The days of my husband and I being able to fit all of our worldly belongings in our two well-trodden backpacks have long disappeared, and have been traded for rolling suitcases, car seats, and copious amounts of snacks to get us through all of our family adventures. Here are our three favorite travel car seats to help you figure out what to bring on your next adventure!
Safety vs. Convenience?
Our kids’ safety is always our top priority during our travels. Over the last four years we have tried many different travel car seats along the way, from renting them along with our rental cars, borrowing them from friends at our destinations, and finally resorting to lugging around our own designated “travel” car seats (which are lighter and more portable than our everyday car seats).
Although it was definitely the most inconvenient, we realized that bringing our own car seats on each and every trip was the only way we could ensure we knew the history of the car seats, that they had never been in an accident, that they had the 5-point harnesses we were most comfortable with (instead of 3-point like in Europe), etc.
Our favorite Travel Car Seats
We have tried quite a few car seats during our travels, and these 3 are definitely the best! Keep reading for the pros and cons of each, and see which one makes the most sense for you to bring on your next family adventure. I’ve listed the best car seats in three different categories (Budget, Commuter, and Overall Best), so there is something for everyone!
Disclosure: We partnered with WAYB to bring you this post. We only recommend products we have used ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that (at no additional cost to you) may earn us a small commission.
What is the best Travel Car Seat on a Budget?
The best travel car seat for families on a budget is definitely the Cosco Scenera Next DLX. It’s the cheapest of all car seats we’ve ever tested (usually between $50-$60), and is extremely narrow (17″) so it fits even in low-cost airline seats (looking at you, Spirit!).
This is the car seat model we traveled with for both kids, from Iceland to Germany to Hawaii. It served us well (especially since we kept it protected in a car seat travel bag so it didn’t get totally filthy if we ever had to gate check it at the airport!) and we were happy we found this one.
Stats of Cosco Scenera Next DLX:
7 pounds, rear-facing limits 5-40lbs and 19-40″, front-facing limits 22-40lbs and 29-43″, $50-$60
PROS OF THE COSCO SCENERA NEXT:
- The Cosco Scenera Next is extremely affordable and lightweight;
- It is FAA approved for use during airplane travel;
- It has front and rear-facing capabilities;
- And it is only 17″ wide so it will fit even in budget airline seats, or potentially 3-across in smaller European cars.
Cons of the Cosco Scenera Next:
- It has very little padding can make longer car rides more uncomfortable for little bums;
- Finally it has a relatively low top harness slot (only 13.5″ high) compared to other car seats (which are usually around 16-17″ high). This means little ones may outgrow the rear-facing limits at the same time they would outgrow the front-facing limits. As a result the Cosco Scenera Next DLX has a much shorter lifespan than other travel car seat options.
Can you use a Travel Car Seat as a Commuter?
The best “commuter” travel car seat isn’t a car seat at all, but is actually the Ride Safer Travel Vest, which is a vest that turns any standard, lap and shoulder seat belt into a 5-point harness. It is incredibly convenient and packs down so small that it can easily fit in a large purse.
This is the “car seat” we brought to Kenya with us when we knew we would be taking tiny “bush” planes between destinations and our luggage capacity would be severely limited.
Stats of Ride Safer Travel Vest:
2.4lbs, for use with kids over 3 years old, and between 30-110lbs. (depending on size purchased, the Small covers 30-60lbs., Large 60-80lbs., XL 80-110lbs.), $165-$229 (depending on size)
Pros of the Ride Safer Travel Vest:
- The Rider Safe Travel Vest is very compact and lightweight, and can easily be carried in a purse/backpack (or your child can carry it themselves by wearing it).
- It’s especially easy for commuting situations where you don’t want to be transporting a hard-shell car seat.
- It turns any lap and shoulder seat belt into a 5-point harness.
- The vest has an incredibly wide age/weight range for the little one using it (over 3 years of age, and between 30-110lbs. depending on size purchased).
- Lastly (a huge point for travel!), it can easily fit 3 across in any vehicle.
Cons of the Ride Safer Travel Vest:
- The harness doesn’t get installed into the car, so for permanent everyday situations it can be a little awkward always taking the “car seat” with you.
- We found it harder to get a nice snug fit than when using a traditional car seat.
- It is ONLY forward facing. When we purchased the Ride Safer Travel Vest our daughter was 3.5 and still rear-facing at home. However we were heading to Kenya on safari and were going to be taking tiny bush planes between locations so we literally couldn’t fit two car seats with us. This made it a no-brainer)!
- Our daughter has been insistent on ONLY wearing twirly dresses during our travels and our favorites have a scooped back… As a result the Ride Safer Travel Vest always rubbed a red area on her upper back/spine. She never complained about it but it was always there after every car ride!
What is the “best overall” Travel Car Seat?
Hands down the best and most luxurious car seat we have ever experienced (for travel or everyday) is the WAYB Pico.
It is only 8 pounds and has a gorgeous variety of colors to choose from (think bronze, silver, navy, burnt orange, etc.). Ever since we used it on an adventure through Utah our daughter has been begging us to use it as her everyday car seat back home, it’s that good.
Stats of the WAYB Pico:
8 pounds, forward facing use for use with kids 2+ who are 22-50lbs. and 30-45″ tall, $330
Pros of the WAYB Pico:
- The WAYB Pico is FAA approved for use on planes.
- It is only 8 pounds.
- Its aluminum frame is made from same materials are jet engines and rocket ships!
- The seat and back are made from mesh to keep kids comfortable, cool, and not sweaty.
- It folds down so small that it can fit in the overhead compartment on a plane.
- They have a sleek, aesthetically pleasing design in a gorgeous variety of colors.
- Our daughter thinks she’s sitting in a “grown up” seat instead of a “car seat” which makes her excited to get in the car and get her seat belt on.
- The car seat companion bag has thick, seat-belt type straps that are comfortable on your shoulders and a sleeve on the back that can slip over your carry-on suitcase handle.
Cons of the WAYB Pico:
- There is no rear-facing option (although it sounds like there may possibly be a rear-facing version developed in the future?);
- Nor is there a cup holder.
- The WAYB Pico is more expensive than other travel car seats (but can be used as an everyday car seat as well and not just during occasional trips).
- Doesn’t recline so it can make car seat naps trickier (even so our daughter still insisted on using the WAYB Pico instead of her everyday car seat when given the choice!);
- (Not really a “con” but…) If you want any other color than black you have to order directly from their website! Black is available on Amazon, but all of their other gorgeous colors are currently only available on their website. Make sure to add on the travel bag for ease of transport!
We hope our years of trial and error helps you figure out which is the best travel car seat for you to bring on your next family adventure!