Looking for the best portable 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!
Portable 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!
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. I LOVE traveling with my full-size stroller. Find out more about why I hate travel strollers here!
For me, toddlers are the trickiest age for bringing car seats for travel. My 2-year-old certainly doesn’t fit into a bucket seat, but also is way too small for a more portable booster seat. A lot of the toddler car seats are so bulky and that makes them difficult to transport in the airport. At the advice of a friend, I purchased what I consider the ultimate portable car seat for my 2-year-old, the Cosco Scenera Next. I use this car seat exclusively as my toddler travel car seat and I can not stop RAVING about it. This seat is seriously the best car seat for travel! The car seat is SUPER lightweight, which makes it great for airplanes as it’s easy to transport and not a huge pain in the airport. It also fits perfectly in the basket of my Uppa Baby Vista Stoller (score!).
The biggest plus of this super portable car seat is the price!! It is the best value around, and with such a low price I am not afraid of it getting ruined when we travel. We don’t use this car seat for anything but travel, and it’s also AMAZING not to have to uninstall our regular car seats from our cars because we have this one. If you are like me, installing the car seat the first time was challenging enough, I prefer to keep my regular car seats installed when I can! 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 the 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!
For those kids who are a bit small for their age, another cool option is the Ride Safer Delight. Although a bit bulkier than the mifold, this safety restraint is rated for smaller children who are at least 3 years old and at least 30 lbs. Check out my fellow blogger friend from The Family Voyage for a detailed review of The Ride Safer Delight.
*** Update *** My son is now almost 5 and we are LOVING the mifold! It is so great to have something that literally fits in my purse to take with us on our travels. We don’t typically use a car a lot when we travel so having this option is SO GREAT! It sure beats lugging a bulky car seat along for only 40 minutes of total drive time! At home, we use it for taxi rides as well, which is SUPER convenient on the go. Definitely, love having this option!
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 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 from 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. Check out my other favorite beach hacks in this post on what to pack for the beach with kids.
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!
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