Home travel tips How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind)

How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind)

by Shelly Rivoli
Published: Last Updated on
baby or toddler in car seat traveling on family road trip

For parents, the logistics of traveling with a car seat can be overwhelming. But I’ve spent years learning from experience (traveling with 3 kids of my own) and researching the topic exhaustively that there are MANY ways to make travel with a car seat simpler and easier.

In fact, in some cases, you might not even NEED to use a car seat to help keep your child safe (see Car Seat Alternatives for Travel below).

And by “traveling with a car seat,” I don’t just mean by airplane! Though if you will be flying with a car seat, don’t miss all the tips and important considerations about using car seats on airplanes (or just getting a car seat through the airport!) in my section dedicated to Flying with Babies and Toddlers.

Here are the major “How to travel with a car seat” topics I cover on this page:

But first… don’t forget to pin this post to your travel boards for future reference!

1. Get a travel-friendly car seat!

Tips for the Early Months: Choosing an Infant Car Seat for Travel …

the Evenflo Shyft DualRide infant car seat with built-in stroller wheels.
Some infant car seats come with their own built-in travel system – no stroller frame or stroller required!

The typical infant car seat, which snaps in and out of a base in your car and some sort of stroller configuration (or car seat travel system), can be a ideal for travel during your baby’s first year.

In fact, the Evenflo Shyft DualRide (shown above) and Doona infant Car seat come with their own built-in travel system! No more need for an extra stroller or stroller frame. These ultimate travel car seats for babies have wheels built in and ready to roll when needed.

But watch out for infant car seats that boast higher height and weight limits if you’ll need it to fit in economy airplane seats or the back seat of small rental cars.

Infant car seats made to accommodate taller and bigger babies ARE bigger, and can only be installed rear facing — a challenge when legroom is limited in economy airplane and rental car seats. (And good luck if your forward neighbor wants to recline his seat!)

Also, be sure your infant car seat can be used WITHOUT its base — and that you’re practiced in how to do that — to avoid having one more thing to lug along.

Check your car seat manual for instructions on using it with or without its base, and with latch vs. safety belts so you’ll be prepared for every possible scenario as you travel (look it up online if needed – BritaxChiccoClekDoonaEvenfloGracoNuna PipaUPPAbaby).

See my current recommended Best Infant Car Seats for Travel for more.

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For Toddlers and Preschoolers: Tips for Choosing a Convertible or Forward-Facing Lightweight Car Seat …

The Jive is a lightweight convertible car seat you can bring onboard your flight or fit 3 across the back seat if needed.

Traveling with convertible car seats (or forward-facing only) gets more interesting. Unlike the infant car seat that’s a convenience most places you take your baby (including restaurants, etc.), the toddler’s car seat will be one more thing to get you from points A to B — that you have to get to point A and from point B.

If you plan to use your convertible car seat rear facing during travel, you may have unpleasant surprises when you can’t recline the seat as much as you’d hoped in your rental car or airplane seat to help your child sleep.

When flying with an FAA approved convertible car seat, you might simply need to install it forward-facing for your flight. This could prove helpful in helping to keep your child entertained with in-flight (in-seat) programming and will allow you to make use of their tray table as well.

It’s especially important to remember when flying with convertible car seats and other car seats made for larger kids that even if they are FAA approved for air travel it doesn’t mean they will FIT in an actual airplane seat! The car seat shown above is one of the rare cabin-friendly convertible car seats measuring less than 17″ wide (when cup holders are removed).

See “Will your child’s car seat be allowed on the airplane?” for specifics and don’t miss the Flying with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers page for much more on flying with car seats and children.

Also, beware the bulky convertible car seat! All the bells and whistles like cup holders and comfy arm rests your child may enjoy at home and on road trips may be hard to live with in the air and in the rental car. If you’d like to use the same car seat at home and for travel, look for a car seat with removable arm rests and cupholders.

See my current recommended Best Convertible Car Seats and Forward-Facing Car Seats for Travel here.

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2. Consider a Lightweight Folding Car Seat or Booster Seat

This portable car seat and high back-belt-positioning booster seat stand out for one basic feature: THEY FOLD for travel and storage.

Meet the WAYB Pico portable car seat and Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 booster. And YES, they have custom travel bags for convenience (purchased separately)! Here they are:

The WAYB Pico Portable Car Seat

WAYB Pico folding car seat with travel bag.

The WAYB Pico folding car seat is for kids 2 years and older who weigh from 22 lbs. up to 50 lbs., and are from 30″ to 45″ tall.

This forward-facing (only) car seat is FAA approved for air travel. And with its low profile and small footprint, it’s an easier fit in airplane seats than many car seats.

This lightweight car seat (only 8 lbs.) folds to 11.6″ L x 14.5″ W x 18.9″ H. And it can be easily carried in its custom backpack carrying case (optional).

The WAYB Pico portable car seat folded for travel.

Bonus: The Pico is also easier to install on airplanes than most car seats! The airplane seat belt passes easily through a back channel and has guides to slip the belt into. See more in my full review of the WAYB Pico.

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The Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 Booster Seat

Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 folding booster seat.
Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 folding booster seat.

As a high-back belt-positioning booster seat, the Viaggio Flex 120 is not FAA approved for air travel and can’t be used on airplanes (as with any booster seat).

However, when not in use, it folds down to a compact 23.5″ x 17.25″ x 9.75″ and weighs 14 lbs.

Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 booster seat folded for travel.
Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 booster seat folded for travel.

And when it’s in use? This booster has a space-saving narrow 14″ base, and the aluminum-reinforced back rest can be adjusted to 5 different reclined positions — regardless of the angle of the car’s seat back.

Viaggio Flex 120 booster can be used for kids from 40 lbs. and 39 inches tall all the way up to 120 lbs and is highly adjustable to accommodate growing kids. See more photos and get the full specs for the Primo Viaggio Flex 120 here. And see all my recommended Best Safety Booster Seats for travel here, including high-back belt-positioning boosters and booster mode only (no back).

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3. Take Advantage of Car Seat Travel Bags and Wheeled Transporter Carts

Car seats wheel easily through the airport with kids strapped in for the ride.
Car seats wheel easily through the airport with kids strapped in for the ride.

Since car seats can get easily damaged by heavy suitcases in the airport luggage system — and occasionally rerouted to the wrong airport! — it’s not recommended to check your child’s car seat at the ticket counter.

Fortunately getting your car seat through the airport and/or to your rental car has never been easier. There are so many great products to help!

Enlist the helpful wheels of a car seat travel cart like the one shown above, and you can wheel your kid strapped into the car seat right to the gate! Or employ a clever and cost-effective luggage strap that does double duty for car seats.

And don’t overlook the protective travel bags you can alsoload up with extra jackets and bulky items during transport. Some with wheels or backpack carrying straps make it all the easier to get them to your gate.

See all my latest Recommended Car Seat Travel Bags, Travel Carts, and related products here. And don’t miss the post: Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat Through the Airport for more help.

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4. Check Local Car Seat Laws

Before you travel with your child’s car seat overseas, be sure to check the local car seat laws at your destination. Just as we in the U.S. have our own national car seat safety standards and testing specifications, so do most other developed countries.

Age requirements, especially for safety booster seats, still vary widely in many countries. And certifications trusted at home may not meet requirements in other parts of the world — including booster seats in Costa Rica. See the next point for more advice on using car seats abroad.

And if you’re wondering if car seats are required in taxis – or if they might be provided by taxis or ride share services like Uber and Lyft – check out this post.

6. Consider Renting a Car Seat for Your Rental Car – Two Ways!

Renting a Car Seat Way #1

If you’ll be renting a car at your destination, it may be possible to rent a car seat or booster seat from the car rental agency. If you won’t need a car seat on the airplane, this could be a great convenience. However this does not always work out as well as it should.

Not all car rental companies will guarantee the car seat will be there, so it’s good to check the fine print or simply ask. It might also show signs of wear or damage (or be filthy). So I only recommend it if you’re using a reputable agency that will guarantee your child’s car seat will be there with your rental car.

TIP: Follow this link to compare rental car prices and available rental agencies at locations worldwide AND add a car seat or safety booster seat to your reservation.

Renting a Car Seat Way #2

Renting a car seat from a local baby gear rental agency may also be a good (and possibly safer) option than depending on a car rental agency. Many baby equipment hire agencies will meet you at the airport or coordinate with your rental car agency to deliver your rented car seat — and possibly other baby gear you might need for your stay.

TIP: Use the Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals to find a business providing baby equipment rental at your travel destination.

When traveling abroad, renting a car seat at your destination might also the best way to make sure the car seat will meet whatever local safety testing & standards there are for seats (as mentioned, these can vary by country — more details in the Travels with Baby ultimate guidebook).

This may also be necessary to work with the child safety features in cars manufactured for the country and required by local laws (rigid latch connectors for example!).

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7. Find an Airport Shuttle or Ride Service Providing Car Seats

Our Paris airport shuttle service with car seats. Easy!
Our Paris airport shuttle service arriving with car seats. Easy!

Will you just need a car seat for transportation to and from the airport?

If you’re visiting a destination with great public transportation (or an all-inclusive resort!), you may be able to find a local airport shuttle or ride service (AKA car hire) that can provide a car seat or safety booster for your child.

You can read about my recommended Paris airport shuttle providing car seats and boosters in this post.

I’ve also included some New York City ride services that can provide car seats and booster seats in this post.

If you’re wondering about car seat laws and taxis or rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, see this post.

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8. Consider These Car Seat Alternatives for Travel

Depending on how you’ll travel and the age of your child(ren), you may be able to take advantage of these alternatives to car seats for your trip.

The Baby B’Air Flight Safety Vest

Baby B'Air flight safety vest for lap held babies on airplanes.
The Baby B’Air flight safety vest for lap-held babies and toddlers.

For air travel only: The Baby B’Air airplane safety vest (or harness) is for lap-held babies and toddlers to help protect against turbulence. The parent’s airplane seat belt passes through a loop of nylon webbing at the back of the child’s vest.

The Baby B’Air is only approved for use during the cruising portion of flights, not during taxiing, takeoff, or landing. See more details here.

CARES Flight Safety Harness

CARES flight safety harness for kids in airplane seats.
The CARES flight safety harness for kids traveling in their own airplane seats.

For air travel only: The CARES harness by Kids Fly Safe is for children 1 year and 22 lbs. up to 40 lbs. who are flying in their own airplane seats.

CARES is the only in-flight safety harness that’s FAA approved for all phases of air travel. It creates a 4-point safety harness with the airplane’s lap belt. See my full review of CARES here.

TIP: BEWARE of CARES counterfeits and listings of products that are not even pretending to be CARES but sellers have used it in the product title so it shows up in searches. These are not made from the same grade of materials, have not been tested to meet the required standards, and do not have FAA-approval or labeling. The real CARES is made by Kids Fly Safe/AmSafe.

The RideSafer Travel Vest

Three kids riding in the back seat with RideSafer travel vest alternatives to car seats.
Fit three kids across the back seat easily with the RideSafer travel vest, an alternative to car seats for some children.

For use in motor vehicles only: The RideSafer travel vest (now Gen 5) is a lightweight and highly portable alternative to forward-facing car seats and belt-positioning booster seats.

Your child simply wears the vest, climbs into the car, and the vehicle seat belt is routed through its guides. An optional tether and crotch strap are included with each vest, and a headrest can be purchased separately.

Recommended for kids 3 years and older with multiple size options and colors available. You can see my detailed RideSafer Travel Vest Review here and see current colors, size options, and customer reviews here.

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9. Don’t Forget Helpful Car Seat Accessories and Travel Toys!

A car seat travel tray helps keep kids happy in their car seats.
A car seat travel tray helps keep kids happy, fed, and entertained in their car seats.

Once you have the right car seat worked out, don’t forget those extras that will help make time spent IN the car seat all the more comfortable and enjoyable for your little one. With the right car seat accessories and travel toys, everyone will travel a little more happily!

Add a travel tray like the one shown above to your child’s car seat to help keep snacks, toys, and coloring books close at hand. It’s helpful for long road trips as well as on flights where children may not be able to reach the tray table from their car seats (raise arm rests for easier side pocket access).

Infant seat support cushions and head-supporting pillows can also be added to car seats for babies through toddlers and preschoolers to make long hours and snoozing.

The KneeGuard keeps legs comfy during long trips in the car seat.
The KneeGuard keeps legs comfy during long trips in the car seat.

And because little legs don’t dangle happily for hours on end, consider the KneeGuard (above) for your forward-facing car seat companion. Unfortunately this does not have FAA-approval for use in aircraft–where it could prove invaluable on long flights.

Take a look at my latest recommended Car Seat Accessories for Travel here. And don’t miss my recommendations for travel toys and games:

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More Help and Resources for Travel with a Car Seat and Planning Road Trips with Babies and Young Children

There’s a whole lot more where this came from! Here are links to additional tips and resources for traveling with your car seat and planning road trips with children.

For help flying with a car seat and planning for air travel:

Find the Best Car Seat Travel Gear and Accessories

For Help Planning Road Trips with Babies and Toddlers

Safe travels,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks and Hiking with Kids Southern California: 45 Great Hikes for Families

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