Traveling with babies and toddlers can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! I went from a mom who swore she would never bring an infant on a plane to flying across the country every 8-12 weeks with a growing newborn (and big sister) in tow! Whether your little one is rear-facing or forward-facing, needs a 5 point harness, or just a booster seat, we have our favorite travel car seat picks for you!
The first question to ask yourself is do you need to bring a car seat? What parts of your trip will be in the air vs. on the road? Most airlines do offer an option for a “Lap Infant”, and you should check with each for their definition and guidelines on what that means. This option is there to save you money, and promote families to fly. However, both the FAA and the NTSB recommend children under 40 lbs to fly in an approved restraint. Once you land, how are you getting to your destination? In some areas, you can find a car service (or even Uber) with a child seat option or upgrade. Will you be traveling around while you are there? This was the defining factor for me (along with the 6-hour flight) to start purchasing a ticket for my child and bringing a car seat along with us. Whether you decide to check one at the ticket counter or curbside, gate check, or buckle up on board, the next step is to select the right type of seat for your child’s height and weight.
Infant Car Seats
Infant Car Seats are already designed to be portable; they are lighter and smaller and most configure to snap directly onto your stroller (which will allow you to push it through the airport and remain hands-free!). When selecting my infant seat, it was important to me to choose an infant car seat with a European belt path feature (which enables you to wrap the shoulder belt around the back of the carrier) to allow you to easily install the car seat without the base.
The Cybex Aton 2 car seat offers outstanding safety and convenience. At 9.5lbs, it is lightweight for easy carrying and installation. It features a linear side-impact protection system (a little piece that extends on the door facing side of the installed car seat) that offers increased safety (it absorbs up to 25% more impact) during a side-impact collision. The extra-large sun canopy can be extended incrementally, offering not only UPF 50+ sun protection but also shield against wind and rain. The largest cons about this seat are that the price is on the higher side compared to other infant car seats and it does not feature a no-rethread adjustment for the harness.
Rear Facing, 5 Point Harness
Once babe exceeds the height and/or weight limit of an infant car seat, it is time to move up to a convertible car seat. The CDC recommends that a rear-facing car seat be used from birth until ages 2–4. They continue, that for the best possible protection, infants and toddlers should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until they reach the maximum weight and height limits of their car seat. The bummer about this for travel is that for the most part, convertible car seats are enormous, heavy, and not easily transferred from car to plane to car. So it became my mission to find one that was the exception to this rule.
At just under $50 and 7 lbs the Cosco Scenera Next is the perfect, affordable solution to the convertible car seat travel blues. While it doesn’t attach to a stroller, it is so compact that we were able to use ours (sans baby) to maneuver around the airport with ease. The seat pad doesn’t offer a ton of cushion, but it is easy to remove, machine washable, and dryer safe which was a huge comfort for those airplane ickies. The largest con about this seat is that the top harness slots are low, so babe might outgrow the straps before they reach the weight/height limits. It is also rather large, so if you are using it as an extra travel seat, make sure you have a place to stow it in the offseason.
Forward Facing, 5 Point Harness
The AAP advises that all children who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their manufacturer. While some children may reach the minimum weight for a booster seat or high back booster, they are still safest in a 5 point harness.
I cannot say enough good things about the WAYB Pico car seat. We were initially planning on only bringing one with us, but immediately went and purchased a second. Made from aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, it is light (just 8 lbs), strong (it absorbs energy forces in a crash), and foldable (making it super easy to carry and store). Their ASTROKNIT™ fabric is breathable and ergonomic, keeping little travelers comfortable and it can be installed either with a one-click LATCH connection or a car/airplane belt. The price point is high, and it can only be used forward-facing, but if you are a frequent traveler or in/out of taxis often this is an excellent choice for you.
High Back Boosters
When babe is mature enough to move on from their 5 point harness, but not yet tall enough that the vehicle seat belt fits properly, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat (typically until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age). Previously, there was a gap in the travel market to support kids in this size range (there are many options for your day in and day out use), which is what makes the “the world’s most portable booster” so smart.
The mifold hifold fit-and-fold booster is an adjustable highback booster with unique “multi-fit” technology that can be adjusted to 243 individual settings. This means that it grows with the child to ensure optimal seat belt fit and comfort. Weighing just under 10 pounds, its lightweight design and handy carry strap make the hifold great for travel or moving from car to car. The hifold is not suited for use on aircraft (as it requires the use of both a lap and a shoulder belt system), however, it folds small enough to fit underneath an airplane seat (resulting in 1 less thing to check!). At the absolute smallest settings, my petite 4.5-year-old felt comfortable and confident and her only complaint was that she couldn’t see out the window! My last note is that this seat cannot be attached with a Latch system, so remember to buckle it in (or fold it up!) when your child is not with you.
Whether your travels are by land or air, these travel car seats have you covered! These car seats are our favorite picks for traveling safely.