- The perfect travel car seat can help your kid stay safe and comfortable on any trip, and finding one that’s light and compact makes your life so much easier too.
- To save weight and space, travel car seats don’t have all the bells and whistles of other seats, making it hard to choose which features are most important to you and which you can do without.
- Our top pick is the Safety 1st Guide 65 because it’s a convertible seat that is lightweight and compact yet still comfortable for your baby or toddler.
I’m not one to buy extra things just to buy them, but I’m okay with spending some extra money on a safe car seat that makes my life easier. When my daughter was born, my husband and I didn’t stop traveling, and with Uber, flights, and rental cars, the need for a travel car seat quickly became apparent. They’re lighter, less cumbersome, and take up less room.
Finding the right travel car seat is difficult, though. You need to find the perfect mix of affordability, portability, comfort, and safety. An uncomfortable kid can make for a miserable flight or road trip.
If you’re planning on taking any flights, your car seat must be approved for use by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Otherwise, it will need to be checked, and your child will not be able to sit in it on the plane. Babies and kids don’t need to sit in car seats on planes, but it’s safer and more comfortable for your child. All of our picks are approved by the FAA, with the exception of our booster seat pick. No booster seats are reviewed by the FAA.
I take car seat safety very seriously; I’ve tested my fair share of car seats and have returned the ones that didn’t meet my standards. To bring you the best travel car seats, I combined my own experience testing seats with thorough research using top consumer product websites and authentic customer reviews.
Here are the best travel car seats you can buy:
- Best travel car seat overall: Safety 1st Guide 65
- Best booster travel car seat: BubbleBum
- Best infant travel car seat: Doona Infant Car Seat
- Best travel car seat for air travel: Evenflo Tribute LX
The best travel car seat overall
Lightweight, compact, and comfortable for kids up to 65 pounds, the Safety 1st Guide 65 is the ideal travel car seat for road tripping across the country or hopping on a flight.
If you’re already buying an extra car seat for travel, you probably want to buy one and be done for good. The Safety 1st Guide 65 is a convertible car seat that holds babies as small as 5 pounds when rear-facing, and while many other travel car seats are only manufactured for kids up to 40 pounds, the seat is safe for kids up to 65 pounds when forward-facing.
The Safety 1st Guide 65 is ideal for travel because of its light weight and compact size. It weighs only 12 pounds while many traditional convertible car seats are double that weight. Measuring 20 inches wide, 23.5 inches high, and 18 inches deep, it fits well on airplane seats and can fit three across in most cars. The seat comes with a removable cup holder, which is a nice feature to help keep it compact. I’ve also found that it is much more cushioned and comfortable than many of the other travel car seat options.
The seat can be installed with or without the LATCH system, and while this seat is small, light, comfortable, and convenient to use for travel, some reviewers dislike it because it is difficult to install tightly and securely in a car. Other reviewers say that they are able to get a very secure fit, so the fit is likely better in some cars than others.
The Safety 1st Guide 65 is recommended as one of the top travel seats by CarseatBlog, based on research and tests conducted by Child Passenger Safety Technicians. Car Seats for the Littles, a nonprofit staffed by Child Passenger Safety Technicians, also praises this seat, calling it a “long loved convertible car seat that packs some desirable features into a low price tag.”
Pros: Lightweight and compact, safe for kids up to 65 pounds, more cushioned and comfortable than many other travel car seat options
Cons: Difficult to securely install in some cars
The best budget-friendly travel car seat
The Cosco Scenera NEXT is extremely light and compact, and the low price point makes it the perfect option to have as an extra car seat for travel.
At 10.4 pounds, the Cosco Scenera NEXT is one of the lightest car seats out there, making it easy to carry through the airport, on and off shuttle buses, or anywhere else your travels take you. We also love this one because it’s extremely affordable.
The car seat can be used for children weighing 5 to 40 pounds, and it’s compact enough to fit on an airplane seat or three across in a car. The seat is 17.63 inches wide, 15.75 inches deep, and 30.25 inches high. This seat can be installed rear- or forward-facing and with or without the LATCH system.
While the Cosco Scenera NEXT is a safe option that is convenient for parents, it might not be the most comfortable seat for your child. It doesn’t provide much padding between your child and the plastic shell.
It also has a machine-washable and dryer-safe cover, so you can easily clean it right up when you’re done traveling. A removable cup holder is perfect to keep drinks or snacks within reach of your child while traveling.
Wirecutter named it the best convertible car seat for travel of 2019, saying “it’s lightweight, small, inexpensive’ and yet still safe.” Car Seats for the Littles praises it for travel: “It’s lightweight, it fits under larger strollers, and it can be hung on the handle of a smaller stroller using the top tether strap.”
Pros: Lightweight, fits in small cars and on airplane seats, machine-washable cover
Cons: Hard to install properly, some reviewers note that it seems flimsy and uncomfortable
The best booster travel car seat
BubbleBum is an inflatable booster seat that weighs just over a pound and can be inflated in 20 seconds.
For safety reasons, kids should stay in a car seat with a five-point harness until they outgrow the weight and height recommendations of the seat, so boosters are only for older kids who have completely outgrown car seats. Because no booster seats are approved by the FAA, our top pick is easy to store on an airplane and quick and easy to install in a car.
Hands down, the best travel booster seat is BubbleBum, which is inflatable and made of memory foam. It weighs just over a pound and folds up very small, so you can easily store it in your carry-on, diaper bag, or purse. When ready to use, it can be blown up in 20 seconds and is 11 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 4.5 inches high. It is suitable for children 4 to 11 years old, weighing 40 to 100 pounds, and up to 59 inches tall.
BubbleBum keeps kids safer in the event of a crash by positioning the seat belt on their legs rather than their stomach, and the memory foam helps kids’ bodies stay stable. BubbleBum does not have a high back or head stability, but the lack of these features is what makes it so compact and portable.
Experts widely agree that BubbleBum is the best travel booster. It’s rated as a top seat by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Wirecutter, and BabyGearLab. “We like the simplicity of the BubbleBum and think it is tough to beat for children who do a lot of carpooling,” BabyGearLab said. IIHS employs engineers to test booster seats and chose BubbleBum as a best bet because it properly positions the seat belt on kids in virtually any vehicle.
Pros: Lightweight, compact, easy to use, stabilizes child’s body and positions seatbelt in a safer position in the event of a crash
Cons: No high back or head support
The best infant travel car seat
You won’t need to pack or check a stroller with the Doona Infant Car Seat that converts directly to a stroller and is safe for babies 4 to 35 pounds.
We’ll come right out and say it – this thing is pricey. But if you can afford it and are looking for something that makes life traveling with a baby a million times easier, the Doona Infant Car Seat will be well worth the investment. Designed with wheels attached, this car seat converts to a stroller literally in seconds with the click of a button.
If you find yourself traveling with an infant, this will save yourself room and hassle by not having to pack or check a stroller. Although the LATCH base makes it easier to transfer the seat in and out of a car, the seat can be safely installed without the base as well.
The Doona car seat measures 23.6 inches wide, 17.3 inches deep, and 26 inches high when folded, and unfolded, it measures 39 inches wide, 17.3 inches deep, and 32.3 inches high. The seat weighs 16.5 pounds, making it heavier than your typical infant car seat, but the majority of the time, you’ll be pushing the stroller rather than carrying the seat.
The Doona is safe for babies 4 to 35 pounds, and it comes with an infant insert to help stabilize and bring comfort to even the smallest baby, and many users report using it well beyond their child’s first birthday. Because it is an infant seat, it can only be installed rear-facing.
Wirecutter named the Doona one of the top travel car seats, citing its convenience and ease of use. Car Seats for the Littles gave the Doona a positive review, saying it’s pretty easy to install (a must for traveling) and has many comfort features to please even the smallest of babies.
Pros: Stroller and car seat in one, easy to use, saves room when traveling, fits babies 4 to 35 pounds
Cons: Expensive, heavier than many other infant seats
The best travel car seat for air travel
Lightweight to carry through the airport, compact to fit in the plane seats, and comfortable for your baby or toddler, the Evenflo Tribute LX will serve you well on any flight.
The Evenflo Tribute LX is a lightweight and compact seat at just over 9 pounds. It’s suitable for babies and toddlers from 5 to 45 pounds. This seat fits well both on airplanes and in compact cars as it measures 17 inches wide, 25 inches high, and 19 inches deep and weighs 9.29 pounds. It’s also a very affordable seat that doesn’t skimp on comfort or safety.
We like that the Tribute LX has more padding and is more comfortable than many other travel seats. Its removable cup holders make it very convenient on long trips. If you have a very snug fit on an airplane or in a car, you can easily return them. The seat can be installed rear- or forward-facing and with or without the LATCH system.
Another great feature is the option to purchase this seat with a travel and storage bag. This makes it easy to store at home when you’re not traveling and will help protect your seat if you decide to check it rather than have your child sit in it on the plane.
Board-certified pediatrician Juliet Spurrier of BabyGearLab praises this seat because it scored very well on their crash tests, and it’s inexpensive. That combined with its light weight “makes it a good candidate for parents who frequent taxis or Uber,” Spurrier said.
Pros: Lightweight and compact, inexpensive, comfortable padding, option to purchase with a travel bag
Cons: Some reviewers have difficulty getting a proper fit in a car
What else we considered
Finding the perfect car seat isn’t an easy task, and especially when you’re looking at lightweight travel options, you’re always sacrificing one feature in favor of another. Here are the other travel car seats we considered for this guide, and why they didn’t make the cut.
- Evenflo Sonus: The Evenflo Sonus is very similar to the Evenflo Tribute LX and is also a great pick for air travel. We like that it has a higher weight capacity, so it will last you longer, but we ultimately picked the Evenflo Tribute LX because the Sonus is a bit heavier and more expensive than the Tribute LX.
- CARES Child Safety Device: CARES is the only safety device that is not an actual car seat that is approved by the FAA. It’s a five-point harness that is designed to keep your child safe on a plane. We didn’t include it in the guide because it’s not an actual seat, and it’s not approved for use in cars.
- Baby Trend Yumi: The Baby Trend Yumi is a high-back booster seat with head support, and we like it because it provides more security and protection than a backless booster. It does fold up to fit into an overhead compartment on an airplane, but we chose the BubbleBum instead because it is so much more compact when folded, and it’s lighter.