Traveling with toddlers is no easy feat, so we want to make it as easy as possible for you. I’m often asked ‘Should I bring a portable car seat on vacation?’ and my answer is almost always a big Y-E-S! Bringing along a lightweight toddler car seat will save you lots of headaches at your destination and is absolutely worth the extra hassle. Not only will you be confident that you have something safe to transport your toddler with on vacation, but you will also find that bringing a toddler travel car seat on the plane is a total lifesaver!
What are the best toddler travel car seats?
There are several top toddler travel car seats on the market. All of them are relatively lightweight and easy to carry throughout the airport. Each car seat has a different weight and height rating and this might affect your decision. We managed to get by with a travel car seat that went from 8-40lbs and then a portable booster seat from 40lbs and up. Some readers might prefer a portable toddler car seat that goes as high as 50lbs or more.
We’ve put together a comparison of the top travel car seats for toddlers on the market below. You can compare prices, weight restrictions as well as the weight of the car seat itself. Scroll down below to find out which car seat is our absolute favorite when it comes to traveling safely with toddlers.
The Cosco Scenera Next
- Fits 3 across in the back seat ; Rear-facing 5-40 lbs ; Forward-facing 22-40 lbs
- Side Impact Protection ; 5-point harness with easy front adjustment ; 5 harness heights and 3 buckle locations allow for the best fit for growing children
- Seat pad is machine washable and dryer safe at a low setting ; Removable cup holder is dishwasher safe
- Lightweight for carrying through the airport ; Airplane ready ; LATCH-equipped ; Meets or exceeds Federal and ASTM Safety Standards
- Also available in printed fabric ; 17.00 x 22.00 x 23.50 Inches
The Cosco Scenera Next is hands-down our favorite toddler travel car seat. This car seat is super lightweight, compact, is easy to transport in a stroller, and is perfect until your toddler has reached the appropriate weight for a booster seat.
This car seat is also super affordable. We bought this car seat solely for travel. That way we don’t have to worry about our more expensive car seats getting damaged during travel. If you get a car seat for travel only then you also won’t have to deal with uninstalling and installing your regular seats!
This car seat is easy to install in a rental car and I much prefer bringing this car seat along than worrying about the quality of a potential rental car seat.
I discovered that the Cosco Scenera Next can fit into the bottom of my Uppa Baby Vista stroller basket. With this set up I can easily transport the car seat around the airport or even out in the city. It’s perfect!
The Evenflo Tribute LX
- Side impact tested, Meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety standards and Evenflo's side impact test standard
- Designed and tested for structural integrity at energy levels approximately 2X the Federal crash test standard. Rear facing fit tip is top of child head is at least 1 inch below the top of the child restraint seat back
- Multiple shoulder harness positions for better fit and longer use. Age at least two years of age
- Upfront harness adjustment and buckle release allows easy and convenient adjusting
- Integrated body cushion gives added comfort to baby and an easily removable head pillow for older children
- Attach and remove in seconds with quick-release strap
- Latch not needed
- Compatible with car seats with top tether
- For use with children up to 40 lbs
- Compatible with most 13"- 20" roller suitcases
This inexpensive car seat is another great travel option. Weighing in at 9 lbs this car seat is the most lightweight travel car seat we’ve found. The Evenflo Tribute is rated from 5lbs (rear-facing) to 40lbs (forward-facing) making it super versatile even for young babies.
The Evenflo Tribute is easy to install and uses the LATCH system for easy installation when you arrive at your destination. With the Go-Go babyz car seat luggage strap you can easily turn your toddler car seat and carry on luggage into a mini stroller.
Ride Safer Delight Travel Vest
- An alternative to booster seats and car seats. Certified for use in motor vehicles. Meets all applicable FMVSS 213 requirements. Can be used with Delighter Booster.
- Certified for use in motor vehicles in the USA, Age Range - 3years and above
- Tested with lap only seatbelts plus tether and lap/shoulder belt to meet certification and performance standards according to FMVSS 213
- The weight range for the product recommended is 30 pounds to 60 pounds
The Ride Safer Delight Travel vest is an interesting option for a travel car seat. This option works great if you are really tight on space or if you are planning to do a lot of sightseeing by taking taxis. The ride safer can be stored in a backpack and is lightweight and easy to carry.
The main negatives of the ride safer delight is that the minimum weight is 30 lbs, it is not FAA approved for the airplane, and it is also really expensive. I would likely only consider this option if you are planning to do a lot of travel when your child is between the ages of 30 lbs-40 lbs.
Disney Baby Apt 50 Car Seat
- Extended use lets kids ride longer: Rear facing 5 40 pounds and Forward facing 22 50 pounds
- Side Impact Protection
- Seat pad is machine washable and dryer safe
- 5 point harness with up front adjustment
- 6 harness heights and 3 buckle locations allow for the best fit for growing children
From one Disney lover to the next, this adorable travel car seat is also an awesome portable car seat option. I like that this car seat is rated to 50lbs. This is helpful for toddlers that might not meet the appropriate age or height requirement for a booster. My only complaint about this car seat is that it is a bit bulkier than the Cosco Scenera Next.
Top Toddler Travel Booster Seats
Prior to 40 lbs, a 5 point restraint in a properly fitted car seat is the safest way to transport your toddler. Once your child is 4 years old and above 40 lbs and provided they meet the height requirement for the specific booster, a portable booster seat is an option.
Here’s our list of the top travel booster seats for kids:
The MiFold Travel Booster
- mifold is the most compact and portable booster seat ever invented and is designed for kids aged 4 and up, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall
- Keeps your child secure by optimally adjusting the adult seat belt to fit the child
- mifold folds down to fit into a child's backpack, glove box or bag
- Safety tested and meets or exceeds NHTSA standard FMVSS 213 in the USA (THIS PRODUCT IS PRODUCED ONLY FOR USE IN THE USA and is not the International version, regulated under ECE R44/04)
- mifold is perfect for carpooling, travelling, taxis, car sharing, rentals, older kids and for fitting 3 in a row
The MiFold travel booster is our favorite option for travel when our kids reach the over 4 years and over 40lbs mark. We’ve used the MiFold extensively with our eldest son and he really loves it. The only complaint that I have about the MiFold is that it is a bit uncomfortable for kids during a long car ride. I absolutely love that you can fit this in your purse and bring it with you on a sightseeing trip to the city.
The Cosco Topside Backless Booster
- This Cosco backless booster securely fits in your car and gives your child the extra height they need to keep seatbelts properly positioned
- Made for growing kids, the seat holds kids weighing between 40 to 100 pounds and 43 to 57 inches in height
- Lightweight, compact design makes the seat easy to move whenever you need to change vehicles
- Extra plush padding in this backless booster seat makes long rides more comfortable; The fabric car seat cover is hand wash only
- Designed to leave your car's seats unmarked, this booster won't leave marks or indentations while in use
This traditional booster is a great lightweight option. It’s perfect for a rental car and doesn’t take up too much space in either your luggage or carry on. The Cosco topside is not recommended until age 6.
BubbleBum Inflatable Booster
- The inflatable travel car booster seat for children aged 4 - 11yrs and weighing 40 - 100lbs
- Narrow, lightweight, foldable design - perfect for vacations, car rental, Thanksgiving & holiday season travel. Deflates to easily fit in a purse or backpack.
- Makes fitting 3 across easy, its narrow and slimline design is ideal for the middle seat
- Rated a "Best Bet" Booster by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 8 years in a row - more than any other travel car seat
- Packed with impact absorbing memory foam that provides stability and structural integrity, protecting your child even if it becomes punctured in a crash
BubbleBum inflatable booster gets rave review from all my friends! It also has consistently high safety ratings. This booster is not approved in Canada and therefore I have not tried it myself. The BubbleBum inflatable booster is more comfortable than the MiFold.
Why you should absolutely bring your toddler car seat on the airplane
Bringing our toddlers car seat onto the airplane was an absolute GAME CHANGER for us. We didn’t start doing it until our toddler was two years old and we needed to pay for the seat. If I had known how much it would have saved our sanity, I may have considered buying a seat before age 2. Being in the car seat is definitely the safest way for an infant under age 2 to travel by air.
Before bringing our car seat onto the plane we struggled with our toddler wanting to explore the aisles, poke the people directly behind or in front of us and crawl under the seats. Once we started strapping him in he happily sat and played in his seat. Our little ones have always been used to car rides and getting into the car seat is a comfortable routine for them.
Our favourite FAA approved car seat for toddlers is still the Cosco Scenera Next. This car seat easily fastens using the planes seat belt in the forward facing position. The only negative I noted is that my sons legs were now at the perfect distance to kick the seat in front of him. We solved this problem by sitting his older brother directly in front of him so we wouldn’t have to spend the whole flight yelling ‘stop kicking!
Toddler Travel Car Seat Tips
Using your stroller as a car seat carrier
As I’ve recommended above, I LOVE to bring my full-size stroller on vacation. I love having the full-size cargo basket, the full recline and the canopy. I love my Uppababy Vista and bring this on most trips. Unless you are really tight on space, I don’t advise purchasing a separate travel stroller.
If you have a large stroller you can easily fit the Cosco Scenera Next in the under basket. The Cosco Scenera Next fits nicely into the basket of the UppaBaby Vista.
Consider a seat strap for your luggage
- This Car Seat Luggage Belt turns your rolling bag (handbag or suitcase) in to an ultra-portable travel solution that works for all car seats that have a top tether. No need to spend large amounts of money for a Car Seat Carrier or Cart
- RELIABLE AND COST EFFECTIVE - Reinforced stitching and commercial grade belt ensures that this lasts for years to come. When compared to the carts or dollys, you'll save a lot of time, money and headache each time
- QUICK AND EASY - Attach to or remove Car Seat from your luggage in just a few seconds. When not in use, fold the strap and store it anywhere as its light and takes minimal space
- COMPATIBLE - This belt works with most 13"- 56" roller handbags and suitcases and forward facing car seats that have a top tether. Be sure to practice at home and look like a PRO at the airport
- BONUS - Free E-Book for parents on how to keep your children busy while on the move
A seat strap is a really cool invention to turn your carry on luggage into a portable stroller for travel. You simply strap the car seat to your luggage and bring your little one along for the ride!
Make sure your car seat is FAA approved
It’s important to check that your car seat is FAA approved if you plan on using it on the plane.
Here are our favourite FAA approved toddler travel car seats:
Have a separate seat car seat for travel
We have a separate car seat just for travel and find the convenience worth the extra cost. We don’t have to worry about installing and uninstalling our car seats and we also don’t have to worry about lugging around our heavy car seats from home.
What about renting a toddler car seat?
We have rented a car with car seats on a few occasions. We have always been pretty lucky with good quality seats. I have heard from a lot of friends that the quality of the airport car seats is inconsistent and sometimes the fit isn’t appropriate. Since we found the Cosco Scenera Next we haven’t bothered to rent a car seat because bringing it along is a piece of cake. Most car rental companies charge $10/day for a child seat so the Cosco Scenera Next is a great deal if you use it for more than one trip!
How to travel
with car seats using taxis and public transportation?
If you are going to be touring a city and taking taxis, options for car seats are limited. Public transportation is always the easiest with small children, so if you have the opportunity to take a bus or subway, I would consider this first. There are some cities where you can use a car rental service with car seats. We like the MiFold and the Cosco Scenera Next (in the stroller basket) for traveling in the city with young kids.