Best Travel Car Seats: Protect Your Most Precious Cargo on Long Journeys
We found the best travel car seat for your next family adventure
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.Read more.
PUBLISHED ON April 5, 2019
Traveling with little ones doesn’t have to be an agonizing affair equivalent to having your teeth pulled—you just need to find the best travel car seat for your extended trips. Finding a travel car seat that’s FAA-certified, lightweight, and narrow enough to fit into airplane seats, can be challenging; however, we saved you the work and found our top picks for the best travel car seats.
- Best OverallSummarySummaryA premium, lightweight car seat that’s easy to install, light on the scales and heavy on the features.ProsProsExtremely easy to install, ultra-portable, and superb build quality.ConsConsExpensive, not designed for older children.
- Best ValueSummarySummaryA bargain-priced seat that offers great value, safety, and portability.ProsProsExcellent value, versatile convertible design, and ultra-lightweight.ConsConsMore difficult to install than others, largest width may be a tight squeeze on small planes.
- Honorable MentionSummarySummaryA versatile convertible car seat for travel that delivers great value, convenience, and portability.ProsProsAccommodates children up to 65 pounds, ease of transport, and great comfort/convenience features.ConsConsDifficult to install compared to others, cheap fabric quality.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Travel Car Seats
- Safety. While you’re not required to restrain your infant or toddler in a car seat during air travel, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highly recommends that you secure your child in an FAA-certified car seat for airplane travel because it’s the safest way for little ones to fly.
- Convenience. Travel car seats are incredibly convenient because you can easily mount (and remove) them in the seats of cars, planes, trains, strollers, and everything in between. This makes transporting your tikes a breeze, wherever your adventures take you.
- Longevity. Many car seats for air travel offer a convertible design that can change from rear-facing to forward-facing and accommodate toddlers well beyond the 30 to 40 pound metric. In effect, these travel convertible car seats grow with your ever-budding bundle of joy and save you money on purchasing larger seats as your child matures.
- Comfort. Many parents choose to sit with their child in their laps to save money on having to purchase a separate seat during air travel. While doable on short trips, trying to restrain a fussy and fidgety kiddo on longer flights may prove to be a nightmare. Portable car seats for travel ensure that both parties involved are comfortable and cool-headed.
- Portability. Travel car seats are appreciably lighter than traditional car seats, making them easy to transport from destination to destination. They also feature compact designs that allow you to effortlessly place them in smaller cars and other tight spots.
Types of Travel Car Seats
Convertible travel car seats are a highly versatile option because they can be used in a rear-facing orientation, and later converted to a forward-facing position when your child outgrows the weight or length limit of the rear-facing position. This is an ideal choice for parents who are looking for an economical, convenient, and versatile travel car seat for their kiddies.
Rear-facing travel car seats are dimensionally small and can only accommodate children up to a 22- to 35-pound weight limit, depending on the model. These seats typically feature carrying handles and a base that can be left in your car. For added convenience, you can easily place this travel seat into and out of its base so you don’t have to install it each time you use it.
These multifunctional travel car seats can be used as a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat or as a belt-positioning booster. Thanks to its variety of seating orientations, you can use 3-in-1 seats to securely restrain your child as he/she grows, saving you money and the hassle of constantly purchasing larger seats to accommodate your growing tike.
Founded in 1958, Chicco is an Italian manufacturer of children’s accessories, clothing, and toys. Chicco is a global brand with a presence in 120 countries, offering parents everything from baby gear to nursing, travel, and baby care products. One of its most popular products is the Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat.
Based in Miamisburg, Ohio, Evenflo initially manufactured products related to baby feeding. Its product offering has since expanded to include car seats, travel systems, high chairs, play yards, doorway jumpers, and more. One of its top products is the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat.
With over 60 years of experience manufacturing baby goods, Graco has an extensive history of offering parenting solutions to eager customers. Its product portfolio includes strollers, car seats, highchairs, swings, and more. One popular product is the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat.
Travel Car Seat Pricing
- Under $100: There are several options available in this budget-friendly price range, with most offering shoppers solid safety, durability, and portability. Consumers looking for travel car seats with more high-end features may need to spend more to find options that suit their needs though.
- $100-$199: The majority of travel car seats fall within this price range. Shoppers have a vast array of high-quality, safe, and multifunctional seats to choose from in this set.
- Over $199: A smattering of high-end car seats for travel are available for over $199. These premium car seats boast excellent build quality, robust safety, and convenience features, and chic designs, but consumers can find options offering similar benefits at a more affordable price point.
While not explicitly required, if you do decide on transporting your toddler in a portable car seat, it has to be FAA-certified. You can verify whether or not an infant or toddler car seat is FAA-certified by looking for a sticker on the side of the seat that reads: “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
Unless you sport bulging muscles that would put Dwayne Johnson to shame, we highly recommend that you purchase a lightweight travel car seat. How light? Anything under 15 pounds should be manageable. Remember: You’ll be lifting the car seat in and out of rental cars, trolleys, and over people on the plane when navigating the all-too-cramped cabin, so your biceps (and sanity) will thank you for lightening up the load a bit.
Most plane seats measure 17 to 18 inches in width, so it’s crucial that you find a travel car seat that has a width of 18 inches or under. Also, a travel car seat with a slim design will likely fit through the security scanner so you won’t have to be held up in the line while TSA inspects your seat by hand.
- Convertibility: Convertible style travel seats can effortlessly accommodate your child from infant to toddler, from roughly 5 to 65 pounds. This allows you to maximize the lifespan of your travel seat. Buying a convertible travel car seat saves you money over time, and who doesn’t like that?
- Convenience Features: The best car seats for travel typically offer similar safety specs, but there are a few options that boast impressive creature comforts and convenient features that you won’t find on other seats. Features like adjustable headrests, removable cup holders, and soft-grip carrying handles are nice extras that make traveling with your children a little less stressful.
Best Travel Car Seat Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat
The Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat packs all the value-added safety, comfort, and convenience features that most shoppers are looking for in a travel car seat. It features a robust construction along with top-notch safety features that place it at the top of its class. It’s also incredibly easy to install. Additionally, the KeyFit 30 has a featherweight and compact design for ease of transportation. We chose this seat for the best travel seat overall because it offers an irresistible mix of convenience features, safety specs, user-friendliness, and superior portability.
Featuring a Recline Sure leveling foot, Ride Right bubble levels, and Super Cinch LATCH tightener, this travel car seat is one of the easiest to install. A secure 5-point harness and rugged build featuring EPS foam for best impact absorption make it amongst the safest of travel car seats as well. The lightweight and tidy dimensions are easy to love since they easily fit it into smaller cars, trolleys, and airplane seats. It’s also FAA-certified, so you can rest assured knowing that it’s safe and secure for air travel.
The KeyFit 30 is designed to accommodate infants from 4 to 30 pounds and up to 30 inches tall, so this may not be the ideal choice if your child exceeds this range. This travel car seat is also priced higher than a number of other great options, though its superb safety record, portability, and convenience features make up for it. We highly recommend the Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat if you are looking for a best all-around travel seat for little ones.
Best Value: Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
If you are shopping for a great travel car seat on a tight budget, the Evenflo Tribute LX skimps on its price tag but splurges on safety, convenience, and portability. It scores high marks for its lightweight and narrow design as well as being easy to transport. Additionally, its convertible design means that it will comfortably accommodate your kid as they grow.
The Evenflo Tribute LX weighs a smidge over 9 pounds, so it’s super easy to transport around cars, parking lots, airports, and anywhere else your travels take you. The Tribute LX is also a convertible seat engineered to accommodate children 5 to 30 pounds and 19 to 37 inches in a rear-facing position and kids 22 to 40 pounds and 28 to 40 inches in a front-facing position. This versatility will save you money in the long run on buying larger seats to fit your ever-growing kiddos. Of course, the Evenflo Tribute LX travel car seat is FAA-approved.
When this travel car seat is installed in the rear-facing position on airplanes, the seat in front of the car seat can’t recline much. One way to avoid this is to contact your airline and inquire about the width of the bulkhead seats to ensure that the Tribute LX will fit. Additionally, its width is larger than other options in this guide so it may be a tight fit in smaller airplane seats. For its affordable price point, the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat is a fantastic lightweight, safe, and versatile seat.
Honorable Mention: Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
The Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat scored a spot as our honorable mention for its versatility and impressive array of features. The headline is the fact that its convertible design can accommodate children up to 65 pounds when used in a front-facing position. It’s also FAA-certified and features a lightweight and sleek design that’s ideal for effortlessly transporting your offspring from destination to destination.
It can comfortably fit children from 5 to 40 pounds in a rear-facing orientation and children from 22 to 65 pounds in a front-facing position. This has one of the highest weight capacities of all travel car seats; for that virtue, we must celebrate its long-term value proposition. Its modest 15-pound weight and 18-inch width make it very easy to transport and fit into a variety of car, train, and airplane seats. Removable body pillows and a removable cup holder are also welcome convenience features during hectic travel days.
The Safety 1st Guide 65 has been reported to be difficult to install compared to some other popular seats. The material quality of the fabric is also a bit lacking compared to more expensive car seats. Specifically, it isn’t as breathable or easy-to-clean as we’d prefer it to be. Lastly, it’s worth noting that this convertible travel car seat is bulky and heavy, so it isn’t as easy to transport and install as other options.
- If your child is older and you’re considering an airline-approved car seat, then it’s important to know that you are not allowed to use a booster seat on an airplane. Instead, secure them using the regular airplane seatbelt, an FAA-approved travel car seat, or a Child Airplane Harness.
- Measure the width of your travel car seat to ensure that it’ll fit into the airplane seat. Remember, the width of most airplane seats measure from 16 to 18 inches.
- Call your airline ahead of time to inform them that you’ll be traveling with a travel car seat. Ask the customer service rep about any discounted fares for your child.
- If you’re using a rear-facing seat, the passenger ahead of your child may not be able to recline at all. Consider booking one parent next to your child and one in front to avoid any conflict.
- A travel car seat must not block the emergency escape path. Many airlines have policies that require airline travel car seats to be placed in a window seat. Additionally, do not place your child’s seat in an exit row.
- Traversing crowded airports while trucking your tikes and travel car seats can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so always account for enough time to make it to your destination. If in doubt, leave an extra 20 or 30 minutes earlier than you normally would when traveling without your little ones.
Q: If a seat says that it can accommodate children weighing 5 pounds, then would it be a good fit for my newborn?
A: Weight alone cannot accurately determine whether or not your child will fit in a travel car seat. Aspects of your child’s unique physical development, such as torso length, may impact how well they fit inside a particular seat. Contact the seat manufacturer to ensure that your child is a good fit for their seat.
Q: Do travel car seats have expiration dates?
A: On average, travel car seats usually expire between 6 and 10 years. Search for the manufacturer’s label located on the car seat or in the plastic shell which tells you information like the make, model, date of manufacture, etc. Take a picture of this label for easy reference.
Q: Is one travel car seat safer than the other?
A: All U.S. car seats are required to meet and pass crash tests under U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. This means that inexpensive seats meet the same rigorous safety standards as more expensive seats.
Q: How can I find out if my seat has been recalled for safety issues?
A: Registering your seat via mail or online is the best way to be alerted of any safety recalls. Alternatively, you can sign up with the NHTSA to register your car seat and receive email alerts about any safety recalls for your seat.
Q: Is it safe to buy used travel car seats?
A: It’s always a wise idea to buy a new travel car seat. New seats will always be in the best condition in terms of its vital safety components, convenience features, and upholstery quality. You don’t want to expose your child to a potentially damaged seat just to save a little money.
Q: How do I know if my travel car seat is installed tightly enough?
A: After a seat or detachable base is installed tightly with either the seatbelt or lower attachments, place your hand in the seat or base and push down to remove all the air in the cushion. Re-tighten and lock the seatbelt or lower attachments, then look at the angle indicator to ensure the angle is still OK for a rear-facing child.
Our winner for the best travel car seat is the Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat. It’s the easiest to install and transport, and it’s also fully-loaded with convenience and safety features.
If you’re looking to spend less money, we recommend the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat.