How to fit three car seats or boosters across the back seat of a small rental car

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RideSafer travel vests help fit three across the back seat of a small rental car in Spain..
Snoozing after a day at the Alhambra: My cozy three across the back seat of a small rental car in Spain thanks to the RideSafer travel vest.

In case there aren’t enough logistical challenges to solve when traveling with one small child, or two young children, there are those of us who have the privilege of making travel work with three kids requiring car seats or safety boosters. I am a proud member of this club.

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When we’ll be driving at our destination, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether we’re flying two hours away or ten time zones. Car seat and safety booster seat laws now reach farther and wider—and for kids older and older—than ever before.

Even our great state of California just upped its booster seat requirement from 6 years to 8 year, sending several parents back to the store to replace the booster seat they gave away a year ago.

In Europe, many countries now require booster seats for children up to 12 years old. And if you think you’ll have it any easier in Costa Rica, guess again (and be sure to read this).

Still, short of renting a minivan for the five or us – which can be vastly more expensive than that economical compact car you always see advertised, it’s hard to know how to safely and legally seat all three kids in a rental car at home or abroad.

When traveling to many places beyond North America, such as Europe, a minivan may not even be an option (or a sane one, when considering gas prices anyway!).

When I booked our rental car in Spain last visit, I already had to upgrade the size of vehicle from the most compact just to accommodate our baggage, but even still, I knew the chances that a car seat and two safety boosters would fit across the back seat of that car were slim.

Fortunately, we were prepared for this: We reserved one safety seat from the car rental agency for our youngest child, and brought along two RideSafer travel vests (certified for kids 3 years and older) for my big kids—and cleverly packed them in the outside pocket of our suitcase for easy access on arrival.

Wearing their RideSafer vests installed with the car’s shoulder safety belts, they needed no more room on the seat than their own little hips required.

For children old enough to ride in a backless safety booster (at least 4 years), the Bubble Bum inflatable booster may also be helpful for travel requiring three booster seats in small rental cars.

However, while it saves a little space by not having arm rests (or more importantly by fitting partially beneath a high-base car seat beside it), it may still be wider than your child’s hips, so your results may vary depending on the rental car and configuration of car seats / boosters.

The other advantage of the RideSafer, when fitting multiple kids into unfamiliar vehicles, is that the travel vest can also be used with a lap belt only, when used with a removable top tether strap. This may allow for additional seating configurations, depending on your rental car.

For more information about the RideSafer travel vest, and photos of it in use, check out my complete RideSafer review here.

FWIW, while I’ve been recommending the RideSafer travel vest for several years and we’ve used them on many occasions, those shown in this photo were provided by the manufacturer with no promise of positive review or mention in this blog.

You might also like these features:

Best Car Seat Alternatives for Travel

Best travel car seats for toddlers

Road trip travel tips and car seat advice (taxis, shuttles, laws and more)

Costa Rican family travel tips and recommendations

Car seat laws in Costa Rica are stricter than in the U.S.

Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals

Safe journeys,
Shelly Rivoli
Curious about this content? See my editorial content disclosure.

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