The first step to make travel easier: pick the right car seat for your child’s size and your specific travel needs.
Your destination location is key to figuring this out! Make sure the car seat will work at your destination. Travel outside the US/Canada requires careful consideration from a car seat perspective due to different vehicle and seat belt requirements and designs. We can make three categories of locations:
In the US or Canada: Vehicles will have LATCH and seat belts with automatic locking retractors. No additional equipment besides your car seat is necessary.
EU countries: Vehicles 2013 and newer will have LATCH, as will some older vehicles. Vehicles will NOT have locking retractors on the seat belts so you must use a locking clip or built-in lockoff to install securely with the seat belt.
The Rest of the World Outside the US/Canada/EU: Vehicles will not have LATCH* and will NOT have locking seat belts. Because there’s no LATCH, you’ll need to use the seat belt to install the car seat. Vehicles will NOT have locking retractors on the seat belts so car seats will require a locking clip or built-in lockoff in order to be installed securely.
What was that about the seat belts? Seat belts outside the US/Canada are different from the ones here, in that they will not lock when you pull them out all the way. You MUST use a separate locking device on these non-locking seat belts in order to install your American car seat properly, or instead install with LATCH, if it’s present in the vehicle.
Why does this seat belt issue matter? In order to use your car seat you’ve got to be able to install it, and if it’s not compatible with your rental car’s seat belt system, and the rental car doesn’t have LATCH, you won’t be able to install it properly! Some car seats come with built-in seat belt locking devices, and these are the best ones for travel to places where seat belts do not have an automatic locking retractor.
*Note: Some vehicles outside the US/Canada/EU WILL have LATCH. If you are SURE that your vehicle will have LATCH, your car seat selection is more flexible, as most seats sold in the US will install well with LATCH until your child is about 35-40 lbs. Your vehicle will STILL not have a locking lap-and-shoulder belt though, even if it has LATCH.
How can you know what child restraint mechanisms are present in your rental car or hotel shuttle? You can’t!! We urge you to do copious research on this topic by calling the rental car agency, asking for photos of the back seat of the specific model you’ll be renting, asking your relatives for photos if you’re using a family member’s vehicle, and asking hotel employees for details on the hotel shuttle or car service. Still, even with research, changes to vehicles can happen and we recommend always being prepared for a different vehicle than the one you anticipated. Having a car seat that will install with multiple methods, like the Britax options below, means you won’t be stuck in a situation where the car seat you carefully selected won’t actually work on your trip.
Choose an infant seat with a European Belt Path: To ensure that your infant seat will install securely without the base in any car you get in – taxi, Uber, rental car, family member’s car – choose one with a European belt path. Say what? Click here to read more about the European belt path and see which infant seats feature this.
Our top infant seat pick for travel: The Chicco Fit2 infant seat features a European belt path and will fit babies longer than any other infant seat. It will fit kids who are in the 95th% for height until about 15 months and 50th% until at least to their 2nd birthday! (Almost every child is too tall long before too heavy for their infant seat. Too tall is when the child’s head is within 1 inch of the top of the seat.) The Fit2 lasts longer than any other infant seat because it’s tall–so it can accommodate taller children. Its extendable headrest means its fairly compact and it fits on many compact strollers. Note: It is NOT necessary to use the base on your trip, you may leave that at home and bring just the infant carrier with you.
Another convenient selection: The Doona infant car seat has a built-in stroller for easy portability and will install securely using the European belt path on the side seats (driver or passenger) in most cars anywhere in the world. However, make sure you watch this video to know what to do when the seat belt seems too short to use the European belt path. Note: We do not recommend the Doona for families who will be using a base as the US version of the base may not install securely in your vehicle and there are many other infant seats that did better in crash testing with their base.
Car seats with built in seat belt locking devices are the best choices here, since they allow for easy installation with non-automatic-locking-retractor seat belts.
For smaller toddlers who still fit in it, the Chicco Fit2 is still the most portable and convenient option. (Yes, we know it’s not a convertible seat—but maybe you don’t need one yet!) We’d recommend using it before ever taking a convertible seat, because it’s much more portable than any convertible car seat and for many families, the convenience it allows is worth the price. It will fit kids who are in the 95th% for height until about 15 months and kids in the 50th% for height until at least to their 2nd birthday! The Fit2 lasts longer than any other infant seat because it’s tall–so it can accommodate taller children. Its extendable headrest means its fairly compact and it fits on many compact strollers. Note: It is NOT necessary to use the base on your trip, you may leave that at home and bring just the infant carrier with you.
Our top pick for a convertible seat that works internationally: Britax Emblem. This seat will work forward-facing or rear-facing and features built in seat belt locking devices for both rear-facing and forward-facing, so it’s fairly easy to use with the non-locking seat belts found outside the US/Canada. It also has lower anchor connectors and a tether strap in case your rental car has LATCH. The Emblem is less expensive and weighs less than other convertible car seats with built in seat belt locking devices, has straps that don’t twist or become uneven and is generally user-friendly. Yes it’s big and bulky compared to other travel seats, but the Emblem is the best solution for non-locking seat belts when LATCH is not an option. Easily transported through the airport or hotel hallways using the Britax travel cart, the Emblem even features a small handle on top for carrying! And it’s great for travel within the US also–if you’re in the market for a travel seat for US travel, but unsure if you’ll travel internationally later, this is a good option, so that you’re covered for future travel. Note: Britax discontinued a very similar seat called the Allegiance (you may see reference to it here, since it was nearly identical to the Emblem)
Again, car seats with built in seat belt locking devices are the best choices here, since they allow for easy installation with non-automatic-locking-retractor seat belts. The Chicco MyFit, Graco Slimfit3 LX, Graco Nautilus Snuglock, or Britax Clicktight seats are good options here since they offer seat belt locking devices, but note they are all fairly heavy and bulky. If your child still fits in your Britax Emblem or Allegiance, bring that before investing in something bigger and heavier.
Boosters don’t require an automatic locking retractor, so you have many more choices here. See our list of travel-friendly boosters; these are small, lightweight, and have a great belt fit on the vast majority of kids.
Note that boosters do not work on the plane. We recommend bringing yours in your hand luggage to avoid unintended loss or damage that may occur with checked baggage.
Choose a very easy-to-use car seat, or one that you are very familiar with. Then you’ll be sure you’ll install it properly in your rental car or taxi/uber.
Get a cart to transport it through the airport easily, and use it on the plane to increase your child’s safety and to avoid a lost or damaged seat at your destination.
We don’t have one top pick for this category since it all depends on your travel specifics and your proficiency at installing your car seat. If you find your everyday seat easy to use, consider taking it on your trip. If you’re in the market for a travel-specific car seat, here are some options:
For smaller toddlers who still fit in it, the Chicco Fit2 is still the most portable and convenient option. We’d recommend using it before ever taking a convertible seat. The Fit2 is much easier and more portable than any convertible car seat and for many families, the convenience it allows is worth the price. It will fit kids who are in the 95th% for height until about 15 months and kids in the 50th% for height until at least to their 2nd birthday! The Fit2 lasts longer than any other infant seat because it’s tall–so it can accommodate taller children. Its extendable headrest means its fairly compact and it fits on many compact strollers. Note: It is NOT necessary to use the base on your trip, you may leave that at home and bring just the infant carrier with you.
The Doona infant car seat has a built-in stroller for easy portability and will install securely using the European belt path on the side seats (driver or passenger) in most cars anywhere in the world. However, make sure you watch this video to know what to do when the seat belt seems too short to use the European belt path. Note: We do not recommend the Doona for families who will be using a base as the US version of the base may not install securely in your vehicle and there are many other infant seats that did better in crash testing with their base.
The Shyft DualRide infant car seat has a built-in stroller for easy portability and will install securely using the European belt path (driver or passenger side).
Our top pick convertible for a user-friendly LATCH installation: The Evenflo All4One DLX installs extremely easily with LATCH and requires almost no effort to secure. We love how tightly and quickly parents and grandparents are able to install this seat! This seat fits kids up to 40 lbs rear-facing when installed with LATCH, and fits nicely on a variety of travel carts for transport through the airport. Note it is optimized for LATCH and not a great option for seat belt installation. It’s also wide so may be more of a challenge on airplane seats.
A more versatile and smaller convertible option that works both inside and outside the US: The Britax Emblem or Allegiance comes with an easy to use LATCH installation AND a built-in seat belt locking device for fairly easy installation in places outside the US/Canada where the vehicle seat belts cannot be put into locking mode. They’re about 17 lbs and can be easily transported through the airport or hotel hallways using the Britax travel cart. If you’re in the market for a travel seat for US travel, but unsure if you’ll travel internationally later, this is a good option, so that you’re covered for future travel.
Low cost and lightweight: This convertible seat is very lightweight and less bulky than the others, but we find it a bunch harder to install and operate. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the installation before you travel — practice a bunch of times so you are not struggling at your destination. Note that the straps tend to twist and get uneven frequently, so keep in mind that you will need to spend some time untwisting and evening up straps as you use the seat. As shown here, it can be strapped onto a stroller for transport through the airport.
Because boosters require lap-and-shoulder belts, they can’t be used on planes because planes only have lap belts. Therefore, you’ll either need to put the booster in the overhead bin (if it fits), or check it (which means it can get lost or broken). To know if your child is ready to ride in a booster, click here
Here are some boosters that are the most travel friendly – smallest & lightest:
The Cosco Rise and Cosco Rise LX are lightweight and inexpensive narrow backless boosters. The only difference between the Rise and the Rise LX has to do with the fabric; the LX has more of it and it’s more plush.
The Rise has a shallower seat depth than some other boosters so it’s better for shorter kids and won’t fit taller kids as well.
The Rightguide is fabulous! It weighs just 1.8 pounds, is super slim (you can easily fit 3 of them in a canvas market bag) and fits smaller and bigger kids really well. While it is the narrowest backless booster on the market (so also great for narrow center seats and 3-across) it fits wide kids really well due to how the red belt guides can flare out. This video shows how easy it is to use!
Use a stroller that your infant seat fits into – this way you can easily wheel baby + car seat + stroller through the airport.
International Travel and Gate-Checked Strollers: Be aware that most gate checked strollers won’t actually meet you at the gate. Rather, they’ll meet you at baggage claim. Which means that after a long flight with a baby you’ll be stuck carrying the car seat + diaper bag + baby + all your other stuff through the airport, through customs, and then waiting for your stroller at baggage claim. To avoid this, we recommend getting a stroller that fits your infant seat AND fits in the overhead bin of the plane. The Mountain Buggy Nano will take almost any infant car seat, and the Babyzen YoYo will take Clek, Cybex, Nuna, and Maxi Cosi infant seats.
Strollers in the Overhead Bin: If your stroller fits in the overhead bin, make sure you put it in a bag (laundry bags work great) that covers the whole stroller, including the wheels. Why? Because most airlines don’t allow strollers on board the aircraft. If they can’t see its a stroller, because its in a bag, they won’t force you to check it.
Getting a large and bulky convertible car seat through the airport poses a problem for families. How to carry the car seat and all the other stuff you have, plus your child or children? Here are some products that we’ve found make this situation easier:
This GogoBabyz strap connects your car seat to your rolling luggage. This is helpful if you plan to bring a piece of rolling luggage onto the plane. Note: your child can’t be in the car seat while it’s connected to your rolling luggage.
Several companies make folding hand carts designed specifically for car seats. These allow you to have your child in the car seat while you roll the car seat through the airport on the cart.
Our rolling car top pick: GoGoBabyz Travelmate. This video shows how to secure the car seat onto the Travelmate (and how to get the car seat off). Parents tell us that the Travelmate Original is more durable than the competitor’s products as well as the Travelmate Mini. We do not recommend the Travelmate Deluxe – it is very bulky and connecting the car seat is much more difficult than it needs to be.
Alternative option: You could also buy a regular folding hand cart and use a strap or bungee to connect the car seat. However, you can NOT have the child in the car seat on these carts as the car seat won’t be secure enough. All of these carts fold compactly and will fit in the overhead bin of the plane.
Car Seat Lady Travel Hack: Due to the unique design of the Clek Fllo, when it is on the GoGoBabyz Original Travelmate there is enough room to fit a small stroller on top of the Fllo so that with one hand you can pull baby + car seat + stroller through the airport! The 3 small strollers that balanced on top of Fllo will also ALL fit in the overhead bin of most planes.
If carrying a car seat on your back sounds like the easiest way to get the seat through the airport, then by all means buy a backpack that can fit it.
However, we’d much prefer to wheel the car seat than carry it on our back. This bag has 4 spinner wheels (like luggage) and will let you wheel the car seat through the airport. This bag is especially helpful if you may need to check the car seat during part of your trip (perhaps you are flying an international airline that doesn’t allow car seats). While it won’t protect a checked car seat from getting lost or broken, it will prevent it from getting dirty.
If installing a forward-facing car seat, make sure you don’t get the seat belt stuck in the child’s car seat – watch the above video!
If the car seat is wide, raising the airplane seat’s armrest (if possible) will add space.
If two adults are traveling, one can board first and install the car seat. To reduce restlessness, the child or children can stay in the boarding area with the other adult until the last call.
Remember, a car seat can never block an adult’s exit to the aisle – so the car seat must go by a window, or on large planes the car seat can go in the middle of a middle section as there’s an aisle on either end.
FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this page. No monetary compensation was provided, however, a few of the reviewed products were supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate the review. All opinions are those of The Car Seat Lady, LLC.