The Best Car Seat for Travel (For Every Age!)
This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclaimer here(Last Updated On: January 5, 2018)
Looking for the best car seat for travel with your baby, toddler or child? Wondering about the best car seats for airplanes? One of the biggest pains traveling with young kids is figuring out what to do about the car seats! Seriously, I have planned so much of our travel around “well, how are we going to travel with the car seats??!” My car seat for my 3-year-old (although AWESOME) is super heavy and bulky I needed a better toddler travel car seat option! Obviously, I want to keep my little ones safe, but I also want to minimize as much as possible the amount of stuff I am bringing along with me. I am slowly learning that there really isn’t such a thing as “packing light” when you are traveling with little ones. If you are looking for a portable car seat for travel, here is my list!
Travel Car Seat Rundown
Here are the best car seats for travel that I have tried and tested. These opinions are my own, and I was not paid or sponsored by any of these companies. Please note that it is important to check your local car seat regulations as these may vary from country to country. In the US, you will need FAA approved car seats. You can look for your car seat sticker to see if yours is approved, if approved, it should say “this restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft”
Taking a car seat with an infant is the easiest and simplest. I have always used a bucket seat with my kids and I take the same bucket seat that I use at home with me when I travel. We have the Maxi-Cosi Mico 30, and I think this is the most lightweight car seat around! Any bucket seat as long as it meets safety requirements will do though!
For the best car seat stroller combo, our car seat attaches to our UppaBaby Vista which makes it great for use in the airport and also while we are on the trip. We never bring along our actual stroller seat until our little one has outgrown the bucket seat. It is too much to carry and our little ones have always been happy in the bucket seat with a few toys to play with.
For me, toddlers are the trickiest age for bringing car seats for travel. The seats are so bulky and that makes them difficult to transport in the airport. At the advice of a friend, I purchased the Cosco Scenera Next car seat and I use this exclusively as my toddler travel car seat. This seat is seriously the best car seat for travel! The car seat is very lightweight, which makes it great as an airplane car seat as it’s easy to transport. It also fits perfectly in the basket of my Uppa Baby Vista (score!).
The biggest plus of this travel car seat is the price!! I scored mine for $40 at Walmart AND it came with its own bag included. It is the best value around, and with such a low price I am not afraid of it getting ruined when we travel. In the US, this portable car seat is FAA approved, meaning that it is an airline approved car seat for travel. I prefer to take this car seat and risk it getting damaged than to take my expensive car seat that I use every day.
Portable Booster Seat: The MiFold
My kids are still little but I recently learned about an amazing new product from my friend. The mifold car seat is a super thin and portable booster seat that was designed by a couple who also felt the pain of constantly traveling with their seats. The mifold is so compact, it can fit in your purse! The design is simple, yet safe, as it currently meets all of the safety requirements for booster seats in the US. The minimum weight is 40lbs (and 4 years of age). My friends review? She loves it! The only complaint would be that she says her kids say the seat is not the most comfortable for long car rides. This usually isn’t a huge problem when we travel. Certainly, I would still be using my 5-point restraint car seat at home (as its safer until you reach the maximum weight!). Once my son is big enough I plan to just use the mifold for trips, carpooling, taxi rides etc. My son is soon to be 4, but far away from 40lbs. I can’t wait to try this for myself!
To check or to gate check?
We always gate check out seats. I personally trust the gate checkers to be more careful with the objects than the regular luggage line. I have friends who have checked theirs at the desk and have had damage to the seats which made them unusable. If you gate check you can use the seat to transport your child around the airport. Check out this neat product which straps the car seat right to a piece of luggage turning it into a stroller for the airport.
Should you use a car seat bag?
There are lots of travel car seat bags available now to help you lug your car seats around the airport. Some even have backpack straps and some have roller wheels to make it even easier to bring them along. I have lots of friends who use (and rave!) about these accessories. Personally, I don’t use a car seat bag. For me, it’s just one more thing to bring along! I also find that when the luggage attendant sees something in a bag they tend to be less careful about it! When they see a car seat out in the open they know they can’t just toss it around (hopefully!). Perhaps if I traveled with my more expensive car seats, I would be more inclined to use a bag, but for now, I’m not sold on the need for one.
Renting a car seat?
Sometimes even the most portable car seat is just too much of a pain to bring on your trip. On several occasions, especially when we have been renting a car, we have rented a car seat. We’ve mostly had great experiences renting form a car rental company, especially if we go with a big name like Budget or Alamo. A few times we had a car seat that was quite old and worn, and on one occasion we had a seat that wasn’t properly rated for my child’s size. Renting from a car rental company is at your own risk, as they don’t reserve the seats ahead of time. We will still occasionally do this, especially if we aren’t planning on using the seats a lot during the trip.
There are also companies that rent out car seats specifically for travelers. These baby gear companies will tell you the exact model of car seat that you are renting. The main disadvantage to a company like this is that unless they deliver to the airport you will be left without the car seat for your trip to go pick it up! This is why we have never rented a car seat from a company like this in the past.
Don’t forget your car seat accessories!
This post would not be complete without a shout out to some of my favorite car seat accessories! I love my Diono Stroller Fan that attaches easily to the handle of the bucket seat to keep my baby cool on a hot vacation. Seriously, we all wanted to have one of these on your trip to hot Costa Rica!
If you are doing a road trip with kids, you may have concerns about ‘head slump’ in the car seat. Mostly because it was freaking me out to see my kid’s heads contorted in such ways, I bought this portable car seat head support. Now when we go on long trips my son doesn’t look so darn uncomfortable when he sleeps! And seriously, the panda face is super cute!