If you’ve got a toddler who wants to be independent but really isn’t old enough to understand safety issues, the thought of family travel can seem like a nightmare. But Janee Rutherford, mother to Leah (18 months), recently stumbled on the answer to giving her daughter freedom yet still keeping her safe. She invested in a backpack that also doubles as a child’s safety harness and now the little miss doesn’t have to hold hands and her mother doesn’t have to worry that Leah will bolt into traffic or suddenly go missing. She tells suitcases&strollers why putting her daughter on a “leash” has made travelling with baby so much more enjoyable (for everyone).

What did you think of safety harnesses before you had Leah?

My view was to let a kid be a kid. If they want to run around, they need to learn to do that. I used to think it was parents’ responsibility to hold on to children’s hands, but now I’ve realized an 18-month-old is trying to be independent. It’s a cat fight to get her to hold my hand.

When did you realise you needed to start using a harness?

Leah is really at a stage where she has no concept of danger but it’s unfair to keep her in the stroller – she gets bored and needs to release the energy. She is just starting to run and the other day she suddenly ran out of the elevator without warning. We realised this was the situation we needed a harness because she could bolt out at any second.

Even in the airport, previously I would have let her crawl around, but she has been nearly run over by people with trolleys. It’s not worth the risk.

When do you use it?

At home, we take it out every time we leave the house. We use it about 60% of the time.

In places like Singapore and Australia it is useful for shopping centres and attractions where we know it’s safe and there are no unforeseen drop offs.

When we’re travelling in Asia, the congestion of foot traffic in the sidewalk means it’s easier [to keep hold of Leah among the crowds]. Using it on the trains also means she can’t jump off the carriage.

We used it a lot in the airport and on the plane because she wanted to walk in a little circumference in the aisle but we didn’t want her disturbing people. We’ve also used it at the zoo because there can be random vehicles moving around the place [so we need to be able to let her walk but still be able to grab her quickly if a vehicle suddenly appears].

[For more travel tips on surviving flights with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

Have there been any other benefits to using the harness besides your ability to keep a “hold” on Leah?

It works for identification purposes because if she gets lost without any ID, at least we could look for her as “the girl with the kangaroo on her back”.

The padding of the bag behind head has also acted as a cushion to protect her like an airbag or pillow when she falls backwards!

What does Leah think of her harness?

She really likes it because she thinks it’s like a toy. The other day when she really wanted to go outside she brought it over to me so I would put it on!

Have you had any comments in the street from strangers about it?

The only comments we’ve had is that it’s cute because of the backpack. Maybe if it was just a harness people might be more critical. 

For more travel tips on travelling with toddlers, see the suitcases&strollers story here