flush to our body there wasn’t a lot of room for her to eat or drink while we were carrying her. 

everyone seemed to enjoy this option

Osprey Poco Plus has been our go to child transport system since Olivia has had the neck strength to hold her head up. It allows us to go on hikes and walk all day with her.   It also has some great built in storage that frees up the hands of both parents. The optional rain cover has never failed to keep Olivia dry allowing us a full day of exploring no matter what the forecast is. On almost all of our vacations we go on some type of hike and this is the only system we could travel with that would lend itself to a day in the woods as well as an amble around town. This is also the carrier that Olivia will remain seated the longest without asking to walk herself. In Porto, we did find some draw backs. The radius needed to turn is rather large, so in stores and on public transport people and or things often get hit. While it does fold into itself when the child is not in the seat, if you have items stored in the pack it will not completely collapse. While it did not get the best overall marks on our test, it is our only option if we plan to do any hiking on the trip.

Overall the best advice would be to take the soft carrier, unless you are planing a hike, and contact hotels before booking to find one that has a stroller. 

Osprey Poco PlusLilly Complete Hotel Stroller “Little Red”
Crowded areas 452
Public transportation  453
Perceived comfort of Olivia 544
Vicente’s enjoyment of use443
Jo’s enjoyment of use145
Olivia snack and drink time425
Ease of nap time553
Ease of cleaning while traveling 353
Ease of transporting from country to country 453
Ease for parent  while Olivia is walking  354
Energy conservation for parent using435
Total 445243