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Traveling with Youngsters? These Are the Best Car Seats Around

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2019-04-08 Stirling Kelso
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Talk to parents about traveling with young kids and one topic dominates the conversation. Is it which hotel in Santorini has the best Mediterranean views? Not quite. Where you can get the freshest lobster rolls in Maine? Unfortunately, no.

The answer is car seats. Heavy, unwieldy car seats. They’re impossible to pack and even worse to wrestle onto an airplane. They’re big, they’re bulky, and they have irritating names that are hard to Google when you’re searching for, say, “how to install a massive American car seat in a tiny Italian Fiat.”

Not every country or city requires car seats, but you’ll probably still want to pack one for your family trip to Mexico or Thailand—or from LaGuardia Airport to Manhattan in a yellow cab. Why? As exasperating as car seats are, they save lives. A lot of lives. In fact, they’ve helped bring down motor vehicle-related deaths in the U.S. by 58 percent since 1975.

Most car rental agencies offer child seats, but this option is often fraught with problems. To start, they cost a chunk of change. “Major car rental companies charge between $10 to $14 per day to rent a child seat,” says Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of car rental savings site AutoSlash. “These fees add up quickly, especially if you have more than one kid.” The quality of the car seat can also be questionable. Personally, I’ve been dealt dirty seats, incorrect models, and, in one case, a seat with a safety strap that looked like it had been slashed by a machete. And while every major American car rental’s child seat policy notes that they take car seats out of circulation after an accident, this practice is not federally enforced. Finally, and perhaps most vexing after a long flight with kids, agency staff members aren’t authorized to install the seats, leaving you to the task. “After navigating an enormous car rental garage with toddlers and luggage for four—looking at you, Orlando International—it’s no fun to install unfamiliar car seats,” says Lexington-based attorney (and dad of twins) Lucas Braun.

Here’s the good news: Car seats have also annoyed a slew of smart, savvy travelers, so much so that they’ve decided to do something about it. Now a handful of light and portable child seats make it easier to keep your kiddos safe on the go. Read on for our road-tested recs of the best car seats for travel right now.

All products featured in this story are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Infant Car Seats

For babies and infants

Talk to a mom who has lost circulation in her arm after swinging a bucket seat around the airport, or a dad who has woken a sleeping baby from a car seat at the check-in counter, and you’ll see why we seriously love the options below.

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The Doona

It took car seat creator Yoav Mazar close to a decade to design the Doona and bring it to market. It was worth the wait. This genius car seat, developed for babies from birth up to 35 pounds, is essentially a transformer, shape shifting from a car seat to a stroller and back again with a few button clicks. This means you always have your car seat with you, whether you need to jump into a cab in London or a Lyft in San Francisco. And when the Doona is in stroller mode, it beautifully navigates sidewalks and park paths.

Buy Now: $499, bedbathandbeyond.com

a close up of a device © Condé Nast Traveler

The Chicco Shuttle

If you’re not up for a $500 investment, opt for an infant seat that clicks easily into a lightweight stroller base. The latest snap-and-go option from Chicco is the Shuttle, which pairs with all Chicco Fit2 and KeyFit car seats. It’s an improvement on previous stroller base models thanks to its quick fold handle, sleek black frame, and a console for essentials (your phone, a large coffee, and likely some sort of wipe). It also has one advantage on its competitors: under-carriage storage, ideal for the amount of stuff you won’t believe you’re schlepping through the airport.

Buy Now: $119, chiccousa.com

Rear-Facing Car Seats

For toddlers under two and under 35 pounds

The trickiest age when it comes to traveling with car seats is when your child has transitioned from an infant seat—like the Doona—to an upright car seat, but still needs to face backwards (typically kids under two and under 35 pounds). For this short time period, we recommend doing as the car rental agencies do: Go light and go cheap.

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Cosco Scenera Next

This is a popular brand among car rental companies (and if you think about it, they make up the cost of a purchase in one four-day rental). It’s 10 pounds, easy to install, and FAA compliant, should you want to strap your kid in during the flight. And while this seat is also bulky, you can secure it to rolling luggage with a strap like this one by On the Go Families.

Buy Now: $45, walmart.com

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Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat

While this car seat model is somewhat bulky, it’s also lightweight at just over nine pounds. At under $50, it’s an absolute steal. It’s slimmer than most car seat models, a plus when you’re traveling to places like Europe where rentals are petite in comparison to your suburban SUV.

Buy Now: $60, amazon.com

Front-Facing Convertible Car Seats

For kids ages two to five

Once children have graduated from a rear-facing car seat, they still have several years in a chair. At this stage, we see parents start to forgo car seats when they shouldn’t. These exciting innovations will inspire you to stay safe.

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The Pico

This, family travelers, is a game changing car seat. Co-developed by a former Patagonia exec and his engineering-savvy team at WayB—a new company that aims to introduce innovative products to the family travel space—the Pico is safe, sleek, and a cinch to install. Its solid frame is made of aluminum, which is not only strong, but also sustainable. And the Pico’s seat folds up on-the-go, making it compact and easy to carry and stow in an overhead bin.

Buy Now: $320, wayb.com

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The Immi Go

If you’ve requested an Uber equipped with a car seat in a city like Los Angeles, chances are the driver has pulled out this soft-backed and collapsible harness. The chair folds up into an attached bag that’s about half the size of a carry-on suitcase, so you can stow it on the plane or throw it into a duffle with the rest of your things.

Buy Now: $234, immigo.com

Boosters

For kids five and up

Once your half pints have graduated out of convertible car seats, you can move onto a booster, which feels like holding a hamster after years of wrestling an elephant. Still, some boosters are large and inflexible, so opt for one of our picks below.

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MiFold

Boosters, as you might guess, boost children up so seatbelts strap them in effectively. The MiFold takes the opposite approach, lowering the seatbelt via a series of lap belt clips. It then folds up on-the-go to the size of a large wallet, and can be stashed in a purse, backpack, or glove compartment.

Buy Now: $35, amazon.com

a close up of a bag © Condé Nast Traveler

BubbleBum

This inflatable booster seat can be easily blown up and deflated on the go. It’s lightweight and fits into a compact travel bag when not in use. Aside from its brilliant name, it also does its part to make boosters fun, with kid-friendly colors like shamrock green and bubble gum pink.

Buy Now: $27, amazon.com

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