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What is the best travel car seat? (2021)

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You’ve probably come here because you’re planning a big trip for your family and don’t want to lug your beast of a car seat for home. What are the best travel car seats for airplanes to pick for your situation? Every family and every trip is different so there’s no single right answer.

We have tons of experience traveling with a car seat and have used many different ones. As a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, I also have the in-depth knowledge of what it takes to keep kids safe and familiarity with most car seats on the market. In this article you’ll find the honest pros and cons of the top traveling car seats available today as well as our favorite car seats for travel at each age.

Quick picks: Best travel car seat by age

Here are my top choices for the best portable car seat for travel at each stage:

Want more info? We have full reviews of all of these best car seats for travel and other portable car seats further down. Remember: the best car seat for travel is the one that fits your child and that you actually use when you’re out in the world.

We’ve traveled with nearly a dozen different car seats over the years, and these are our favorites. The only one from this table we haven’t personally used is the Doona, which sadly came out after our kids had outgrown infant car seats.

Birth – 1yo
Doona infant car seat/stroller
combination

Miracle car seat has wheels that pop out so you only need one piece of gear for your baby!
Check prices
Birth – 3yo
Cosco Scenera Next convertible
car seat

Light, compact and cheap, great for birth to 3yo.
Check prices
3yo – 5yo
Evenflo Maestro combination
car seat

Lightweight forward-facing harness and highback booster seat. Could last most kids from 3yo to 9yo.
Check prices
4yo – 6yo
Ride Safer travel vest
Car seat alternative under 2lbs but still passes crash tests.
Check prices
5yo+
Bubblebum booster seat
Ultra-light inflatable booster seat that fits most kids from 5-8yo.
Check prices

Good news: nearly every seat sold in the US is an FAA-approved car seat! Just remember that you can’t use a booster seat (or the Ride Safer travel vest) on an airplane.

Read more
You’ll find an in-depth breakdown of what to look for, reviews and recommendations in these articles on the top travel car seats by age:
The best travel infant car seats
The best travel car seats for 1 year olds
The best travel car seats for 2 year olds
The best travel car seats for 3 year olds
The best travel car seats for 4 year olds
The best travel car seats for 5 year olds
The best travel car seats for 6 year olds
The best booster seats for travel

Best car seat for airplane travel

If your child is a frequent traveler, owning a lightweight car seat for travelling abroad is crucial for getting through the airport, hoisting it through the plane, rental car shuttles and taxis. We love our full-sized, full-features seats at home but would never dream of transporting 50lbs of car seats to the other side of the world. Here are our favorite travel-worthy car seats for kids of all ages, many of which we’ve owned over the years.

Best car seat for travel with an infant

You’re in luck! Usually you can just use your infant car seat – and if your little one isn’t too big yet, it makes a great travel car seat for a 1 year old. Our Chicco Keyfit served us well for many trips. A portable infant car seat is handy because you can click it into a matching stroller or carry it by the handle when you need to.

To save weight and bulk, leave the base at home and install with the seatbelt instead. In some countries, the seatbelts do not lock at the retractor so you’ll need to bring an old-school locking clip. If your car seat didn’t come with one, you can buy a locking clip here. Learn everything you wanted to know about locking clips (and more!).

If your infant will have more passport stamps than a flight crew or you live in a big city where you mostly take public transit check out the Doona car seat stroller combo, the infant car seat that magically becomes a stroller! I haven’t used one in a car but I did get a chance to play with it and I was impressed by this new-fangled travel car seat with wheels. Others who have used it say that it lives up to the hype as the best car seat for airplane travel with an infant. Stroll up to the taxi door, retract the handle and wheels, then install as you would any other infant seat. It makes a perfect portable car seat for taxi rides with an infant.

>>> Check prices on the Doona here

An awesome new infant car seat for travel in 2021 is the Century Carry On 35, which weighs just 10 pounds for the car seat and base together. It’s the lightest infant car seat and base combination you can find. Since it’s a modified Graco SnugRide 35, it’s still easy to install and fits kids well from birth to 15-18 months. The best part? In addition to the light physical weight, it’s got one of the lightest price tags around: the base model is scant $72 when you use a coupon, while the upgraded Century Carry On 35 LX clocks in at $104.

Read more: MUST-HAVE travel baby gear to make your life easier

Travel toddler car seat options

Here are some choices for the best convertible car seat for travel. We look for light weight and ease of installation in portable car seats for toddlers. Every country we’ve visited in Europe has had lower anchors for LATCH/ISOFIX, though top tethers for forward-facing kids are not yet universal; if you’re traveling outside of the developed world you should bring a locking clip just in case and know how to use it.

Get more details on the best convertible car seats for travel

Here are several portable car seat reviews to start your search:

Cosco Scenera NEXT Review

*Our top pick for a travel car seat for a 1 year old

The Cosco Scenera NEXT is not designed specifically as a travel seat; rather, it’s designed as an affordable way for families to keep their children rear-facing until at least 2yo (as the AAP recommends) but as long as 4yo. Note that the forward-facing mode is outgrown before rear-facing because of the low top harness slots.

But it has quickly become an extremely popular travel car seat for preschoolers because of its light weight and shockingly low price tag. It’s the lightest toddler car seat currently on the market! If you’re an infrequent traveler but you want a portable car seat for travel or a backup for home, this is the car seat to buy.

Pro tip:the solid colors have much nicer, more cushioned covers than the patterns. Check Cosco travel car seat reviews and latest prices on Amazon – but you’ll often find the best deals on this seat at Walmart. There’s also now a Cosco Scenera Deluxe that offers a plush cover, padded head and body inserts and and harness covers.

For families on a budget, this is an excellent portable car seat for toddler travelers!

What we like:

  • Ultra-low price tag for a functional seat
  • Lightest convertible car seat – only 7lbs!
  • Narrow convertible car seat is great for 3-across
  • Rear-facing mode fits newborn until around 3-4yo

What we don’t like:

  • Patterned cover has absolutely no paddingupgrade to the still-cheap Cosco Scenera Deluxe for more padding
  • Taller shell makes it harder to install on planes with narrow seat pitch
  • Car installation/removal isn’t always easy – cheaper hook-on LATCH connectors, and pull strap can be very stiff to tighten
  • Continuous harness can be tough to use for a heavier child, especially forward facing; sometimes pulling the strap causes the entire seat to pivot when installed on leather seats

>>> Check prices on the Cosco Scenera NEXT here

Evenflo Sonus 65 Review

*Our top pick for a travel car seat for a 2 year old

We’ve been satisfied Evenflo customers for the last six years and are impressed by their latest lightweight convertible car seat offerings, including the travel-worthy Evenflo Sonus 65. Unlike the Scenera NEXT, the Sonus 65 has a 25″ shell height that can keep average kids rear-facing until their 4th birthday – and then keep them forward-facing for several years after that!

This is one of the best traveling car seat options if your child will appreciate using the tray table one she turns forward-facing. Unlike some other seats, the front is low-profile enough to let the tray table fold all the way down. That also makes it a great car seat for travelling abroad since international flights typically involve meal service.

There are several other seats in the new Evenflo family (the Sonus and Stratos), but the middle-of-the road Sonus 65 strikes the right balance of travel features like light weight (around 11lbs) and two different recline options – it’s a solid portable toddler car seat option. Check reviews and latest prices on Amazon and be sure to compare the price with Walmart.

What we like:

  • Light convertible car seat
  • Two recline options should help fitting in an economy class seat
  • Rear-facing mode fits an average 4yo
  • Low profile allows tray table use when forward facing
  • Decent padding, cupholders and ventilation make this a comfortable convertible car seat

What we don’t like:

  • Taller shell makes it harder to install on planes with narrow seat pitch if you have a young infant
  • Be careful not to pinch thighs when you’re buckling!
  • Installation can be tricky in some cars

>>> Check prices on the Evenflo Sonus 65 here

Safety 1st Guide 65 Review

We haven’t tried the Safety First Guide 65 (also now available as the Cosco Mighty Fit 65), but we’ve heard that it can be a good choice for travel with older infants and toddlers. It’s almost as affordable as the Cosco Scenera Next! It offers more room forward-facing and a higher weight limit, but isn’t as ideally suited for youngest travelers. It weighs a moderate 13lbs, but probably wouldn’t be my top choice as a car seat to install in unfamiliar rental cars. Even so, it’s probably the best lightweight car seat for travel if you want just one travel car seat to last for many years. Check the latest prices on Amazon and Walmart.

What we like:

  • Affordable price tag
  • Compact front-to-back for kids over 22lbs
  • Relatively light weight
  • Fits older infants through Kindergarteners!

What we don’t like:

  • Doesn’t fit average babies until 6mo – don’t buy this for a newborn or young infant!
  • Required recline position for babies under 22lbs is very reclined and takes up a lot of space, not ideal for smaller cars found in many countries
  • Installation can be tricky and might require a pool noodle

>>> Check prices on the Safety 1st Guide 65 here

WAYB Pico foldable car seat review

If you’ve been anywhere on social media over the last year, you’ve surely heard of the WAYB Pico foldable toddler car seat. This lightweight aluminum foldable car seat for travel has the potential to be a real game-changer for kids who are old enough to forward-face (minimum age 2, but ideally closer to 4yo). It weighs a scant 8lbs and integrates a full five-point harness, making this a solid contender as your child’s travel car seat. But does it stand up to the hype?

There are still very few Picos in the wild and we haven’t managed to get our hands on one yet. However, a few of our Tiny Globetrotters families were early adopters through the crowdfunding process and have shared their feedback. Read our in-depth Wayb Pico expert review here.

What we like:

  • 8lb weight and easy folding make it perfect for city travels when you’ll need to use a taxi
  • Optional carry backpack makes transporting it a breeze
  • FAA approved car seat
  • Easy LATCH install

What we don’t like:

  • Max 50lbs and 44 inches gives a limited lifespan (around 5yo for average size kids)
  • Seatbelt install can be tricky
  • Short crotch strap
  • Short tether strap for some cars (WAYB will send an extender upon request)
  • High price tag for a seat that’s unlikely to be used as a daily ride

Save 15% on your WAYB Pico with coupon VOYAGE15

Best travel car seats for older preschoolers and early elementary

Once your child is ready to turn forward-facing, around 3 or 4yo, a combination seat (forward-facing harness that changes into a high-back booster) is a great light-weight option if you choose the right one. There are even some specialized car seats for travel for this age group that you may never have heard of!

Evenflo Maestro Review

*Our top pick for a travel car seat for a 3 year old

Evenflo’s combination seats are a great choice for travel thanks to their light weight and ease of use. We use the Maestro’s cousin every day, and it will last kids for several years as a harness and then well into booster age. It’s light enough for travel and easy to install. The newer Maestro Sport version has a little more padding than the original too. Check the latest prices here.

What we like:

  • Affordable price tag
  • Lasts from age 3 (as a forward-facing harness) until roughly age 9 (as a high-back booster seat)
  • Easy to install in a range of cars

What we don’t like:

  • No built-in lock-off
  • 50 lb harness weight limit
  • No harness strap covers and straps are somewhat narrow at the shoulders

>>> Check prices on the Evenflo Maestro here

Graco Tranzitions Review

While Graco redefined the market more than a decade ago with their Nautilus combination seat, it was always far too heavy and bulky to be a good travel booster seat or travel combination seat. They’ve now upped the ante with a new offering that’s vying for the best travel combination seat title – the Graco Tranzitions and Graco Wayz seats (same seat, different names). These three-mode harnessed booster seats for travel are narrower, cheaper and lighter than the Nautilus! There’s certainly a lot to like with this new Graco car seat platform. Check the latest reviews and prices here.

In summer 2020, Graco addressed one of the biggest complaints about the Tranzitions: it can sometimes be a pain to install with the seatbelt. Obviously that’s an important factor for families traveling to countries that may not offer LATCH in cars and for kids who have exceeded the LATCH limit. Their new version is the Graco Tranzitions SnugLock, which adds a little weight and a few dollars but offers a much easier seatbelt installation. This is the version I’d pick!

What we like:

  • Reasonable price tag (though more than the Maestro)
  • Lasts from age 3 (as a forward-facing harness) until age 10+ (as a backless booster seat)
  • Only 17.5″ wide when the cupholders are folded in
  • Lightweight 12.5lbs
  • Works as a forward-facing harness, high-back booster seat and backless booster seat

What we don’t like:

  • No built-in lock-off on the base version
  • The seat itself has sparse padding, and for travel it may be inconvenient to bring the optional pad

>>> Check prices on the Graco Tranzitions here
>>> Check prices on the Graco Wayz here
>>> Check prices on the Graco Tranzitions SnugLock here

Ride Safer travel vest (Ride Safer Delight) Review

*Our top pick for a travel car seat for a 4 year old

The Ride Safer Travel Vest is one of the only safe, legal car seat alternatives. It’s a wearable booster seat, but when used with the top tether it passes US crash testing as a forward-facing harnessed booster. It weighs about 2 pounds and rolls up to the size of a 2L soda bottle. This folding car seat for travel beats any other portable carseat on size, hands down!

Check out our full review of the latest Ride Safer travel vest, the Gen 5. It’s now an indispensable piece of travel gear for our family and we’ve been so glad to have it for our year-long trip around the world. The Ride Safer travel vest is truly a game-changer in that it provides a safe restraint for kids 3 and up (though we feel more comfortable using it for age 4 and up, especially if there’s no top tether and/or parent sitting in back). 

Note: The Ride Safer Delight is not certified for use on airplanes, but pairs perfectly with the CARES harness for kids under 40lbs who still need extra protection in-flight – read my full review here

Get yours here – use coupon VOYAGE for a great discount!

What we like:

  • Extremely portable – it worked great on our trip to Paris with kids and subsequent Croatia adventure and then for our round-the-world family gap year
  • Provides better support and protection than a traditional booster seat, especially for sleeping kids
  • Works in any car with a lap-shoulder belt – no worries about compatibility with an unfamiliar rental car
  • Only as big as your child, perfect for tiny rental cars abroad
  • Great car seat for taxi rides with a preschooler

What we don’t like:

  • Not as easy to use as a car seat
  • Can get uncomfortable after several hours of driving
  • No view out the window
  • Not a great fit for smaller kids

Read our full review of the Ride Safer travel vest (including video demos!)

>>> Check prices on the Ride Safer Delight here

Best booster seat for travel

When your child is old enough and mature enough (usually around age 5) you can move on to a portable booster seat to make your travels even lighter – keep reading to find the best travel booster car seat. Note that you can’t use any booster seat on an airplane because they all require a lap-shoulder belt.

Bubblebum travel booster car seat

*Our top pick for best travel booster seat

We started using the Bubblebum as backup for our older one at 6 years old and then used it full-time during our gap year. We love it! It’s an inflatable cushion that has a positioning clip on each side to keep the lap belt in place and an optional clip to position the shoulder belt at the right spot.

It’s an awesome portable travel car seat! It folds up into a small stuff sack, about the size of a very compact sleeping bag. Inflating is a breeze and our son can get himself in and out. Note: not for use on airplanes. Read our full review or check prices here.

What we like:

  • Extremely portable
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Kids can still see out the window
  • Comfortable
  • Very narrow
  • Great car seat for taxi rides with an older child

What we don’t like:

  • Adjusting the optional shoulder clip to the right height takes a little practice
  • Need to make sure your child is sitting in the middle of the seat so that they don’t slide
  • No support for sleeping kids

>>> Check prices on the Bubblebum here

Cosco Topside

If you want an extremely affordable booster seat that’s light enough for your child to carry, the simple-but-functional Cosco Topside may fit the bill. Unlike most other backless booster seats, it doesn’t have a shoulder belt guide – that makes it more likely to fit slightly older kids (indeed, the minimum height is 43″ unlike the usual 40″). But at just 2.5lbs and less than $20, it may be a great choice for some families! Check the latest prices here.

What we like:

  • One of the lightest booster seats for travel
  • Extremely low price
  • Narrow enough to fit 3-across

What we don’t like:

  • Shorter kids may not get a great fit due to the absence of a shoulder belt guide
  • No support for sleeping kids

>>> Check prices on the Cosco Topside here

Chicco GoFit

The Chicco GoFit isn’t technically a travel booster seat, but it could be a great pick for many families on the go! It’s reasonably priced, fairly light, extremely comfortable for kids, narrow enough to fit in even the tiniest rental cars and… drum roll please… it has a built-in carrying handle! Our 7yo has carried his through the airport without issue.

The belt fit is consistent, so you won’t have to worry about weird issues in different cars. The minimum height is just 38″, so if you have a tiny kid who’s mature enough to ride in a booster seat and stay in the correct position all the time, the Chicco GoFit is an awesome choice for travel. When we’re going on a long trip that doesn’t require multiple flights, we bring our GoFit. The latest version even has LATCH to keep it from shifting around. Check the latest price and read more reviews.

What we like:

  • Comfortable for kids
  • Easy to use
  • Narrow enough to fit 3-across
  • Carry handle for easy transportation
  • Fits kids for many years (and it has an 8 year expiration, so multiple kids can use it)

What we don’t like:

  • The price tag, though we’re willing to forgive that since it’s a wonderful choice for full-time use
  • No support for sleeping kids

>>> Check prices on the Chicco GoFit here

Top picks: the best travel car seat for every age

Which car seats are approved for air travel? Nearly all car seat in the US are FAA-approved!

Best portable car seat for baby:

The best travel car seat for 1 year old and younger – Doona infant car seat (click here for reviews and latest prices)

Best portable car seat for 1 year old:

Cosco Scenera Deluxe portable toddler car seat (click here for reviews and latest prices)

Best portable car seat for 2 year old:

Evenflo Sonus 65 lightweight convertible car seat (click here for reviews and latest prices)

Best portable car seat for 3 year old:

Evenflo Maestro (click here for reviews and latest prices)

Best portable car seat for 4 year old:

Ride Safer Delight travel vest (click here for reviews and latest prices or buy directly from SafeRide4Kids)

Best travel booster seat:

Bubblebum inflatable travel booster seat (click here for reviews and latest prices)

Best car seats for travel – wrapping up

There are plenty of great lightweight car seats for travel available now! Hopefully you can find one from this list that makes your family’s travels easier and safer.

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12 thoughts on “What is the best travel car seat? (2021)”

  1. wow thats alot of info! right now, my kids are 6 and 8 so we have been through all the stages and are now at the point where they are both in a backless booster. We check those with the luggage and its all good. easy to use on the cab to and from airport and they are fine with the lap belt on the plane. BUT we have been through the snap and go with the infant seat, and then I had a Britax Boulevard – the smallest Britax of the line (I bought it in 09) and it fit in the airplane seat. I had a JJ Childress backpack to transport it. At one point we had two kids in big car seats and had two of the backpacks. those were great. I even did an CARES harness rental one time for my son. When he really didnt need the big car seat on the plane BUT I didnt trust him to keep the lap belt closed ( I think he was about 3.5) great wrap up

    Reply
  2. This is really helpful, I never would have thought about needing a car seat in a plane. I just had my little girl on my lap when I travelled with her as a baby, I can see having read this that a car seat would have been saver. Lots of brilliant tips, thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips
    Nat.x

    Reply
  3. Wow, what a brilliant and comprehensive post. A great post for families who travel with young children. It gives clear options for most stages and alternative ideas to rent-a-car seats. Thanks for linking up to #wanderlustkids

    Reply
  4. Thank you for your great post, yours was the only I could find informing about flying with a car-seat in the plane. It is really very detailed and helpful. I hope I will keep my cool since it will be our first flight with our little one and it will be a 10 hour flight to the US.

    Reply
  5. We have our first trip after having a second child coming up. We will bring the car seat for our toddler in his purchased seat. But what to do for infant/newborn car seat since we didn’t buy a seat for her? Do you recommend checking it at the check in counter? Use it in the airport and then gate check it? For either option, any recommendations for how to securely pack/check it? We do have a layover if that matters.

    Reply
    • A few options:
      1) If you’re set on bringing one convertible and one infant seat, I’d bring the infant seat to the gate. If there’s an empty seat, many agents will shuffle sets to let your baby use it. There are also fewer opportunities for your seat to be lost or mishandled if you’re bringing it to the gate yourself. From there is put it in a padded bag like the one linked above. Not my top choice, but better than counter check with the baggage.

      2) If you’re frequent travelers and your older one will be at least 3 (bigger is better), you can buy a Ride Safer Delight Vest for him or her. You can’t use it on board, but you’d use the convertible on-board for the big one and then once you get to the rental car adjust the straps down and put the baby in the convertible while the older one uses the vest for car rides.
      https://www.thefamilyvoyage.com/ride-safer-delight/

      Reply

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