Whether you’re traveling by plane, car, or bus, car seats are a must for safety. Exploring the world with young kids is rewarding, yet challenging. Take some of the load off of yourself (literally) by taking along a travel car seat, instead of the one you’re most likely using now. You’ll be moving around a lot on your travels, and you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable installing it, transporting it, and securing your toddler in the seat. Weight is one of the biggest differences between the standard car seat and a more portable one, as well as a slim design. Parents tend to over pack gear when they’re prepping for their next adventure. Streamline what you’re bringing, lighten the load by choosing lighter strollers and car seats, and you’ll thank yourself later! The trip will be so much more enjoyable when you don’t have as much hassle. Below are our top 7 recommendations for Travel Car Seats for Toddlers. Find one that works for your type of travel (length of stay, mode of transport, size of child) and then let the travels begin!
Best Travel Car Seats for Toddlers
1. Graco 4 Ever 4 in 1 Car seat
(Most comfy — $$$)
Why it’s great: It’s quite appealing when you don’t have to buy something new every few years…. So this Graco car seat is amazing since it transports your little one all the way from 4 pounds up to 100 pounds! For traveling, the InRight Latch system makes it easy to click in and out of modern cars. One of my favorite features is the headrest that can be positioned in multiple ways, to accommodate sleeping toddlers or lively ones alike. Save time as well, since you can adjust the harness and headrest together, without rethreading. The padding and soft cover make this car seat super comfortable and easy to sleep in. Your toddler won’t wake up grouchy from sleeping funny on the airplane, but you might! This seat does weigh a little more than other travel seats, but all the benefits make it hard to resist considering for your upcoming trip.
Keep in mind: This car seat not have a detachable base, because it isn’t meant for carrying use. This also means it cannot be used with a stroller.
Good for: Long trips, when you know your little one will need to take extended naps or sleep overnight in their seat.
2. Britax One4Life
(Longest use — $$$)
Why it’s great: If you thought convertible car seats that accommodate children up to 100 pounds are useful, this one tops the cake! The Britax One4Life actually grows with your child from as low as 5 pounds, all the way up to 120 pounds. That’s about 10 years of use! Even if your child is now a toddler, there are many years of possible transport ahead. Other great things about this car seat include the ClickTIght installation that is so easy to do, as well as the full-body protection it offers with two layers of side impact protection. Of course, all that extra protection does come at a price; this Britax seat is a bit heavy as a travel car seat. The quality of safety definitely makes up for that, though. On a lighter note, the seat cover comes in 7 different colors, which can be fun if your toddler is starting to have opinions about such things–strong opinions in my household! If you have multiple children, that can be nice for color-coding whose seat is whose. Lastly, I really like the built-in cooling channels, because the seat temperature stays cooler in the hot summer months.
Keep in mind: This one is a little more difficult to clean than the rest but does have removable padding and pieces that can be washed separately if you don’t need to wash the entire seat. Generally, whenever I travel with my little guy, I put a small blanket with a waterproof backing under his bum no matter which seat he’s in….it saves me time and hassle.
Good for: Families who are doing long road trips.
3. Cosco APT 50 Convertible Car Seat
(Most simplistic design — $)
Why it’s great: The simplicity and lightweight design make this car seat a traveler’s dream. Children up to 50 pounds can enjoy a ride in this seat, and bring along a sippy cup in the cup holder that is attached. You can easily remove the machine-washable and dryer-safe car seat pad to clean. Of course, it’s a must that the seat is certified for use on aircraft, and gives your toddler a familiar seat during a lengthy flight. The straps are a cinch to adjust if your little one grows a little taller (like a weed, I know). I think the best feature of all is how simply lightweight it is; only 11 pounds! I can strap it to my suitcase and easily wheel it around the airport until we get to the gate. Not all seats are like that, and it’s nice to have one that I can grab-and-go easily when in a hurry to grab an Uber or taxi. A must-have for active traveling!
Keep in mind: The center strap runs a little tight, so children 45-50 pounds will most likely be a little uncomfortable.
Good for: Busy families that will be carrying around the car seat from place to place on their adventures.
4. KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Car Seat
(Most fun for kids — $$)
Why it’s great: Spider-Man is along for the ride, so your little one will love hopping into the car! The KidsEmbrace Marvel Spider-Man 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat is great for toddlers and older kids alike, approved for forward-facing use with the five-point harness for children between 29 to 49 inches in height, and it can be converted into a belt-positioning booster car seat for children between 38 to 57 inches in height. One of my favorite things about it is that I can adjust the booster seat harness straps with one hand (name a parent that ever has two hands available!). The cushioned seat cover is easy to clean, and you’ve got two cup holders that provide a useful place for drinks and snacks. The whimsical nature of this seat will have passers-by smiling in the airport as they see you taking good ol’ Spider-Man on a family trip. He’ll probably even make it into some family photos!
Keep in mind: The padding for your toddler’s bum is on the light side; if your travels will involve very long car rides, this may get uncomfortable. Although, the spider man appeal does keep them entertained! If you’ll be up and about frequently during the ride, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Good for: Spider Man fans, either in toddler form or adult form!
5. Evenflo Chase Harnessed Booster
(Most portable — $)
Why it’s great: For being so low in weight and price, this seat actually packs quite a punch. It’s got the usual things you look for in a great booster/car seat, such as built-in cup holders, adjustable harnesses, washable fabric, and a LATCH system for easy installation. All weighing in at only 11 pounds, making it super easy to cart around on your travels. Especially if you’ll be in and out of taxis, buses, or multiple flights, you’ll be glad you chose such a lightweight option. Just hook it onto your suitcase and wheel it around with you in the airport, hotel, bus station, or just about anywhere! I especially like the padding around the sides and headrest for my toddler’s comfort. That’s not something you see in the more basic, money-saving models. Car seats like this are sure to please your toddler, as well as your checkbook!
Keep in mind: As your child grows older, you can convert from using the 5 point harness to the regular seatbelt with this seat. However, it is only FAA-approved if you are using the harness, so for plane flights, make sure you do that.
Good for: Adults who are traveling solo with a toddler (and thus responsible for carrying everything), and are looking for something very lightweight.
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6. Graco SlimFit
(Most space-saving design — $$)
Why it’s great: When you’re traveling, it’s imperative to keep everything quick and simple. What I love about this car seat is not only how easy it is to install, but how quickly I can adjust the headrest and harness, since they adjust together with the same movement. Also, with multiple kids in the car, space can be limited. This Graco seat actually has cup holders that swivel inwards, so that when more space is needed, they basically fold right up. For long car rides, your toddler might want to take a nap….or maybe YOU just want him/her to take a nap! Either way, you can make the ride comfier with the 4 reclining positions the seat offers. The Graco SlimFit makes traveling in small cars or in tight spaces much less of a hassle and is comfortable at the same time.
Keep in mind: The padding and cover can come off to be washed, as usual. However, the harness straps cannot be removed and must be washed by hand while still connected to the frame.
Good for: Families who want a slimmer car seat that saves space in the backseat. If you’re traveling with multiple children, this one frees up more space than others.
7. Cosco DX 2 in 1
(Best for older kiddos — $)
Why it’s great: The Cosco Finale is easy to take on trips with you, as it’s only 12 pounds! It’s a simplistic design but has some great features that come in handy, too. It can be adjusted between two modes depending on height and weight and fits children from 30 to 100 pounds. Luckily it’s also lightweight and easy to move from car to car which is excellent for families who are always on the move; especially during a trip! It also easily fits 3 across in the back seat of most vehicles (standard-sized rental cars, not economy or compact) making it a smart choice for growing families with multiple kids in car seats at once. A unique feature for this seat is that the cup holders detach and can be washed in the dishwasher. Besides that, there is a removable and washable car seat pad just in case messes occur. Cosco has thought this one through and made this truly the last car seat you’ll need to buy for family vacations!
Keep in mind: This is meant for little ones that are OVER 40 pounds! Luckily, even though the kid who uses it is getting heavier, the seat itself is only 12 pounds, making it easy to travel with!
Good for: Traveling families who have larger toddlers or older kiddos.
FAQs about Travel Car Seats for Toddlers
1. Can you bring a car seat on an airplane?
FAA-approved car seats are allowed to be in the cabin and used by your child IF your child has a paid seat. If the plane isn’t full and you have a lap-child, they can still try to accommodate you and allow the car seat on. You can ask at the gate if they can block out an extra seat for your little one. You can always check it at the gate if the plane ends up being full, so I usually bring it along through security, just in case.
2. Do airlines charge extra to check a car seat?
Thankfully, car seats can be brought on all major airlines for free as checked baggage. However, if you’re traveling on a budget airline, double check first. Most will still accept them without a charge (knock on wood), but with all the changes happening with airline fees, it’s best to double-check, especially on a budget airline that likes to charge for everything under the sun!
3. Can I just rent a car seat when I get a rental car?
Yes, you certainly can. However, there is generally an added cost, and they are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Because of this, make sure you reserve the car seat ahead of time. You are at the mercy of whatever type of car seat they provide, and it may not be up to your personal standards or what your toddler is used to. It will also be a car seat that has been used by others. So, while you CAN rent from popular rental car agencies when you’re reserving a car, I highly suggest bringing your own along with you, instead.
4. Is a convertible car seat compatible with strollers?
Unfortunately, no. At this time, there aren’t any convertible car seats that are compatible with strollers. That is more of an infant feature. You can use a nice umbrella stroller with a shade cover, if you’re looking for something easy to transport that doesn’t take up much space.
5. How can I wash the car seat cushion when we are out of town?
It’s never easy to clean up when you don’t have your regular routine. Bring along some baby wipes (you probably are, anyway!) so that you can clean up the car seat from spills and accidents on the go, and later you can remove the padding and properly wash it when you have a chance. Another great thing to have on hand is Shout wipes, for added cleaning and stain removing power.
6. What are the car seat rules if we are traveling to another country?
Countries outside of the United States vary widely as far as car seat regulations go. Decisions on which type of seat you’ll need (if any at all) can depend on height, weight, or age. Double-check the laws of the specific country (or countries) you’re traveling to ahead of time, to make sure you have a compliant seat.
Finding the right travel car seat can be tricky. You’re looking for the perfect mix of comfort, portability, affordability, and safety. For flights that you want to use the seat on, it must be approved by the FAA for use in the cabin. So many things to consider! However, the list above has it narrowed down so that you can easily see the great features of seven top-rated travel car seats. At my house, we have the regular car seat installed in our car, with a travel seat in the garage that will go on one of our many adventures. Once you find the perfect one for your little guy or gal, you’ll never go on another trip without it!