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Cheap Travel Systems Buying Guide

There are many stroller/car seat/base combos on the market these days and the best cheap travel systems can be had for less than $300. Our research identified three winners.

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Leading the pack in a first place tie are the Graco FastAction Fold Travel System (starting at $200) and the Chicco Cortina KeyFit 22 Travel System (starting at $270), both of which score for user-friendly installation of the car seat base, maneuverability, comfort, and safety. The Graco Stylus LX Travel System (starting at $244) rolls into second place for its sturdy reliability and comfort. Lagging behind our best cheap travel systems picks is the Safety 1st Saunter Luxe Travel System (starting at $130), which gives some parents fits about car seat safety and ease of use.

There are several players in the cheap travel systems segment. Graco and Chicco offer the widest variety and garner the most positive reviews from experts and consumers. Manufacturers such as Safety 1st and Evenflo also offer some standout models, but our research revealed that Graco and Chicco perform more consistently across their entire lineup of cheap travel systems. And while there are plenty of travel systems out there costing north of $600, on the whole you'll find that cheap travel systems stack up equally next to their pricey counterparts when it comes to what matters -- safety, comfort, and ease of use.

Most cheap travel systems feature lots of bells and whistles: snack trays, drink holders, storage baskets, sunshades, reclining seats. In fact, many expensive models come with fewer options. One eye-catching attribute that distinguishes expensive from cheap travel systems, however, are the aesthetics -- the patterns and colors and overall styling. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we read dozens of online reviews gushing about the looks of the cheap travel systems on our list.

Review continues below

Experts are quick to assure anxious parents and caregivers that more money doesn't buy much more travel system. So forget about securing that upmarket name or the latest fashion trend and focus instead on performance. In fact, reviews of cheap travel systems pound on safety, comfort, and user-friendliness far more heavily than on features and styling. All of our best cheap travel systems picks meet federal safety standards and pass parents' subjective tests: car seats and strollers that keep passengers snug and content; car seats and bases that set up easily in the car and give off strong safety vibes; and strollers that open and close without struggle and smoothly traverse the family's usual stomping grounds.

One last point: Thrifty parents sometimes choose to save money by purchasing second-hand baby gear or using hand-me-down equipment. Experts strongly advise against this for car seats or strollers. If you opt for a previously owned car seat or stroller anyway, make sure to conduct a thorough background check: Know where it's been and how it's been used, and check for recalls at CPSC.gov. Always invest in a new model if the pre-owned car seat has been involved in a crash or is more than six years old, as safety standards and engineering have evolved.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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