Michelle Lifton thinks flying with her 15-month-old daughter will be difficult enough with the increased airport security. So she's doing everything possible to make her life simpler.
Instead of schlepping all the things she needs for the baby, she's just going to rent them when she gets there.
''We want to travel very light,'' she says.
Stores that rent baby gear are nothing new, but in today's climate, they merit a second look. With thousands of stores around the country renting cribs, it hardly makes sense to lug a Pack 'n Play along. With a choice of full-size strollers, jogging strollers, umbrella strollers and double strollers -- why bother bringing from home?
And with more people taking car trips, you can rent beds, rocking chairs, indoor swings and toys for those visiting guests from out of town.
Concerned about childproofing a vacation home? Balcony netting, baby monitors, safety gates, VCR locks and pool alarms are only a phone call away.
Since convenience is the key, most rental stores will deliver and pick up equipment. And some even have arrangements with rental car companies so that a car seat will be waiting with your vehicle on arrival.
It isn't difficult to find a store that rents baby equipment. Travelers staying at a hotel may want to call the concierge ahead of time and ask for a recommendation. Travel agents may have some contacts. Directory assistance or the Chamber of Commerce at your destination may be willing to check the Yellow Pages, and there is always the Internet.
Baby's Away, which has more than 30 locations in 14 states, has a Web site that lists its franchise locations and phone numbers. The American Rental Association has a Web site that allows users to search for member stores that rent cribs and other child equipment. Of the trade association's 4,300 members, more than 1,000 rent some type of kiddy gear, says spokeswoman Sandy Howell. In all, she estimates that more than 5,000 stores nationwide rent baby equipment.
Baby rental stores are not government regulated, however, and since rental contracts are often signed via fax with the goods unseen, consumers should consider asking vendors:
Do you pay attention to recalls?
How new is your equipment?
What do you use to clean your equipment?
Are cloth items washed in a machine after each use?
Are you bonded and insured?
Do you have references?
Do you give discounts to locals or military personnel?
Do you offer discounts for long rentals or for twins?
The inventory can vary widely from store to store, and so can the type of service. Some stores rent baby equipment as a sideline to say, chair and table rentals, and may not have much of a selection.
Others, like Kelly Duff, owner of Aloha Baby Rentals in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii's big island, will gladly have formula and diapers waiting in the hotel room for a family arriving after a long flight. Need a recommendation for a baby sitter? No problem, she is happy to oblige.
In the past year, Mrs. Lifton, of suburban Boston, has rented high chairs, swings, strollers, an exercise saucer, Pack 'n Plays and a backpack during trips to West Palm Beach, Fla., New Orleans and Denver. She's been pleased with each experience.
''We've always gotten what we needed when we needed it and the condition of everything has been great -- clean, current models and ready for use,'' she says. ''If it needed batteries, it had batteries.''
Certainly, it makes sense to consider the economics of renting. It costs about $4 or $5 a day to rent a Pack 'n Play, with one day free on a weekly rental. A family staying somewhere for a month, for instance, could buy a Pack 'n Play for about the same cost as renting, then donate it to a charity before heading home. But for shorter visits, or for big-ticket items like changing tables, renting costs less and you don't spend your vacation shopping for gear.
''My mother-in-law could certainly go out and buy things or have them in her house, but that's not necessary with these baby rental places popping up,'' Mrs. Lifton explains. ''It make a lot more sense to rent something for $5 a day.''
And with new security procedures resulting in slow-moving lines that snake up to airline counters, Mrs. Lifton can't imagine trying to handle a luggage cart laden with suitcases and bulky baby equipment while trying to keep an eye on a bored toddler.
So for her Thanksgiving trip to visit her mother-in-law in West Palm Beach, she's already reserved a jogging stroller ($8 per day), a Pack 'n Play ($4 per day) and a tub of toys ($6 per day), and if there are still long lines at the airport come November, she may also rent a car seat ($5 per day) and an umbrella stroller ($2 per day) and leave her own at home.
''With what's been happening in the last month, we are going to be renting more stuff,'' she says.
On the Net:
Aloha Baby Rentals: http://www.aalohababy.com
Baby's Away: http://www.babysaway.com
The American Rental Association: http://www.rentalhq.com
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