The Best Car Seat for Travel

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For the last 10 months we have had the absolute best of both worlds when traveling with my youngest daughter’s car seat/stroller combo called the Doona. It converts easily from a car seat to a stroller and back again making it exceptional both for a suburban lifestyle and for travel in cities like NYC where you are in and out of cabs, or even to Grandma’s house so that you can drive around town safely without having to rent or borrow a car seat.

 

Doona infant car seat

However, every perfect solution has its limits, and it won’t be long now before we have sadly outgrown the Doona. Technically it is rated for babies up to 35 pounds and 32 inches which should take most babies past their first birthday, but my big 10.5 month old is probably close to hitting the height limit.

Happy in her Doona at six months

Happy in her Doona at six months

Your Car Seat at Home May Not be the Best One for Travel

Once we no longer fit in the Doona we will be back to the To Car Seat or Not to Car Seat Dilemma“, as well as be faced with which car seat to bring on the trips that require one. For many reasons, the car seat you use most frequently at home might not be the best car seat for travel. These reasons include things like its size, weight, and frankly you may just want to keep your regularly used car seat in better shape since higher end car seats can cost $200 – $300+.

For example, the popular Britax Marathon car seat we have used at home can weigh close to 30 lbs and is 18.5 inches wide. That is big and heavy! This car seat may be very comfortable for your child to enjoy in your car at home, but I don’t personally want to lug something of that size around an airport and on a trip. Additionally, the 18.5 inch width will be larger that the standard airline economy seat width in almost every case. As a point of reference, on a United 737 economy seats range from 16.1 – 17.1 inches wide. Some Spirit Airlines seats are as narrow as 15.5 inches across!

As an aside, per the FAA airlines have the “responsibility to accommodate the CRS in another seat in the same class of service”, if it doesn’t fit in your original seat, however that is based on the assumption that there is a large enough seat in your class or service.

The Best Car Seat for Travel with Toddlers

While it is very pricey at around $500, I think the Doona is the far and away winner for the best car seat for traveling babies in the 0-1 year old range due to its easy conversion from car seat to stroller, the winner for the toddler category doesn’t have any fancy features or a fancy price tag. The inexpensive Cosco Scenera car seat is the best car seat for travel with a toddler in my view because it is small, light-weight, inexpensive, but still gets strong safety and ease of use ratings.

Cosco Scenera car seat.jpg

This car seat can often be purchased for about $40, weighs less than 10 pounds, and is 17.5 inches wide, which is still wider than some airline seats, but unless the seat has a non-moveable arm rest it will still probably work fine since the seat it encroaches on will be yours. It comes in a variety of colors, and I often find that Walmart.com is the best website to use to purchase this seat due to price and variety of colors/patterns. This is also the car seat I recommend purchasing to use as a secondary car seat for Grandma’s house, if a babysitter regularly transports your kiddo, etc.

No doubt the Cosco Scenera doesn’t have as much cushy padding and bells and whistles as the $300+ Britax style car seats, but for occasional trips it is far more practical to move around at 1/3 the weight of some of the larger seats. We used this car seat with our oldest daughter on trips and we will purchase a new one for our second daughter in the coming months (many car seats expire after about 6 years, so be sure to check yours before handing it down through multiple kiddos).

If you are willing to spend more, another option to consider is the Combi Coccoro that costs around $200, but looks very cozy and is still light-weight and compact. In fact, this car seat is just 15.5 inches wide and weighs around 14 pounds. This is the narrowest car seat I have found, which makes it great for airline travel. I haven’t personally used this car seat, but it is very intriguing given its small size, comfort, and ratings.

Car seat

 

Sit N Stroll.jpgIf you are looking for a a Doona-like solution for a toddler where the car seat can also be a stroller, you can consider the Sit N Stroll. In theory it is similar to the Doona, but the reviews look much more mixed for this $300+ car seat. It weighs around 16 pounds, is 18 inches wide, and theoretically can function as a car seat with wheels that can come out for babies up to 40 pounds. Because of the price and the reviews I don’t know that I can personally recommend this product, but it is worth a mention. I would love to see someone offer a Doona quality solution for toddlers on the go in the 1-3 year old age range, but I’m not yet convinced this is it. Though I’d love to hear from someone who has used it!

While traditional car seat likes the Cosco Scenera can’t convert to a stroller for ease of transport through the airport or similar, you can purchase something like the Go Baby Kidz Travelmate shown below utilize some temporary wheels. This won’t solve your in and out of cabs problem, but it may help you for part of the journey.

 

Of course, you can always just go with our hot-mess-r-us ugly but functional solution of getting through the airport…

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The best car seat for travel really does depend on age, whether you plan to use the seat on the airplane, whether you will be in and out of cabs, your budget, etc. However, I think the winner for most people looking for a light weight and affordable car seat for travel, especially for toddlers, will be the Cosco Scenera.

What car seat do you use for travel with your babies and toddlers?

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

  1. Summer,

    My wife and I are taking our 2, 4, and 7 years olds to SoCal in 10 in a few weeks (with a little grandparent backup for Disneyland 🙂 ). For the older ones, I bought a couple of bubblebums (http://amzn.com/B00AQYZCXK). As ridiculous as a $30 inflatable booster seats sounds, we’ve been testing them in the car and they work great!

    For the little one, I’ve been looking at an IMMI Go (http://thecarseatlady.com/immigoseat/) , which is what Uber uses in their UberFamily offering. It folds up to a size small enough to fit in a locker at Disneyland (given the ridiculous parking rates, and my positive experience with Uber in SoCal, we may just live off of that). Somebody needs to start a rental business on these.

    For the stroller, I think I’m just going to rent a nice, high end double stroller for the parks and bring around a tiny umbrella for airports, etc.

    By the way, thanks for your Hyatt Regency Orange County review – came in handy planning that leg of the trip!

    • We have used the Bubblebum a few times, too! Re the IMMI Go, I think it can be a good solution for sure, but still leaves a gap on what to do with the 1-2 year old set. I think your plan sounds great – enjoy Disney!!

    • Just a note – I read on their website that this cannot be used in Airplanes/not certified for use in aircraft… Which is a major bummer!

  2. I traveled with the Cosco Scenera for a year with my son before finally caving and getting the Evenflo Tribute. My son hated the Scenera (likely because of the lack of padding), and I found it incredibly hard to install and adjust the straps when putting my son in it. The Tribute is a bit more expensive, but still generally under $100, and has more padding. I find it much easier to install and adjust the straps.

    I’d expecting another little one in September, and I think I’m going to cave and buy the Doona. For someone who travels as much as I do, I think the extra convenience will be worth the price. Thanks for all the reviews on it. I wouldn’t have heard about it without your blog. 🙂

  3. We also used the Evenflo Tribute with our older daughter for travel and my husband found that he could flip it and put it on one of our circa 2005-but-still-works-great Tumi carry-ons, making it bearable to lug a carseat through the airport. Once she got old enough to sit in the seat, we just checked it curbside and waved goodbye.

    Trying to mentally gear up for this circus all over again with #2…Sigh. Up until now we’ve been (gate) checking an infant car seat for her (we found she does better and is much happier on our lap or squished in with big sister). But now that she’s mobile, those days are over.

    We will be that other hot-mess-r-us family in the airport with you. Thank goodness it’s time limited!

    PS: You couldn’t pay me to travel with our Britax Boulevard! Go Baby Travelmate or not.

  4. We also got an Evenflo Tribute for a recent trip to Las Vegas we took with our then 13-month old. I liked the seat a lot for that purpose – we only paid about $50 for it, it was light, and it was reasonably easy to carry. Mostly I used one of the straps on the back of the seat and just carried it on my shoulder, while my wife took care of the baby. She was better at installing it than me, and she got pretty quick with after we did some practice at home. I’d recommend the seat.

  5. I always carried a medium sized sturdy stroller in all our post baby car-seat trips. I felt it was a life saver since my son could nap in the stroller during the afternoons and we could stop at a cafe and load up on our caffeine and sugary treats. My favorite has been B-agile that was on a great sale many years ago – but it was also not so easy to lug around during travel. Now that we are expecting a second one almost after a gap of 5 years, I am so tempted by newer options. I feel a Doona would be a great item. I haven’t had any luck on our local craigslist so far. But I don’t see us traveling till the baby turns 6 months.
    Any advice on a great travel stroller that is not as heavy as a b-agile?

    • We are big fans of the Uppababy G-Luxe. It has a large sunshade and reclines, which are rare features in umbrella strollers. They sell a travel bag that has a replacement guarantee if the airline damages it.

  6. We were looking at the Doona, but decided instead to go Chicco Keyfit 30 and have loaded it in a car seat bag and gate checked it when flying. I’m so glad we didn’t go doona because our 4 month old has already grown out of the infant seat and ready for the convertible! (He’s quite large for his age, bigger than most 1 year olds!

    • My above comment seemed to cut off! We hadnt decided on what convertible seat to use while traveling so thank you for the ideas!! We are planning to get the new GB pockit stroller for ease in getting him through the airport and on the plane without having to worry about damage to it from gate checking the stroller. 🙂

  7. Took my girls to Europe when they were young and we passed on the car seats and instead brought along 2 mc clearen strollers, one that reclined if a nap was required and one that one set up. You can effortlessly glide along even the roughest cobblestone roads with one hand so you can roll your luggage along with the other.

  8. Convertible car seats are the most difficult to transport, mainly because they are heavy, bulky, don’t fit onto a stroller, and they certainly don’t roll.

    While you may curse a blue streak carrying it through the airport (see Car Seat Carriers & Travel Bags for help), and it is not always the best fit for coach seats, the Marathon (http://www.marathonclicktight.com/) is hard to beat for comfort in the car, and if you have many lengthy road trips in your future, the higher price of this car seat may be worth it.

  9. Hi, I have the Cosco Scenera for plane trips that i used with my older daughter and I am now using with my 15 months old son. Something I have always struggled with is installing it in the plane because the plane seat belt buckle usually ends up right on his back and without the padding it can be very uncomfortable. How did you handle that? Thanks

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