Car-Free with Kids in Qatar
Going without a car in Qatar isn’t easy. Neither my husband nor myself have a local driving licence, so we must rely on a patchy network of public transport and taxis, which limits our access to Doha’s beautiful beaches and deserts. Still, we feel quite lucky that Doha is in the midst of a building boom that has generally improved urban facilities.
If you know that you won’t be driving in Doha, or won’t be getting a local licence anytime soon, rest assured. You can still navigate the city with children in tow. Some districts are more walkable than others, although, you’ll still need a driver or use Ubers and taxis to go further afield. Going car-free, when possible, reduces your family’s carbon footprint. Not only that, a stint outside lifts the mood (especially as we move into cooler weather) and helps your family achieve a more active lifestyle. There’s so many benefits—and it’s more doable than you think.
Using cabs with children can be exhausting, especially when they need to use car seats. Qatar currently does not require children to use car seats, but that’s expected to change with last spring’s introduction of the Qatar National Child Passenger Safety Programme by the Ministry of Public Health. Car seats are essential in keeping your family safe in the event of a car accident; if you don’t feel confident in using one, the Women’s Wellness and Research Centre at Hamad can help teach you how to install them properly.
The simplest solution is to hire a driver who will be able to stash your car seats in their vehicle. However, for those of us who don’t have a regular driver, there are other solutions. Doha Cabs (3365-0407) offers car seats upon request. It’s more expensive than Uber, but the drivers are said to be more professional, with cleaner interiors.
Another option is just to use Uber or taxis and bring your own car seats. Buy car seats and related baby gear that are marketed for travellers to make your commute more manageable. We review the best options in the next section, but keep in mind that the most useful car seats for those without their own cars will be types that are more easily secured with seat belts.
If you are just taking the kids on a shopping trip, you can always leave their car seat at a bag check area (most grocery stores have these) and retrieve them once it’s time to go home.
Do not hold your child in your lap or wear your baby. You will crush your child in case of an accident. If you find yourself in an Uber or taxi without a car seat, secure them with their own seat belt as tight as you can, with the shoulder belt in front.
Gear for on-the-go
Since you don’t own a car, you can probably afford to splurge on a fancy travel system. A travel system is a combination stroller and car seat. You secure the baby in her car seat using a seat belt in the back of the taxi, while the stroller folds down and is tossed in the boot. Once you reach your destination, you can snap the car seat onto the stroller.
We’ve found that Doha’s taxi drivers will generally assist you in getting strollers in and out of the boot. Be sure to leave positive reviews, or even a tip, to make sure they continue to be just as helpful to the next family (and leave negative reviews when they don’t). Also, check for seat belts before getting in the car, as there will be the odd taxi that won’t have them.
Travel systems can often be mixed and matched; this means you don’t have to compromise. But, you may need adapters to make this work, and car seats are usually cheaper bundled with a stroller. For safety reasons, we recommend going with a car seat that has a European belt path as opposed to an American belt path. The European-style belt path, which goes around the back of the car seat, is generally safer—and should be considered essential for those families who frequently rely on taxis and Ubers.
Popular car seats that use European belt paths include Britax Endeavors, Nuna Pipa, Cybex Aton, and the Chicco Fit2. Another solid option is the Doona Car Seat, which is essentially a car seat that folds out into a stroller, handy for both frequent travellers and those of us without a car. That said, it’s expensive for a car seat that will only be used for a year or so (QR 1,770 at JustKidding).
Babies generally grow out of their travel systems by the first year. While a toddler car seat is more of a hassle, there are a few pieces of baby gear that can help. In general, it’s a good idea to research products for “family travellers” or “urban families”.
The Urban Kanga is probably the best option for Qatar, as you only need a three-point seat belt to attach it. Other models we’ve seen, like the IMMI Go, need a LATCH/ISOFIX system to use, which is not universal here. The Urban Kanga caweighs only 3kg and can be used until your child weighs 18kg. It’s GBP 130 (QR 600) on Amazon UK.
Another option is the Cosco Scenera NEXT, which is a lightweight car seat. Popular among frequent travellers, it’s best used rear-facing as it can be secured solely with a seat belt. When facing forward, you’ll need to hook it to a tether anchor, which (of course) will vary by car model. It’s very reasonably priced at USD 48 (QR 175) on Amazon. While not included, it’s advisable to buy locking clips in case the seat belts don’t have this feature (seat belts should lock when you tug them).
The burden is less once the kids age into booster seats. Two popular options include the Mifold booster seat (QR 249 at JustKidding) and the RideSafer travel vest, USD 159 (QR 580) on Amazon. The Mifold wraps up into a fat, wallet-sized bundle and is easy to slip into a purse or backpack. It’s approved for children weighing at least 18kg. The RideSafer travel vest is a wearable harness that’s a decent alternative to booster seats. It is approved for children weighing at least 13.5kg and can be tucked inside a bag.
The Doha metro, while still in its infancy, is making it more convenient to forgo car trips. It’s shiny and new, and the stations are generally not as crowded as in other major cities. We find that the staff are very helpful. Elevators are located at most exits, as well as to the platforms, so you don’t have to worry about your stroller.
Single journeys are QR 2 for adults and children over five; those four and under travel free with a fare-paying adult.
Even if you don’t live near a metro stop, you can still cut the amount of time you spend sitting in traffic. An eco-friendly way to get to the nearest metro stop is by using a Metrolink bus. These connect popular destinations and residential areas to the nearest metro. Check to see if you live near a Metrolink bus route by checking Qatar Rail’s website (qr.com.qa) or by downloading the Karwa Bus app from the Apple Store or Google Play. On Karwa, Metrolink bus routes begin with M.
A bus is admittedly more difficult for those using strollers, but a handy new service for those with younger children is the MetroExpress. Download the MetroExpress app from the Apple Store or Google Play. MetroExpress are immaculately clean six-seater minibuses with ISOFIX anchor points for use in attaching car seats. There’s space behind the seats to store folded up strollers. At the time of writing, it’s a free pilot service for registered users and only available for the West Bay QIC and DECC stops. Check the app to see full availability.
If you live outside the Metrolink bus routes, you can still take advantage of the public transport system by either driving or taking a taxi to the nearest stop to your home. It will still reduce total amount of time on the road, and is often faster than driving the entire way. Some of the destinations currently available include Al Bidda, Al Corniche, Souq Waqif (via Metrolink from Msheireb Station), Souq Wakra (via Metrolink from Al Wakra Station), and Katara (via complimentary golf carts from Al Qassar). It makes visiting these local attractions less of headache when you don’t have to worry about finding parking or spending a significant part of the day in traffic.
Doha still has a ways to go before you can completely ditch the car lifestyle, but with the right travel gear and an open mind, you can still reach a fair portion of the city without a car. And it’s only going to get better from here!