6 Best Travel Car Seats for Your Next Trip

Lightweight, compact and reliably safe, these travel car seats are great for families on the go.
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By Martina Garvey, E-Commerce Editor
Updated March 28, 2023
doona car seat stroller
Image: Doona | Amazon
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Traveling with young kids requires preparation—and plenty of it. Between planning your route, packing all the essentials and ensuring you’ve got plenty of snacks on hand, there’s a lot to organize. And, of course, keeping your little one safe on the road is always a top priority. If your next family vacation involves air travel, a rental vehicle or frequent cab rides, a travel car seat will come in handy. While most airlines allow you to gate-check a car seat or stroller for free, the last thing you want on a long journey is a bulky bit of gear. Unlike convertible models, which tend to be on the heavier side, travel car seats are designed to be lightweight, compact and easy to install when you’re on the go.

Ready to start your search? Here find our picks of the best travel car seats for every age, stage and need, plus our top tips for traveling with a baby or toddler in tow.

Do you Need a Travel Car Seat?

If you’re planning to take a road trip, you definitely need a car seat. Granted, you could bring a day-to-day model with you, but a travel seat will take up less room in a packed rental car. It’s important to note that each country has its own rules and regulations, so if you’re traveling internationally, brush up on the local car seat safety laws.

For domestic air travel, a car seat is recommended, but not required. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows children under age 2 to be held on an adult’s lap, meaning you don’t technically need a car seat. That said, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the FAA recommend that children are properly restrained on a flight, especially given the unexpected but common occurrence of turbulence.

Are booster seats safe for air travel?

If your little one has outgrown a car seat, a booster is a good option for rental cars and taxi trips. But the FAA prohibits passengers from using booster seats or backless car seats on flights. If you plan to take a booster seat with you during air travel, it can be brought along as checked luggage (usually without a baggage fee).

What to Look for in a Travel Car Seat

Choosing a car seat can involve a lot of research—and a travel car seat comes with its own set of requirements. To make things easier, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.

  • Age-appropriate. The most important factor to consider for any car seat type is whether it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height. According to the AAP, children should use a rear-facing car seat until they’re at least 2 years old—or until they reach the height and weight requirements for a specific model. Children that weigh over 40 pounds can use an aircraft safety belt.

  • FAA approved. A travel car seat you plan on taking on a plane should have a label noting that it is FAA approved. This means that the model has been deemed safe for air travel.

  • Lightweight. The best travel car seats are lightweight and easy to carry. After all, you’ll need to lug it onto a plane or switch it from one car to another. Fortunately, most car seats designed for travel range in weight from 6 to 12 lbs.

  • Easy to install. Whatever mode of transport you choose, correct installation is critical to a car seat’s safety—so look for one that makes the process simple. Our advice? Find options with easy-to-fasten buckles and an adjustable harness to ensure a snug fit.

The Best Travel Car Seats

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, a travel car seat makes the journey run that much smoother. Here, find our top picks for infants, toddlers and big kids.

Best affordable travel car seat

Cosco Scenera NEXT DLX
Image: Walmart
Buying Options

Searching for something affordable? The Cosco Scenera may be the best travel car seat option for you. Suitable for infants and toddlers, this convertible seat can be used in a rear- or front-facing position. Certified for use on an aircraft, the compact seat is lightweight and easy to carry, so it won’t slow you down as you make your way to departures. It has all the safety features you need, including a five-point harness and side impact protection. Plus, a removable seat pad makes it easy to clean up messes; simply throw it in the wash and get ready for your next adventure. All that for $60? What a steal!

  • Weight of seat: 10.4 lbs.
  • Weight capacity: Rear-facing 5 to 40 pounds; forward-facing 22 to 40 pounds
  • Height limit: 43 inches
What We Love
  • Suitable for infants and toddlers
  • Affordable price point
Things To Consider
  • Some children will outgrow it quickly due to the low position of the shoulder straps

Best travel infant car seat

Nuna PIPA lite RX Baby Car Seat & RELX Base
Image: Strolleria

Weighing in at just 5.3 lbs, the Nuna Pipa Lite is one of the best car seats for travel. Pegged as the lightest infant car seat available, this Best of Baby award-winning pick has a compact design, a convenient carry handle and a True Lock base that installs in as little as five seconds (yes, really!). Plus, the rear-facing seat is reliably safe thanks to a five-point harness and Aeroflex foam that absorbs and diffuses energy for superior impact protection. Better yet, built-in belt paths mean you can remove the base and use the car seat with just the vehicle seat belt, allowing you to travel in taxis without worrying about baby’s safety. And for air travel, it’s FAA certified when used with its base.

  • Weight of seat: 5.3 lbs. (without sun canopy or infant insert)
  • Weight capacity: 4 to 32 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
What We Love
  • Seat weighs under 6 lbs.
  • Convenient option for car and air travel
  • Magnetic buckle holders keep straps out of the way while you secure your child
Things To Consider
  • Car seat must be used with the base for air travel
  • High price point

Best travel convertible car seat

Evenflo Tribute Convertible Car Seat
Evenflo Tribute Convertible Car Seat
Image: Amazon
Buying Options

Looking for a travel car seat that’ll function from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond? A convertible option is the way to go. This type can be used in both a rear- and forward-facing position, so you can use it even after your child hits the two-year mark. Our top pick? The Evenflo Tribute. This convertible model weighs under 10 lbs. and has a narrow design, making it a good option for smaller vehicles or times when you find yourself moving between multiple cars. Plus, it’s FAA approved and reliably safe for air travel.

  • Weight of seat: 9.29 lbs.
  • Weight capacity: Rear-facing 5 to 40 pounds; forward-facing 22 to 40 pounds
  • Height limit: 40 inches
What We Love
  • Can be used in a rear- and front-facing position
  • Four shoulder strap positions allow the seat to grow with your child
  • Affordable price point
Things To Consider
  • Thin padding

Best travel car seat and stroller system

Doona Car Seat & Stroller
Image: Amazon

Planning to bring a stroller and a car seat on your next vacation? This innovative product by Doona combines both items into one lightweight travel system. The Best of Baby award-winning product has wheels that unfold from the bottom of the seat in seconds, meaning you can go from cruising along the pavement to safely buckled into a vehicle in no time. And it doesn’t skimp on safety features—with a five-point harness, three layers of impact protection and an adjustable handle that doubles as an anti-rebound bar in car seat mode. It also comes fully assembled and can be used from day one, without any extra adaptors or inserts. The best part? It’s certified as safe by the US and European authorities for air travel.

  • Weight of seat: 16.5 lbs.
  • Weight capacity: 4 to 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
What We Love
  • Converts from a car seat to a stroller in seconds
  • TUV and FAA approved
Things To Consider
  • Rear-facing position only
  • High price point

Best toddler travel car seat

WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat with Premium Carrying Bag
Image: Albee Baby

Another contender for the title of best travel car seat is this pick by WAYB. Designed for children over the age of 2, this forward-facing seat has a foldable aluminum frame that fits inside the included travel bag for easy transportation. And whether you’re ridesharing, road tripping or traveling by plane, Pico’s five-point safety harness keeps your little one safely buckled in. It's FAA approved and even fits in most airplane overhead bins.

  • Weight of seat: 8 lbs.
  • Weight capacity: 22 to 50 pounds
  • Height limit: 45 inches
What We Love
  • Lightweight; compact fold
  • Travel case can be worn as a backpack
Things To Consider
  • Parents report that the crotch strap is too short
  • High price point

Best travel booster seat

If your kiddo has grown too big for a travel car seat, a backless booster seat is a good option for car travel. The innovative quick release design and built-in carry handle makes it easy to move between vehicles. Plus, lap belt guides and a shoulder clip allow for easy installation when you’re trying to get from point A to point B in a hurry. Again, it’s important to note that booster seats are not safe for use in airplanes. Bonus: Use code BUMP2023 on the Chicco website to get $75 off any order of $299 or more.

  • Weight of seat: 6 lbs.
  • Weight capacity: 40 to 110 pounds
What We Love
  • Easy to install
  • Quick-release design
  • Affordable price point
Things To Consider
  • Not suitable for children under the age of 4
  • Not usable for air travel

How We Chose the Best Travel Car Seats

To decide which travel car seats are the best options on the market, we leverage our familiarity with leading baby brands to make sure items are from reliable manufacturers. We read user reviews to get the low-down on how these products work for families, and typically don’t consider anything with less than an average four-star rating. And since many of us are also parents, we rely on our writers’ and editors’ experience using these products with their own families.

When it comes to car seats, safety is paramount, so we also consulted the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines and checked that all options—bar the booster seat—are approved for air travel by the Federal Aviation Authority.

Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.

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