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    Choosing the Right Car Seat

    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. 

     

    Seats for travel anywhere in the world (including the US/Canada!)

    Infant seats

    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.

    fit2

    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. 

    doona

    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.

    Convertible Seats

    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.

    fit2

    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.  

    emblem

    Our top pick for a convertible seat that works internationally: Britax Emblem or Allegiance. These car seats will work forward-facing or rear-facing and feature built in seat belt locking devices, so are fairly easy to use with the non-locking seat belts found outside the US/Canada. They also have lower anchor connectors and a tether strap in case your rental car has LATCH. These seats are less expensive and lighterweight than other convertible car seats with built in seat belt locking devices, have straps that don’t twist or become uneven and are generally user-friendly. Yes they’re big and bulky compared to other travel seats, but they’re the best solution for non-locking seat belts when LATCH is not an option. They can be easily transported through the airport or hotel hallways using the Britax travel cart and even have a small handle on top for carrying! They’re 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.

    Forward-Facing Seats for Use Anywhere

    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 Snuglocks, or Britax Clicktight seats are good options here, 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 for Travel Anywhere

    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.

    Seats for travel within the US/Canada

    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 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:

    fit2

    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. 

    everystagedlx

    Our top pick convertible for a user-friendly LATCH installation: The Evenflo Everystage 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! The Everystage DLX 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.

    emblem

    A more versatile and smaller convertible option: 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.

    Cosco Scenera NEXT: 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. 

    The Immi Go car seat fits in the overhead bin and installs in under 90 seconds using the LATCH system, It will work in Europe (EU) in vehicles model year 2013 and newer. However, it won’t work on a plane, so plan to use it for an older child who doesn’t need a restraint on the plane or in conjunction with the CARES harness, an FAA-approved strap system designed to keep kids safe on aircraft.

    Booster Seats

    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:

    Graco Rightguide

    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!

    Graco Turbo Go

    The Turbo Go (not to be confused with other Graco Turbo’s) is 4 lbs, costs less than $20, and folds to fit in a larger backpack. The Turbo Go has a deep seat pan – so isn’t ideal for the youngest kids as they may slouch a little to get their knees to bend over the edge (slouching is dangerous in the car) – but is fabulous for the older kids who want better support for their legs.

    The HiFold is 10 lbs and like a transformer folds compactly into its own backpack that can easily fit in the overhead bin of any plane. For kids who will be sleeping on the car rides during your trip, HiFold is a great option. High back boosters let kids sleep much more safely than a backless booster as the child is more likely to stay upright with the seat belt on the proper parts of their body.

    Getting the Car Seat through the Airport

    Infant Car Seats + Strollers

    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.

    Toddler Seats (Convertible and Harness-to-Booster Seats)

    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:

    Rolling luggage connector straps

    gogobabyzstrap

    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.

    Rolling carts

    britaxtravelcart

    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 TravelmateThis 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.

    Car seat bags and backpacks

    carseatbag

    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.

    Installing a Car Seat on a Plane

    Here are some tips to keep in mind when installing the car seat on the plane:

    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.

    Keeping Ears Comfortable During Flight

    Sucking and swallowing will help baby’s ears pop. Bring along a bottle or a pouch to have your child drink during take-off & landing. We love the ChooMee SipN’ – it’s a silicone cap for pouches which puts a valve on the pouch… decreasing the chance that you and your child will be wearing the food 🙂

    Best Travel Toys, Books, and Games

    Be sure to check out our pediatrician-curated guide to the best toys, books, and games to keep boredom at bay while traveling. These are great for all parts of your trip – on the plane, in the airport while waiting to board, at a restaurant while waiting for your food, in the hotel room, etc. Use straps like these to secure a toy or two to the child’s car seat while on the plane so your baby’s favorite toy doesn’t end up on the floor where you can’t reach it. Before you fly, try prepping a child on what to expect by “playing airplane” as shown here in this post by No Time for Flash Cards.

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    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.