Travel Safer: Top 10 Travel Car Seats to Use in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!

In China, car seats were never used. They issued a law about requiring them, but like their ‘no smoking’ law, no one followed it. It pained me to see babies and small children sitting on the parents’ laps and grandparents in the front seat of a car. Or a backseat with a child roaming free.

When our eldest was born, we didn’t have our own car. We had to make do with taxis and public transport. It’s rarer than spotting a unicorn to find functional seatbelts in the backseat, so we had to pray for the best as we wore our darling baby in a carrier whenever we caught a cab.

Once my husband bought a car, he also purchased a car seat. Can I say it was a great car seat? No, but it kept her safe even when some dimwitted lady crashed into our car.

By the time we moved to America, our eldest was ready for a booster seat. And our youngest needed a proper car seat. My parents kindly had one by Graco for us ready to go when we touched the ground, something I’m eternally grateful for, though I’d love to have selected one myself.

There’s nothing wrong with the Graco car seat. In fact, it’s been fantastic. But there are other features I’d be interested in if I had to do this all again.

I know travel is still a bit restricted, but you can fly at this point during the pandemic. Most people aren’t in a hurry to do so, but with babies, you have to keep them safe on all modes of transportation. If your family had to get on a plane tomorrow, would your car seat be appropriate?

What the FAA Says:

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) doesn’t mandate that you use a travel car seat on a plane, though they ‘strongly urge’ that you do. What applies? A car seat with a hardback. There will be a stamp on it, deeming that it is safe for air travel, which says, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”

Remember that:

If you want to bring a booster seat or harness, the FAA won’t let you use them during takeoff, landing, or any ground movement. For some of you, you may be more like the earlier version of me, wafting off to other countries at the drop of a hat. Maybe you don’t have a car and hence, no need for a travel car seat. But if you travel by plane a lot, there is a CARES Child Safety Device approved by the FAA. It is not recommended for use in cars, only in aircraft, and might be your solution to keep your little one safe while flying the friendly skies. 😀

Of course, there are plenty of things to consider when shopping for the best car seat for airplane travel. I’ll cover all the features in the 10 products I’ve listed below. But there are other things I want you to keep in mind while you’re browsing to make the best decision for your family.

  • Always buy new

If you want the best car seat to travel with, you need to spring for something brand new. I realize that the budget might be a factor for you, but you cannot put a price on your kids’ safety. I have some options that will fit into a more budget-friendly category while still upholding safety standards.

Why shouldn’t you buy used? 🙅‍♀️

It’s quite simple. The materials that make it safe and supportive break down over time, making them less effective in protecting your child. There’s a reason these things have expiration dates! You never know if the person who used it before you got into an accident or how much hidden spit-up is on that thing. You can buy a lot of items second-hand for your babies and children, but never let it be responsible for their safety.

  • Know your car too

The best car seat for travel needs to work with your vehicle. This is why I’ve provided 10 great options below because the one that would be most suitable for my car might not be for you. Dig out that owner’s manual on your vehicle (or look it up online if you can’t find it) and look for the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system or use the seatbelt. Another consideration is the size. You can’t have a large base and expect to get that into a small car.

angry boy on the travel car seat

How many child seats are going back there, anyway?

Only YOU can answer these questions, so please get out there and take a look. My friend Courtney just bought a new car right before she had her twins, and while she knew her travel car seats were compliant with LATCH, she had no idea how to use it. She drove it over to the dealership while her mom babysat the babies, and they showed her how to use LATCH to get the car seats in.

  • Focus on what’s most important

It is not critical if the car seat has fun characters or colors on it. It needs to serve a purpose for safety. As you work with your budget, look at the features that are made to keep your baby or toddler safe in the air and on the ground. That’s what’s most important, not whether or not it has extras. Of course, if you can afford the extras, that’s wonderful, but always choose safety first!

  • Versatility always helps

The best car seat to travel with is one that you can adjust through the years. It’s not a full-on requirement, but let me tell you how nice it is to simply adjust the settings to grow with your child and be assured of their safety.

  • Easy cleaning

Life is messy, especially with kids. You might have a strict ‘no eating’ policy in your vehicle, but let me just tell you about the time my eldest had the stomach flu, and projectile vomited all over the car. Yeah. You can run a tight and clean ship, but I promise you that these things happen even with your best efforts. Pick something easy to wipe down in a pinch.

The 10 Best Car Seats for Travel

And now, I present to you the 10 best car seats to travel with. Like my other reviews, my travel car seat review aims to give you information simply. These are in no particular order, and one brand might be more suitable for you than the one your best friend chooses.

Evenflo Tribute LX

Budget-friendly travel car seat that converts to fit!

I’ll first start with this budget-friendly buy, one that is among the best convertible car seats for travel. My friend Kelly got into a rollover accident when someone clipped her on the PCH. She was using this Evenflo Tribute LX travel car seat and her son Bryson was totally unharmed. He had some redness from the straps, which is to be expected, but he had sustained zero injuries.

This car seat meets or exceeds all the federal safety standards, including for side-impact crashes. It also features extra energy-absorbing foam liner underneath to keep your child safe in an accident. It’s no wonder Bryson was completely fine.

Something else to know is that the harness can be positioned for a better fit as your child grows. You can keep using this travel car seat for 2 year old maximum, depending on your child’s height and weight at the time. There’s a body cushion that is ideal for babies, and the removable head pillow means it will comfortably accommodate your kid once they get bigger.

PROS

  • Meets or exceeds federal safety standards
  • Extra energy-absorbing foam liner
  • Plenty of cushioning
  • Adjustable straps to accommodate a growing child
  • Rear-facing capabilities
  • 5-point harness
  • Easy to clean with machine-washable padding
  • Budget-friendly price

CONS

  • No frills
  • In rear-facing mode, takes up lots of space so your front seat will not be able to recline by much

Overall:

Yes, it lacks all the bells and whistles, but the price is nice and it gets everything right in the safety department. I’d say it’s a solid investment into safe travels on the roads and in the skies with your baby.

Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat

Small car seat for travel and making more room in your car!

If you’re a mama with a smaller car or your new baby is the latest addition to the family, Safety 1st has the best convertible car seat for travel for you! It’s LATCH-equipped and is one of the best travel car seats for infants since it can host kids from 5 pounds on up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position. You can use it from 22 pounds to 65 pounds once you turn it around, which is very versatile.

It meets or exceeds all the safety standards so you can feel confident with this travel car seat option, even when you have a growing family with other car seats or boosters in the back. While many car seats today have the feature of adjusting the 5-point harness from the front, I want you to know that our seat in China did not have that and was THE biggest pain. Ever!

And while it’s not the most important factor, there is a removable cupholder that you can start using when your little one gets bigger, so they have their sippy cup within their reach.

PROS

  • Meets or exceeds federal safety standards
  • Plenty of removable cushioning for your growing child
  • Rear-facing capabilities
  • 5-point harness adjustable from the front
  • Removable cupholder
  • 5-point harness
  • A slim design ideal for smaller vehicles
  • Lightweight at 15 pounds

CONS

  • Must get locked in place correctly to avoid wobbling
  • Straps take strength to pull tight
  • Cupholder is easy to knock out of place

Overall:

I haven’t had much luck with cupholders on any car seat or booster I’ve ever owned, so it’s little surprise to hear this complaint from parents. This travel car seat is ideal for smaller cars and is lightweight enough to take on a plane. I do have one friend who used this model, and she says her husband, who is quite strong, had to struggle to get it tightened just right. Once he did, they were thrilled with it though, be prepared to get a workout to ensure it’s locked in place.

Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat

Best car seat for airplane travel!

Many moms I know adore the Cosco Scenera NEXT. It was side impact protection, a 5-point harness adjustable from the front, 5 levels of height adjustment, 3 levels of buckle adjustments, and can easily fit in a row of 3 in the backseat.

It’s also certified for aircraft use while being lightweight and compact enough to tote from gate to gate. The padding is easy to wash and dry in your washer and dryer while the cupholder can simply be removed and loaded into the dishwasher. It’s a great no-fuss car seat.

Two friends of mine, Melissa and Tara, both have used this travel car seat. Melissa and her husband fly back and forth from California to Vermont several times a year to visit family, and she told me this seat is not only lightweight, safe, and easy to travel with, but the price is fantastic. Tara echoed Melissa’s sentiments. She uses this travel car seat for her 3 year old even still!

PROS

  • Certified for flight
  • Removable easy to wash cushioning
  • Rear-facing capabilities
  • 5-point harness adjustable from front
  • Removable cupholder is machine washable
  • Compact and lightweight, ideal for air travel
  • Low price

CONS

  • No frills whatsoever

Overall:

If you’re looking for a fancy travel car seat, this isn’t it. Many people will keep a car seat like this for air travel or for use in a secondary vehicle (like when their ex-husband comes to pick up the kids, or Grandma has carpool duties) and just use something fancier in their car. It’s certainly priced low enough where this could be your backup car seat. It’s safe, functional, and easy to travel with, though, so it’s the right choice, especially when the budget is a concern.

Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

🏆 Editor’s Choice: Best travel car seat for infants to toddlers and safety!

Graco was the brand my parents got for us when we returned to the states though it was not this particular model. This one is a bit fancier, but it has some of the basics that I loved, which made me feel safe with my ultra-precious cargo. Infants 4 to 50 pounds can ride rear-facing, plus it comes with a 4-position extension panel to give additional legroom so you can keep baby facing to the rear for longer.

This brand is known for extensive crash testing for front, side, rear, and rollover. For this particular model, you have a 6-position recline so you can adjust the seat as your child grows to keep them comfortable. That’s not the only way to comfort, though. The headrest adjusts 10 positions and can be adjusted with the harness in one simple motion.

What this latest update means is that your child will always be properly secured. I’ve spoken with several moms in my mom groups who have used this particular model, one of which got t-boned, and this seat saved their 5-month old son’s life. She and her husband had some scratches and bruises, but the baby was totally safe. It’s a fantastic car seat for safety.

Added bonuses include cupholders on each side that can keep little snacks, toys, or sippy cups. Installation is amazingly easy with Graco’s travel car seats. It takes seconds to do it right, no need for a struggle here.

PROS

  • Steel reinforced frame rated to meet or exceed safety standards
  • Extended rear-facing capabilities
  • 6-position recline, 10-position headrest adjust
  • Adjust harness and headrest in one motion
  • LATCH installs in seconds
  • Double built-in cupholders

CONS

  • Maybe more pricey than your budget
  • Not lightweight

Overall:

So far on my list, all options were below $100. This one is over $100, but the safety you get for it is unbeatable. Graco does an excellent job with safety and this one is even more intuitive than the one I had because of that adjustable headrest and harness. You won’t have to struggle with the LATCH part either, which means you can quickly move it from one vehicle to the next. However, it’s not all that lightweight, which might make it more of a pain to use on a plane. In a car, fantastic!

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

Best travel car seat for newborn and infants!

Chicco is one of the more expensive brands you’ll find, but this model of travel car seat made for infants really has some stellar features. It uses a special recline leveling foot along with bubble levels and a LATCH with an easy tightening cinch to make it easy for safe and proper installation.

It is best for use with the travel system strollers by Chicco to add mobility to it since it’s 17 pounds, and that’s pretty heavy with a baby in it plus all your other gear. It has a carry-handle though that makes toting easy should you forgo the stroller portion.

Very safe, with extra removable padding you can pull out of there as your infant grows, this is not the most versatile option. Once your baby gets bigger, you’ll need a whole new car seat. You have until they reach 30 pounds or get too long for the seat to accommodate them.

PROS

  • Top-rated safety features
  • Easy to install safely
  • Removable padding
  • Easy carry handle

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Stroller portion is not included
  • Only good for infants

Overall:

Chicco is a very safe and trusted brand. The safety standards on this travel car seat are top-notch, but it is only capable of hosting infants. Once your child outgrows it, you will need to buy a larger seat. If you’re on a budget, you might want to choose something that grows with your child. If you have the means to replace your car seat as your child grows, you will be pleased with this option.

Britax Car Seat Travel Cart

Turns any car seat into a foldable car seat for travel!

Ok, so this isn’t a car seat itself. It’s a travel cart and a brilliant solution for parents that love their current car seats or would instead take their full-time car seat on an airplane adventure. All you do is attach it to this durable steel cart with the LATCH connectors, and you’re ready to go.

It has a telescoping handle that you can use one-handed which adjusts to 2 positions. Once you board your plane, this thing folds up to fit in the overhead bin without disassembling it. While it’s made for Britax car seats and boosters, you can use it with most other brands. I’d certainly check your car seat’s specifications with this travel cart to ensure it’s a match.

Very safe, with extra removable padding you can pull out of there as your infant grows, this is not the most versatile option. Once your baby gets bigger, you’ll need a whole new car seat. You have until they reach 30 pounds or get too long for the seat to accommodate them.

PROS

  • Turns most car seats into a travel car seat with wheels
  • Durable steel composition folds up to fit in an overhead bin
  • LATCH connections
  • Telescoping handle for one-handed usage

CONS

  • A little pricey for a cart
  • Not an actual car seat

Overall:

Let me tell you; it is exhausting to transport kids around an airport. This makes it easy. While the price is a bit more than I’d expect for a travel cart, it lends wheels to almost any car seat. I can assure you that’s worth it rather than trying not to die carrying a car seat, baby, stroller, diaper bag, and all those other things from one end of the airport to another.

Mifold Compact Portable Booster Seat

Best travel car booster seat, undoubtedly!

You know I love versatility, so I’m a fan of Mifold’s Grab-and-Go Booster Seat. This thing is compact, portable, and foldable, perfect for kids 4 and up or at weights starting at 40 to 100 pounds and 40 to 57 inches in height.

It opens up to a full-size booster seat without the back yet meets or exceeds all safety requirements in the US. The award-winning design (rated by Mom’s Choice and Parents’ Pick) is perfect for your older kids or for keeping young friends or cousins safe when you carpool.

It can fit in your bag, the glove box, or stash it in the storage on your backseat. And that means for traveling on an airplane; it’s perfect. It ensures every child gets aligned seatbelt fitting to keep your child safe while in motion.

PROS

  • Foldable and portable
  • Can fit in your bag
  • Great for kids 4 and up or over 40 pounds
  • Aligns seatbelt properly for children
  • Smart idea for airplane travel for toddlers and older children
  • Affordable

CONS

  • Not suitable for babies or children under 4

Overall:

I can’t think of any complaints about this one. What a smart idea! Though please, make sure your child meets the age, weight, and height requirements to use this safely. This is not for babies but toddlers and can ensure the seatbelt fits them properly.

Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat

Best lightweight travel car seat!

For those seeking a lightweight experience, perhaps traveling alone, Cosco Apt 50 gives you peace of mind at a bargain price. The rear-facing mode can be engaged from infant to toddler up to 40 pounds, and it can be used forward-facing up to 50 pounds. The height adjusts by 6 levels, and the buckle adjusts in 3 locations to always get a perfect fit.

It’s very safe for car and airplane travel, certified by ASTM standards. You’ll have confidence in this seat for safety in all modes of travel, which also has 2 integrated cupholders. The only downside is that it really isn’t as cushy as some of the others and can be a bear to install.

PROS

  • Certified for air travel
  • Great for use from infant to toddler
  • Rear-facing mode for up to 40 pounds
  • Adjustable to accommodate a growing child
  • Budget-friendly
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Not very plush
  • A challenge to install

Overall:

My friend Erika uses this travel car seat for her 18-month old daughter. She said for the price; she gets exactly what she paid for. It’s safe, though not ultra-plush, but her baby doesn’t seem to mind. She had trouble installing it and went to the fire department for help. Even they had a bit of a challenge getting it in just right, but once they did, she had zero complaints.

Mifold Hifold Fit-and-Fold High Back Booster Seat

A top foldable car seat for travel for toddlers!

Here’s another foldable booster seat from Mifold, only this version is a high-back. It offers what they call ‘multi-fit’, which can adjust in 243 astounding ways. Made for kids that are 33 to 100 pounds and at least 36 inches on up to 59 inches, the idea for this is to keep kids safer while on planes or in cars.

It folds in multiple sections and at just 10 pounds, is very lightweight to carry-on or tote anywhere. It has rated above safety standards and is rated for global use in every country except for Australia.

The price is a bit much, though, considering their smaller option works great, but this one covers more ground and adds head and side protection.

PROS

  • Meets or exceeds safety ratings
  • High-back foldable booster seat
  • Lightweight
  • Ideal for toddlers or older children

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Flimsy latches

Overall:

If you can afford it, this might be a reliable option for parents who need a booster seat to toss around from Grandma’s house, on a plane, or long car rides. It’s not cheap though several comments were revolving around the latches for folding it. It exceeds safety standards, though, so you can still use it confidently; just watch those latches.

WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat

Best car seat for bigger kids!

WAYB Pico has a slim design that you’ll love for bigger kids. It meets the safety standards for the NHTSA and FAA for road or air travel, though is not for use with babies. The lightweight and portable design weigh just 8 pounds, made from aerospace aluminum that will last. Covered with a wool and polyester blend mesh, it keeps your kids cool wherever you are.

Your child must be at least 22 pounds to use it and no more than 50 pounds. They should also be 30 to 45 inches in height. While it has a 5-point harness, it is only capable of forward-facing, so if you would prefer a rear-facing car seat, you should keep that in mind. There’s an included travel bag, and it folds up easily to fit in that overhead bin on the plane too.

PROS

  • Meets or exceeds safety ratings
  • High-back foldable booster seat
  • Lightweight
  • Ideal for toddlers or older children

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Flimsy latches

Overall:

I have to admit; this price gave me sticker shock. This folding travel car seat is definitely something I’d recommend if you live abroad with older kids or do lots of traveling. If your child is still a baby, I’d suggest something else since it only faces forward.

FAQs About the Best Car Seat for Travel

As I always do, I had an inbox full of questions about the best car seats to travel with. Here were the most common questions.

Are travel car seats safe?

Yes, they are BUT! You should make sure you are getting the right one for your child. For example, if you have an infant, you shouldn’t be using the booster-style seats. All items on my list above have met or exceeded safety requirements. It’s up to you to make sure you install it and use it correctly, and that you pay attention to weight and height requirements for it to function as intended.

baby sitting on front car seat
Aww, how adorable is this?

How to travel with a car seat?

In the case that you have a car seat and want to bring it on an airplane, you should check with the airline to make sure it would be accommodated. If you plan to use it on the plane, you will certainly want to be sure or consider a cheaper alternative, like the Cosco versions that are designed for airplane use.

Here’s something:

You may also engage the CARE seating on the plane, though again, check your airline first. That Britax cart might be the answer to your prayers if you want to take your car seat with you but don’t want to use it on the flight. Almost every airline will give you a bag for your car seat, but if not, you can ask for one. This will keep it safe from damage or accumulating dirt during your travels.

Again, calling ahead is the best thing you can do here. This way, you won’t have surprises before you depart. If you need to check your car seat, you should cover it to protect it, wrapping it with some receiving blankets before you add the car seat cover on top. This gives it some more cushioning and keeps it protected from any bumps or jostles on the plane or at the baggage claim.

How can I be sure my car seat is FAA approved?

As I mentioned earlier, when I linked the FAA, there will be a sticker for FAA approval on the product. Flight attendants will check for this, and if your seat doesn’t have one, they will put it into a luggage check for you.

The key phrase you’re looking for is, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”

Final thoughts…

We all have different circumstances, so it’s important to choose the best travel car seat for your needs. We did not use car seats on airplanes in China. They do not require them there, and no one travels with them (heck, no one uses them in cars!).

You may find that you’d be better off getting a devoted car seat like the Graco on here and then getting something slimmer and more comfortable to travel with like the Cosco. If you have bigger kids, those fold-up boosters are great, though I’m a fan of that smaller, more affordable one because it’s just like what I had for my eldest. Still, hers didn’t fold, and that would have been amazing when we visited my parents not to have to shuffle something bulky around.

The most important point is keeping your kids safe. Our babies are the most precious cargo we’ll ever have, so choose wisely and don’t buy something cheaper because of the budget. Buy for safety first always!

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