Car seats. They really are the bane of every traveling family’s existence.
They’re bulky, heavy, and just plain awkward to move around. They may not even get that much use, yet you really can’t go without them.
If you’re trying to figure out your own “flying with small kids and car seats” conundrum, just know that you’re definitely not the first, or last, parent to stress over it.
I’ve talked with lots of traveling parents over the years, and over and over again, car seats remain one of the top pain points when it comes to flying with kids. And if you’re a family that likes to travel light? Well, you can just forget it!
But wait: you do have options when flying with car seats.
So what can you do? Are you stuck lugging the bulky car seats everywhere you go?
Maybe. But not necessarily.
Read on for our top tips for flying with car seats, plus the best travel car seat and booster options for travel:
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The Best Travel Car Seats for Babies
When it comes to babies and car seats, having something versatile makes all the difference. The best options are those that are part of a “travel system”, meaning they can adapt to a stroller, yet taken out for car rides.
If you’re looking to invest in a new travel system, I’d recommend the Maxi-Cosi Infant Car Seat. This seat adapts to the Maxi-Cosi stroller, or even our new favorite travel stroller, the BabyZen Yoyo+ using special adapters. The Evenflo Pivot Travel System is another popular and budget-friendly choice for parents who love to travel.
Do I need to bring the car seat base too?
No, you do not!
We learned early on a trick to helping us quickly maneuver the infant car seat while traveling: the “seatbelt method”.
What’s that you ask? Well, it’s a way to install your carseat using the seatbelt, instead of using a base. I assure you, it’s totally legit! You can get a better idea of how to do it with this video.
The Best Travel Car Seats for Toddlers
Once you reach that awkward in-between age where the infant car seat is too small but they’re not quite ready for the booster, this is where things get tough.
At this stage, the Cosco Scenera Next is the best option for little ones building their frequent flyer miles. This lightweight car seat weighs only X pounds, and is affordable enough that it’s a no-brainer travel investment. It’s so light, we’ve even strapped this car seat to our luggage at times using straps like these, eliminating the need to carry it through the airport separately.
For a longer-term option that can grow with your child, try the Cosco Finale 2-in-1. Equally as affordable, it works for children 30-65 lbs and 32-49 inches tall with the harness, and children 40-100 lbs and 43-52 inches tall with a seatbelt as a high-back booster.
Is it safe to check a car seat?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
For us personally, we almost always check our car seats. I hate carrying them through the airport when flying with them, and since you can check it for free on nearly every airline, it’s one less thing to worry about lugging through the airport.
But on the other hand, I know there are plenty of people who will never check their car seats because of the way they’re handled. For them, it’s not worth the damage the car seat might sustain.
So I say, to each their own. But no matter which way you decide to go, I recommend getting a quality storage bag like this one to protect your car seat clean and scratch-free.
Can I bring a car seat on the airplane?
Absolutely! So long as you’ve purchased a seat for your child and the car seat is FAA approved (it should have a sticker on the side stating this), then you can absolutely bring a car seat on the plane. The only caveat is that airlines will have restrictions on the size (it must fit in the seat, after all), so be sure to check ahead with your airline.
Honestly though, we haven’t found bringing the car seat onto the airplane to be worth the trouble, even for a long-haul overseas flight.
Maneuvering a big car seat onto a tiny airplane is no fun, and our daughter never sat much better in it than she would right on the seat.
But for those who have antsy kids that are impossible to keep still, or for special needs kids needing a little extra support, bring the car seat on the plane can be a good option for a sane flight.
But how do you get your car seat through the airport?
As I mentioned above, we almost always check our car seat so we don’t have to carry it through the airport. But there are some wonderful products out there to make your life easier if you must!
The Britax Car Seat Travel Cart is one such piece of travel gear that parents swear by. You can even strap your kid in the seat and roll them along too!
The Best Travel Booster Seats
Once your child is old enough for a backless booster (generally around 4 years old), this is where your options really open up. Both the Hiccapop Uberboost Inflatable Booster and Bubble Bum are good options if you plan to spend a lot of time in the car, but are wanting something ultra-portable, as they’re touting as the most comfortable of the travel booster seats for kids.
But if you’re only needing a booster for a quick, occasional taxi or Uber ride, the MiFold really wins for its compactness. It works by adjusting the car’s seat belt to fit the child, rather than the other way around. It’s downfall though is that it doesn’t have a lot of cushion, so it’s really not ideal for long car rides. And keep in mind, the MiFold is not approved for use in Europe.
What about renting car seats? Good or bad idea?
Personally, we just don’t do it. I’ve heard too many horror stories about rental car seats being dirty, damaged, or just plain not available upon arrival. Plus, I like having a seat I know my girls will be comfortable in. After all, at least checking a car seat is free!
But can’t I just go without this once? Are car seats really required?
Ah, I know, it sure is tempting. And it’s true that in many countries, riding without a car seat is quite common. In some parts of southeast Asia, for example, you might even have a hard time finding a taxi with proper seat belts!
I’ll admit, there have been times where in a pinch we’ve hopped in an Uber without them. It’s not something I’m exactly proud of, and it’s a risk that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Especially when there are so many alternative options out there.
So if car seats are needed only for a short while, look into booking a family-friendly transfer service. It’s quite easy noawadays to find a company that can offer car seats, some even for free, when booking in advance. There are even some companies, like Family Transfers in Europe, dedicated solely to helping families with this problem!
And in many major cities, you can get by just fine solely using public transportation. It’s how we were able to avoid bringing carseats on our latest trip to Europe.
One thing is certain: flying with car seats is no fun. But if nothing else, find hope in knowing the days of traveling with car seats won’t last forever!
What do you do about car seats when you travel? Take them with? Avoid them at all costs? Let me know in the comments below!