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Our 2020 Top Picks for the Best Travel Car Seats

Updated on August 8, 2021 by Melanie Pierce

Traveling with children is oftentimes a real challenge, especially when lugging around a heavy, difficult-to-install car seat.

For times like these, parents need to know what their best options are for the best travel car seats.

For this reason, we are highlighting the following seats that will help take some of the work out of traveling with your kids.

best car seats for travel

In this article, you will learn what kind of car seats are safe and approved for airplane use and which seats have special features that make them easier for travel use.

Choosing a seat for an airplane ride, taxi/Uber use, or other unique travel situations can be tricky and we strive to help you think of all the right questions to ask so that you can find the right solution for your unique needs.

Are you ready to get started? Let’s dive right in!

What Makes a Car Seat Good for Travel?

Depending on what your travel needs might be, here are some of the various features you will want to look for as you choose a travel car seat.

If you can answer yes to the questions that pertain to your travel situation, then you will be able to easily narrow down your choices for a good car seat for travel!

  1. Is the seat portable, lightweight, and easy to carry?
  2. Is the seat part of a stroller/travel system?
  3. Is the seat easy and quick to install?
  4. Is the seat FAA-approved for airplane use?
  5. Is the seat compact or does it have a narrow profile?
  6. Does the seat have special travel features?
  7. If you only need a temporary seat, is the seat affordable for this?
  8. Can the seat fit into a carrying case?
  9. Is the seat versatile enough to work for your various travel modes?
  10. Is there an alternative that may work better than a traditional seat?

Best Travel Car Seats Review

In order to bring you the best information possible on the best car seats for travel, we consider the features that make a car seat particularly easy to transport or move around.

We listen to what many parents have experienced with various seats and what they like or don’t like about them.Our reviews are designed to give you both the pros and cons to help you best choose!

Best Infant Car Seat for Travel

Many bucket-style infant car seats on the market are designed to snap into a matching stroller frame, allowing you to effectively turn your car seat into a stroller.

These are handy inventions and make traveling with most infant car seats quite versatile. These types of “travel systems” do require that you also pack along the stroller frame, so there is some added bulk that you will need to store when not in use.

However, there is an even better option available that gives a whole new meaning to “travel system.”

Read on...

Doona Infant Car Seat & Latch Base – Car Seat to Stroller – Nitro Black – US Version

The Best Infant Car Seat for Travel

One of the most innovative car seats on the market, this Doona seat is both an infant bucket-style seat and a stroller all-in-one travel system.

With just the pull of a lever, it transforms in a few seconds from a car seat that can be installed with or without its base to a travel system on wheels.

You don’t even need to unbuckle your baby between modes!

This seat revolutionizes the travel car seat market. It is perfect for virtually any kind of travel, from airplanes to taxis, plus it is just the most convenient way to take your baby around town in your car. It doesn’t require a separate stroller base as most travel systems do, so you can save trunk space. When folded as a car seat, the wheels store up and out of the way.

Designed for infants between 4-35 lbs or up to 32 inches tall, this seat will last you several months. It comes with a newborn insert and head support cushion, a seat protector (in case the wheels are a bit dirty!), and of course, the optional base. Weighing 16.5 lbs, this car seat is a bit heavier than most infant seats, but is amazingly lightweight considering that it is a stroller, too!

PROS:

Compact and the perfect combination of car seat and stroller in one, this seat makes traveling a breeze. It is easy to use and simple to install, either with the base or without (depending on your travel needs). The handle is extendable with the push of a button and also doubles as an anti-rebound bar.

The padding is memory foam and the fabric is washable, so it is comfortable and easy to keep clean. This seat is FAA-approved for airline travel, making it the most convenient infant seat to travel with. You can wheel it through the airport and use it to safely strap your baby into their own seat on the aircraft.

CONS:

Because it is also a stroller, it does have some added weight, so it isn’t the lightest infant seat on the market (and you can’t remove the wheels). If you are fairly tall, you may find that the handle doesn’t extend quite far enough to comfortably push in stroller mode without bending/hunching over. When extending the wheels, they pop open with a bit of a jolt unless you set the seat on the ground first to stabilize the whole unit.

There is no extra storage on/in this seat, nor is it designed to hold the weight of a diaper bag, so you will need to carry your water and spare diapers separately when in stroller mode. This is a slight inconvenience to some. Also, this car seat/stroller combo is quite pricey compared to a regular infant car seat.

The Bottom Line

If you can afford it and do a lot of traveling with your baby, this car seat is an invention that you will love! It comes highly recommended by many parents and may be the perfect solution for your family if you are looking for ultimate convenience. If you plan to purchase a stroller or travel system anyway, then this all-in-one unit would be a great option & may even save you money.

Best Convertible Car Seats for Travel

No matter what your budget, there is a convertible car seat that will meet your needs and make traveling easier!

Here are our top 2 picks!

Diono 2019 Radian 3RXT All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Our Pick

This seat is engineered to be a perfect solution for those who need a portable convertible car seat for travel use.

It can be folded for easier carrying and storage, which makes it ideal for transporting through an airport or between taxi rides.

The Diono Radian is a premium seat with a steel frame, memory foam, and quality fabric, making it a sturdy and plush option. Because of this, this seat is not lightweight and weighs approximately 28 pounds. For this reason, it is not recommended for carrying around, but can easily be strapped to a wheelie cart for easier transportation.

The limits of this car seat include extended rear-facing from 5-45 lbs, forward-facing with a 5-pt harness up to 65 lbs, and as a belt-positioning high back booster from 50-120 pounds. It is FAA-approved and can be used either rear-facing or front-facing with the harness in an airplane.

Though this seat is considered fairly portable, it may require an extra angle-adjuster or other separate parts to fit your child, depending on their age/size. Not known for being the easiest seat to install, you will want to practice ahead of time to become familiar with how this seat works.

An important feature of the Diono Radian is that it is quite slim and fits easily on most airplane seats. It also works for 3-across in most vehicles, which make it a favorite for large families who are traveling with multiple children.

PROS:

This is a high-quality seat with the ability to fold flat, making it easier to carry and store. It is extra-slim and in most vehicles, can fit 3 across the back seat, as well as being most likely to fit easily on an airplane seat.

CONS:

Quite heavy, which is especially a drawback because it is designed to otherwise be great for travel use. Tricky to install and may require additional parts and angle adjustments, plus it has a very low belt path, multiple intricacies to ensure proper fit, and some parents find it to be a hassle.

It also has a limited height limit of 44”, which may be outgrown before the weight is maxxed by your child. Some parents also do not feel that it properly fits their newborn baby, despite being advertised to fit as low as 5 pounds.

The Bottom Line

Loved by many due to its unique features and luxurious feel, this seat is well-known for quality and performance. However, it is quite pricey and requires the user to become familiar with its unique installation requirements, so plan to familiarize yourself with its differences before attempting to use it in a travel scenario, as it is not intuitive or very similar to other car seats.

Listing - Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat, Otto

Budget Pick

This is a budget-friendly convertible car seat that is lightweight and inexpensive.

Because it weighs only 2.2 pounds, it can be easily carried or placed on top of your luggage.

It will work for infants and toddlers who are rear-facing 5-40 lbs (19" to 40") or are forward-facing 22-40 lbs (29" to 43") and at least 2 years old. There are 5 harness heights and 3 buckle positions to help achieve the best fit.

It is FAA-approved for airplane use and fits easily on most airplane seats. It is fairly simple to install and is well-known for being a great option for traveling situations.

It is not a particularly plush seat, nor does it have a bunch of bells and whistles, but the cover is machine-washable.

PROS:

One of the most lightweight convertible car seats on the market, this seat is a breeze to carry along in a travel situation. Plus, because it is so inexpensive, it is a great option if you need to purchase it as an “extra” seat or if you only need it temporarily.

CONS:

Doesn’t have any extra unique features and isn’t the most plush, so may not be the most comfortable for long rides.

The Bottom Line

This is not a favorite seat for a daily car seat because it is a bit uncomfortable, but it is well-loved as a travel seat because it is ultra-light, basic, inexpensive, and not a seat that you need to fuss over. It is highly recommended for being a spare seat to take along on a trip that includes an airplane ride or other travel situations, because it gets the job done without breaking the bank.

Best Combination Seat for Travel

If your child is old enough or big enough that they have no need of a rear-facing seat when it comes time to travel, you may want to consider getting a front-facing combination seat. This type of seat comes with a 5-pt harness, but can also be converted to a highback booster. 

PLEASE NOTE: If you are traveling by AIRPLANE, you cannot use any seat in BOOSTER MODE. You can only use a car seat with a 5-pt harness in an airplane. This is because airplanes do not have shoulder straps.

The following recommendations only apply to the 5-pt Harness Modes of the car seats when being used for airplane travel.

When used with the included 5-point harness, this combo seat can accommodate children between 30-65 pounds.

It is slim enough (18 inches) to fit on most airplane seats and can also be used 3-across in most vehicles. It is also quite lightweight at only 11.5 pounds, making it fairly easy to carry while traveling.

It comes with a removable and dishwasher-safe cup holder and a machine-washable cover. Otherwise, it is a very basic model that is simple and straightforward to install.

Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Combination Booster Car Seat (Dusk)

PROS:

This seat is slim, lightweight, easy to install, and FAA-approved when using the 5-pt harness.

It is also fairly inexpensive, making it a great stress-free travel seat that won’t break the bank.

We especially love that it harnesses up to 65 pounds, making it the perfect choice for families who want their child harnessed longer!

CONS:

It is not the most comfortable seat, nor does it have any extra-special features.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a front-facing seat with a higher weight limit for the harness, this seat is a great option. It is basic and doesn’t cost a lot, plus it is lightweight and has a slim profile, making it perfect for a take-along travel car seat.

This seat is one of the lightest combination seats available at just 9.6 pounds.

It can accommodate older toddlers at least 2 years old between 22-50 pounds and between 28-50 inches tall when using the 5-pt harness.

It has 2 integrated cupholders and has an easy-to-clean, washable fabric pad. Fairly slim at 19 inches wide, it fits in most airplane seats (though you may need to keep the armrests in the upward position).

Maestro Sport Harness Highback Booster Car Seat, 22 to 110 lbs., Granite Gray

PROS:

We love how lightweight this combo seat is and that it has dual cup holders while still staying somewhat slim. It is inexpensive, simple to install, and is FAA-approved for aviation travel, making it a great choice for family trips that include airplanes and taxis.

CONS:

It has limited special features and is a fairly basic model of car seat. The 5-pt harness has a max weight limit of 50 pounds, which is decent, but is not the highest available.

The Bottom Line

For the price and features, this car seat is very adequate for most travel situations involving airplanes and taxis. It isn’t fancy, but is comfortable enough and is cost-effective, as well. The main draw with this seat is that it is very lightweight, making it somewhat easy to carry around.

Travel Hack for Traveling with a Child who is at least 4 years old and is between 40-44 pounds:

If you are traveling by airplane and car on your next trip and cannot bring along a traditional car seat, you have the option to pack along the following that can fit into your carry-on luggage:

Child Airplane Travel Harness - Cares Safety Restraint System 
(For the Airplane Ride)

and either the:
BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Travel Booster Car Seat

Or the
Mifold grab-and-go car booster seat
(For the Car Ride)

FAA-Approved Child Harness Device (CARES)

This safety harness is designed especially for aviation travel and is commonly referred to as the CARES Harness. 

It is NOT a car seat, nor is it EVER to be used in an automobile! 

It is, however, a unique alternative to a car seat for use in an AIRPLANE. In fact, it is the ONLY FAA-Approved Child Flying Safety Device of its type on the market.

Child Airplane Travel Harness - Cares Safety Restraint System - The Only FAA Approved Child Flying Safety Device

Because it is so incredibly portable, it is perfect for keeping your child restrained on an airplane seat when you cannot bring along a car seat. It folds up to about 6 inches, weighs just one pound, and can be packed in a small travel bag. 

It adjusts to fit almost any airplane seat and only takes about one minute to install. It is designed to fit a child who is 22-44 pounds and who is at least one year old. However, in reality, it may not adequately restrain a 1 year old who is on the lower end of the weight limit, as a small child could feasibly wriggle or slide under the lap belt of the airplane seat.

For this reason, this website recommends it for children who are older (at least 2) and upwards of approximately 30 pounds, but it is up to a parent’s discretion and we recognize that each child’s maturity level may come into play when deciding to utilize an alternative product of this type. If in doubt, we recommend that you use a real car seat instead.

Best Backless Boosters for Travel

Though not appropriate for airplane travel, if your child is large enough to ride in a backless booster when traveling in a taxi or rental car, here are some options for the most portable backless boosters available on the market.

BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seat, Black

This lightweight portable travel booster can be inflated by mouth in about 10 seconds.

It can be used for children who are 4-11 years old who weigh between 40-100 pounds. See our full review here.

mifold Original grab-and-go Car Booster Seat, Slate Gray – Compact and Portable Booster for Travel, Carpooling and More – Foldable Child Booster Seat Fits into Glove Box and Backpack

This unique, lightweight, portable and fold-able “booster” doesn’t actually boost your child, but rather repositions the lap portion of the vehicle’s seat belt to position it correctly across your child’s hips.

It can be used for children aged 4 and up, from 40-100 lbs, who is 40-57 inches tall. It folds into a small package that can be easily stored in your carry-on bag. See our full review here.

FAQ Section for Airplane Travel and Car Seats

Do I have to use a car seat on a plane?

No, oddly enough, though it is definitely the safest option, you are not required by law to use a car seat on an airplane. However, it is recommended by us and both the Federal Aviation Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics to properly restrain your child in an approved seat or harness for maximum safety.

For some children who meet very strict size/age guidelines, you may consider using a CARES Harness instead of a car seat, but a car seat is generally the safest option. We do not believe that children who qualify as a “lap baby” are actually safe when being held on an aircraft, as they can become a projectile or essentially the adult’s “air bag” in the event of turbulence or a crash.

What kind of car seat do I need?

First, check to see if your car seat has an attached label indicating that it is FAA-approved. Most airline attendants will double-check your seat, so be prepared. Furthermore, though you can use either a rear-facing seat or a front-facing seat (depending on the size/age of your child), it must have a 5-pt harness. Regular boosters that position seat belts are not approved for airplane use.

Should I check my car seat when I fly?

We do not recommend this in most cases since we here at babygatesexpe.com believe that children should be properly restrained in an approved car seat during flight. Plus, there is always a risk that a car seat could be damaged if checked as cargo.

That being said, if you do need to check your car seat, either because you are using an alternative harness (such as the CARES Harness) or for some other reason, we encourage you to package your car seat in its original box or in a suitable carrying case to decrease any risk of damage.

How do I position and use the seat on an airplane?

Because the seat belts are somewhat different on airplanes, with the buckle in the middle of the seat instead of offset to the side like in a car, you may have some difficulty strapping some car seats into place. This is especially true for front-facing seats that require the seat belt buckle to be positioned directly across from your child’s back.

Some parents have traditionally used a soft towel to cushion around the buckle to make the ride more comfortable for their child or have needed to position the seat rear-facing instead of front-facing to make better room for the buckle. Assuming that you don’t have this problem, installation should be mostly the same as usual, sans the shoulder strap that you are used to.

Please remember that airplanes only have lap belts and for this reason, only car seats with 5-point harnesses are allowed to be used. Also, there are no top-tether LATCH hooks for forward-facing seats as is used in an automobile, so also keep that in mind. When traveling in an airplane, you do the best with the circumstances that you have, even if it is not ideal.


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