We’re firm believers that having the right gear can make or break a family travel experience. After all, sometimes the products we love at home just aren’t suited to a three-week six-country whirlwind trip (or a twelve-month sixteen-country trip, for that matter). Even if you’ve spent all your extra money on gelato and your garage looks like a car seat graveyard, we encourage you to checkout one of the coolest travel innovations that’ll cost you less than pizza night: the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat. We’ve traveled full-time for a year with it and have plenty of pros and cons to share with you in our Bubblebum booster seat review.
Moment of honesty: I’m such a car seat geek that I started drooling over online pictures of the Bubblebum around the time we took our first overseas trip with a kid and a car seat. I mean, how cool is a blow up booster seat? He was 1yo and we didn’t buy a Bubblebum for four long years. It was worth the wait.
What is the Bubblebum booster seat anyway?
The Bubblebum is an inflatable backless booster seat that’s perfect for families on the move – this thing is downright tiny compared to conventional car seats and even traditional backless boosters. It’s an extremely lightweight booster seat for travel but it still feels substantial and safe in your hands.
The Bubblebum booster seat’s safety standards are very high, and they have models satisfying both the American and European testing requirements. It keeps kids safe by boosting them up a few inches and then holding the adult seat belt in place using a series of easy-to-operate clips. It even passes crash tests when deflated, just in case. How does it do that? The inside isn’t just empty like a balloon, but rather it has approximately an inch of memory foam to help it maintain its structure and webbing (just like a seatbelt) to anchor the seat belt guides. Not bad for an ultra-portable booster seat!
Who is the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat for?
The minimum requirements to use the Bubblebum travel booster car seat in the US are 4 years old and 40lbs. Personally, I think that’s too young in most cases; after all, many experts recommend keeping kids in a rear-facing car seat until as close to 4 years old as possible due to their physical development, and then to transition to a forward-facing harness for several more years.
Why should you keep a 4 year old in a harness? Once you put a child in a booster seat, that child becomes responsible for her own safety in the car – that means she needs to resist every impulse to pick up a fallen to and keep herself fully upright and in proper position even when sleeping. As the parent of a 4 year old, I’d rather be the one responsible for keeping my child safe in an accident and the best way to do that is with a harness. If you’re traveling with a child between the ages of 3 and 5, check out this awesome portable car booster seat alternative.
Back to our regularly scheduled program… We generally recommend the Bubblebum for kids ages 5 and up. Their bodies are better equipped to handle an accident and their minds are (hopefully) mature enough to understand the importance of staying in the right position. That maturity is one of the most important booster seat requirements and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How do you use the Bubblebum?
The Bubblebum is one of the easiest car seats we’ve ever used! There are a few simple steps, but it shouldn’t require more than a few minutes – and certainly no sweat or tears.
Setting up the Bubblebum
Since the Bubble bum arrives and is transported deflated and rolled up, you’ll need to inflate it first. There’s an easy to use valve in the back corner – just untwist, blow a few times, and twist shut. If you’re taking a taxi or Uber with kids, we recommend that you blow up the booster seat before the car arrives to speed the process.
We did have one issue with this: after a full year of use, the Bubblebum seemed to be leaking. After just one car ride, it would be almost completely deflated! We contacted the company and were informed that the bladder could be replaced for $7 to cover shipping, but we were advised to double-check the valve for any little hairs or grains of sand (or chip crumbs) that might be preventing the valve from sealing properly. Once I got around to opening the valve and blowing hard to get any dust out, it stopped leaking!
The only other piece of the Bubblebum that arrives in the package is the option shoulder belt adjuster strap. You can quickly thread it around the webbing on the underside of the booster seat and just slide it left or right depending on which side of the car your kid sits on. It tooks us a few tries to get the hang of balancing comfort with fit, but it’s easy enough to change the length.
Pro tip: When you’re traveling with the deflated Bubblebum, loop the shoulder belt strap around the Bubblebum and then run it through the red clip to keep your inflatable booster seat nicely packaged!
Securing your child on the Bubblebum inflatable car seat
Once you have the Bubblebum inflated, it couldn’t be easier to use. Place the Bubblebum on the seat of the car, have your child sit on it, buckle the seatbelt as usual and then thread both sides of the lap belt through the red clips near your child’s hips.
If you feel that your child would benefit from the shoulder belt being a little lower, run the webbing attached to the shoulder belt clip up along your child’s back on the side where the shoulder belt is, thread the shoulder belt through that red clip and then pull the tail of the shoulder belt adjuster strap until you like the fit. That’s all!
As you can see below, it’s an extremely narrow booster seat so you won’t have any trouble fitting it next to other passengers or car seat.
Since we often kept the same car for days or weeks at a time during our gap year, we usually left the shoulder belt and one side of the lap belt threaded through the red clips of the Bubblebum car seat. Then for subsequent car rides, Jacob could hop in and buckle himself and just thread the lap belt through the final clip. He could be secure in the car in a matter of seconds, and at 6 years old it was easy enough for him to do on his own.
Our Bubblebum booster seat review after a year of full-time use
When we left America for our family gap year, our son was just a week shy of 6 years old. We had done some booster training before our departure and felt confident that the Bubblebum was a safe choice for him. Our overall impression of the Bubblebum is extremely positive. Below are some advantages and disadvantages that we noted after a year of full-time use.
The biggest advantage of the Bubblebum compared to conventional booster seats is that it’s small and light. During our gap year, we usually put it in our very normal sized carry-on backpack along with the camera equipment, charging cable pack and extension cord and Shoshana’s Ride Safer vest. It fit perfectly! Jacob could also have easily managed the size and weight in his own backpack (if he didn’t have so much junk in there).
The Bubblebum inflatable booster seat offers a consistently good belt fit in a wide range of cars. If you’re traveling to far-flung destinations, you’ll have no way of knowing what rental car or taxi will show up, so this type of reliability is extremely important.
The Bubblebum is also very easy for a child to use on his own, even if he’s a fairly new booster rider. It only took a few days for Jacob to get the hang of it!
It’s (quite possibly) the narrowest booster seat available, which makes it a great choice for three-across situations. We normally don’t give that much thought since we only have two kids, but we took tons of taxis and Ubers during our gap year, which often left me sitting in between the two kids! Thankfully it’s never a tight fit between a Bubblebum and a Ride Safer vest. We’ve also swapped Jacob’s regular booster for the Bubblebum a few times here in the US when we had Nana riding with us.
There are two primary disadvantages we noted, and a third potential issue for some kids.
First, when Jacob fell asleep during long drives there was no head support to keep him properly positioned. If he slumped forward, I would often reach back from the passenger seat and push his head backwards to get him seated properly. This isn’t ideal, but any backless booster will cause the same issue. Fortunately Jacob is rarely a car sleeper at this age, but if your child is then check out the Ride Safer Delight travel vest (see our full review here or check prices here).
Second, sometimes when Jacob was careless he would slide around a little on the Bubblebum. This issue was more about behavior than anything else and we corrected it when it came up. We know some families who have more sliding issues, probably due to the slightly rounded edges of the Bubblebum. But it didn’t happen to us very often despite a year of near-daily use.
Third, one issue we didn’t encounter but that’s worth mentioning is that the seating area of the Bubblebum is rather small. The current recommendation is for kids to use a booster seat until the pass the “5 step test”, which could be close to age 10 – or older. The Bubblebum isn’t the best choice for those much older booster riders or those who may prefer a larger seating surface to use all the time since the seat itself is on the small side, though it’s not unsafe and should work in a pinch.
I won’t call this a “disadvantage” per se, but more a “good to know”: the Bubble bum car seat technically expires four years after manufacture. However, I was assured by a representative over email that families can use it four years after first use. I think it’s reasonable to stay somewhere between those two dates, as you don’t want to run the risk of the memory foam degrading or a frequently rolled and unrolled bladder developing a hole. But given the bargain price, we aren’t too concerned about the lifespan.
Update: After more than a year of use, constantly rolling and unrolling and leaving our Bubble bum booster seat in a boiling hot car during our France roadtrip for a month (oops!)… it finally kicked the bucket. We suffered the dreaded Bubblebum deflating issue! Thankfully their excellent customer service team sent us a brand new replacement for just $7 to cover shipping.
Travel booster car seat smackdown: Bubblebum vs mifold booster
If you’ve been anywhere on social media over the last three years and the internet thinks you’re a parent, you’ve undoubtedly seen the ads for the mifold folding booster car seat – first as an Indiegogo project and now as a more established company. The founders advertise that it’s one tenth the size of other booster seats and that it’s the best booster seat for travel. So what’s the difference – and why isn’t this a review of the super-awesome-and-innovative mifold Grab and Go booster seat?
We’ve never use the mifold Grab-n-Go booster, and that’s a very deliberate decision. Here’s our take on the Bubblebum vs mifold debate:
Yes, the mifold is smaller and lighter than the Bubblebum and in that regard it would have been great to take on our family gap year. But for our purposes, that’s the end of the advantages.
Since the moment the first samples were made available to the community of expert car seat reviewers, we’ve been watching with interest as the photos rolled in. Unfortunately, it seems likes the mifold car seat offers inconsistent belt fit. It works well for some kids in some cars, but when you’re traveling there’s no way to know what kind of car you’ll end up with as a rental, taxi or Uber. As an example, some reviewers noted that in Hondas with a ceiling-mounted center belt paired with a “mini buckle” (like my CR-V) it’s not possible to properly situate the belt guide. If you’re only looking for a belt-positioning booster seat to use at home/at the grandparents’ house/in carpool for short rides and you know that the mifold fits your child well in that specific car, it could be a solid choice.
I have seen plenty of parents and bloggers sing praises in their mifold reviews and indicate that they have no issues with belt fit. But then I’ve seen plenty car seat experts that I trust and have been following for years warning parents off because of fit issues. I choose to stick with the latter, as they’re trained to identify problems.
In cars with angled seat bights (the place where the seat and back connect), the mifold has to be partially folded so that half of the booster is resting in the sloped section – leaving only half of the seat to sit on. Many kids have reported that the mifold isn’t especially comfortable for long rides to begin with, and sitting on half of a seat certainly doesn’t improve the situation. We need our kid to have a comfortable booster seat for road trips or we’ll never hear the end of it.
The time to set up each booster is probably similar. The Bubblebum booster seat has to be inflated, but the seat belt guides of the mifold have to be adjusted and take a little longer to use based on the reviews we’ve read. Those guides can also be a little harder for kids to manage on their own than the ones on the Bubblebum, but we can call it a wash between the Bubble bum vs mifold on that one.
While the Bubblebum isn’t perfect, the belt fit is much more consistent and kids generally find it comfortable even for long rides. It does take up a little more space in the kid’s backpack but that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make to keep our kid safe and comfortable regardless of what car we’re in as we traipse around the globe.
Bubblebum vs Ride Safer Delight travel vest
The other excellent alternative to a traditional portable car seat for travel is the Ride Safer Delight travel vest – you can read our full review here, including our thoughts after a year of full-time travel. What’s the difference between these two collapsible car seat options?
In many ways the Bubblebum and the Ride Safer travel vest serve the same purpose: to make an adult seatbelt fit on a child who is otherwise too young. The critical difference is in the target market. While the Bubblebum is a great booster car seat for a 5 year old, it’s really not ideal for younger kids because it allows them too much freedom of movement so that they may be in an unsafe position when an accident occurs. The Ride Safer holds both the seatbelt and the child more firmly in place due to its structure and the inclusion of the (option but highly recommended) top tether strap. This is especially important if you have a car sleeper! The Ride Safer travel vest is approved for kids as young as 3, though we found the fit to be better closer to 3.5 years old.
After using both of these travel booster seat alternatives every day for a year, we like and recommend them both. The Bubblebum is roughly 1lb lighter and is faster and easier to use, but the Ride Safer Delight keeps kids more tightly restrained and is a safer choice for kids under 5 years old.
The Bubblebum was a total lifesaver for our family when traveling long-term with a booster rider. If it sounds like the right travel booster seat for your family, check the price and more reviews here.
Looking for something a little more secure for a younger child? Don’t miss our Ride Safer Delight review, or check out the full range of options for every age in our comprehensive guide to travel with car seats.