I’m often asked what I feel is the best car seat for travel–which can vary by the the age of the child (infant? baby? toddler? preschooler?), the type of travel, and so many things! But as you know, traveling with a baby (and/or toddler, preschooler) is more than getting from A to B, especially when you may be visiting and staying with multiple friends or family members during your vacation, as in the case of this mom who wrote in:
I’ll be travelling with my daughter when she’ll be about 1-1/2 yrs old. We’re visiting family and will be borrowing people’s cars, so we’ll need to move the car seat around a lot. What (if any) car seats would you recommend that aren’t a complete pain to install (possibly multiple times per day)? We loved the ease of her bucket car seat (just strap it in!), but she’s reaching the weight limit unfortunately. Thanks!
Anna in NYC
For any parent choosing a car seat for travel with a 1.5-year-old that has outgrown her infant car seat, I recommend finding a “convertible” car seat that can still use rear-facing until at least 2 years old, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That said, there are THREE key things to keep in mind when choosing the best car seat for travel when your child is in this age range:
- Ease of installation in that rear-facing mode–as you are especially and rightfully concerned about–since many convertible car seats are a struggle to get installed rearward once, let alone multiple times–possibly in one day!
- Fit of the convertible car seat in rear-facing mode in a variety of vehicles. This is where the wise traveler resists the urge to buy any car seat that claims to be “all-in-one” or used essentially from birth through college(!). In many sedans and especially in more compact rental cars and airplane seats, there just won’t be enough room for that very tall car seat to be installed rearward at a comfortable or appropriate angle for the child. Look for a car seat rated up to 40 lbs. rather than one of 55 lbs. or 65 lbs. or more, and avoid those with a very high base that might add to the overall length of the seat in reclined mode.
- If you’ll be flying, consider how easily the car seat will–or will not–be installed using a lap belt rather than L.A.T.C.H., which will not be an option.
Here are three car seats I’d suggest you consider for travel between different cars, at time of writing (see latest updates on our page here):
1. The Cosco Scenera or Scenera NEXT
But when it comes to rear-facing installation, the more spacious belt path (just lift the cover at the bottom to reveal) makes it one of your easiest options for installing rear-facing whether with a seat belt OR the LATCH strap that routes through the same path. NOTE: Some convertible car seats have easy LATCH anchors, but routing the seat belt through the seat for a rear-facing installation is torturous.)
Also, both Cosco Scenera and the Cosco Scenera NEXT are among the narrowest convertible car seats you’ll find, at just over 17″ and 17.5″ at their widest points respectively. Your odds of fitting them with other car seats and boosters across a back seat (three across) or into an airplane seat are very good. Since the Scenera NEXT is even more compact that is, shorter, it’s a better bet for rear-facing installation in compact cars as well.
The main drawback of these seats is they have very little cushioning, though for infants and younger babies that can be remedied by adding extra cushioning like a Snuzzler. If your child will spend extended periods in the car seat, such as on long road trips or lengthy flights, you might prefer the next suggestion. Read more about the Cosco Scenera in Best Car Seats for Travel. >>>
2. Graco ComfortSport
Weighing in at just 2 more pounds than the Cosco Scenera, the Graco ComfortSport offers just what its name implies: comfort. That translates to not just more cushioning throughout the seat but also a slightly deeper seat which gives children more of a “leg rest” for extended rear-facing use. At 17″ W it is also a great candidate for air travel–it’s just a little bit trickier to feed a lap belt through the seat in rear-facing mode (using the LATCH strap does not require this), and that deeper seat means you may not be able to recline to a full 45 degrees as needed for infants in compact cars–or airplane seat rows. Read more about the Graco ComfortSport in Best Car Seats for Travel. >>>
3. Sit N Stroll Combination Car Seat + Stroller
The price point jumps for this one, but for travel–especially travel with a young toddler-–the Sit N Stroll offers travel-friendly features you may find make it well worth the investment, particularly if you’ll be doing a lot of travel during the baby-to-toddler years.
The obvious: It converts from car seat to light-duty stroller to get you through the airport with ease, not to mention museums, malls, and so on. Less obvious: It sits flat on chairs and makes a great on-the-go booster seat for dining in restaurants and at grandparents’ homes. And when it does, there is a 5-point safety harness to keep kids from toppling over typical restaurant high chairs and less secure options.
But as a convertible car seat, it lets you buckle in and unbuckle with ease. Either use the LATCH straps or route the seat belt over the front of the car seat using the forward- or rear-facing paths (easiest option for quick use in taxis and between borrowed cars!). There’s no need to fish a safety belt through awkward slots in the car seat on this.
You can also add an optional sun canopy to the Sit N Stroll which is not only helpful when strollering around outdoors–it can help keep reading lights and vents from disturbing a snoozing tot in flight, and may also help keep headlights from disrupting your child’s slumber during nighttime drives. Read more about the Sit N Stroll in Best Car Seats for Travel. >>>
Hope this helps! For more tips on travel with car seats see the index for Advice for Travel with Car Seats and Road Trips with Young Children and for more recommendations of Great Products and Gear for Travel, click here.
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