Our Picks: Best Travel Car Seats for Babies and Toddlers

· Our thoughts on traveling with car seats plus which one to buy ·

Jan, 06, 2024
poster with travel car seats

There are few things as exciting as taking your little ones on a trip. However, family trips come with the need to bring along plenty of gear. In our years of traveling around the world as a family, we’ve identified what things our kids truly need and what they don’t, including the best car seat to take on an airplane.

To be real, we usually opt to leave the car seat at home. Most places in the world don’t really use car seats, and we are usually much better off without them. Still, there are definitely trips where bringing a car seat is warranted, and we’ve figured out the best one to have both for air travel and for the duration of your trip.

We’ve figured out the best one to have both for air travel and for the duration of your trip.

This post contains affiliate links through which we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own.

What Makes a Good Travel Car Seat?

Traveling with little ones doesn’t need to be all that challenging. However, if you aren’t strategic about the purchases you make and the things you pack, the whole experience can be much more taxing than it needs to be. When it comes to picking the perfect car seat for airplane travel, there are four important things to consider.


The first of these considerations is weight. When traveling, you already have to haul around heavy luggage, backpacks, and strollers. Adding a heavy car seat into the mix is a real burden!

Many great travel car seats on the market use durable, yet lightweight materials. This makes carrying the car seat a breeze, which is pretty necessary when you think about all the other things you may need to haul!


The second of these considerations is comfort. While comfort may not be too important on a flight that is three hours or less, the same can’t be said for longer flights. If your child is uncomfortable three hours into a 12-hour flight, odds are you will have a less-than-ideal experience yourself.

For this reason, it’s important to pick a car seat that provides your child with ample comfort. I like to think about it this way: whatever the length of my flight is, I’d hope that the car seat would be suitable for an equally long drive. So, if I’m flying on an 8-hour flight, I’d want to make sure I have a car seat that would be suitable for my child to sit in for an 8-hour drive.


The third consideration is safety. While a light and comfortable car seat is wonderful, it’s worthless if it doesn’t meet safety standards. After all, the whole point of a car seat is to protect your child while in the car! When picking a travel car seat, I recommend making sure that has all the same safety approvals as traditional car seats that you use at home. On top of that, you must make sure it has FAA approval, otherwise you won’t be allowed to use it onboard an airplane anyway.

There are some travel car seats on the market that are makeshift, portable devices meant to be rapidly installed in a taxi or Uber. While these may be valuable in certain contexts, they do little to protect your child in the event of an accident. These models are the right car seat for some destinations, but not all.


The fourth consideration is price. At the end of the day, travel items get beaten up. Depending on your budget, it may not be worth it to shell out hundreds of dollars for an item that you scarcely use, and you wear out much more quickly. 

I remember the first time we traveled to Europe with our new deluxe travel stroller that cost over $500. We were so excited to have such a sleek, trendy stroller for our trip. However, by the time we got home, the thing was riddled with scratches and small tears.

​If you plan on checking your car seat for any part of your trip, there is always a chance that it will get damaged. While I highly recommend investing in one of the many sturdy car seat travel bags on the market, there’s no guarantee your car seat will make it through your trip unscathed! This is why I often recommend steering away from the most expensive brands and models for travel car seats, as they are better suited for daily use at home.


One other consideration to make, which isn’t nearly as important as the other four, is cleanability. When you travel, your car seat is likely to get pretty gross. Between spills, accidents, and general dirt and grime, you’re going to want to give the car seat a good scrub when you get home. For this reason, I highly recommend finding a car seat with an easy-to-remove fabric cover that is machine washable!

Do You Need a Car Seat to Fly with a Baby?

You do not need a car seat to fly with a baby in most, if not all countries around the world. In the United States, babies under two years of age fly for free on the laps of their parents. While you do have the option of purchasing your baby his or her own seat, I strongly advise against this.

In our experience, babies just want to be held. We’ve saved thousands and thousands of dollars by bringing our kids onboard as lap children. Your child qualifies as a lap infant for two full years!

If you do want to bring a car seat onboard, you will likely need to purchase a seat at full price for your baby. Conversely, if you do purchase a seat for your baby and you want them to sit in the seat, you may be required to bring a car seat onboard.

We have flown with lap children on just about every continent, and the experience is pretty similar everywhere we’ve gone. In fact, it is very rare to see a baby in a car seat onboard an airplane anywhere outside of the United States and Canada!

Do You Need a Car Seat to Fly with a Toddler?

You do not need to bring a car seat onboard the airplane for your toddler in the United States. In most countries, toddlers are allowed to either use a car seat or sit directly in their assigned airplane seat, as long as they are a ticketed passenger. The FAA recommends that toddlers under 40 pounds use a car seat and those above 40 pounds do not, but this is just a recommendation.

While different flight attendants may have different things to say, we’ve never had an issue putting our young children directly in airplane seats and just using the standard lap belt. On one flight from India to the USA when our oldest was a year old, I distinctly remember how proud he was to have his own seat and watch movies with us. As he has gotten older, we’ve never had an issue sitting him directly in the seat between us. The airplanes’ seat belts have always been more than sufficient, too!

Is It Better to Have a Car Seat for a Long Flight?

In our experience, there are both pros and cons to bringing a car seat onboard a long flight. We took our son on handfuls of flights of 8-12 hours during the toddler phase, and we generally found that car seats are more trouble than they’re worth. On the bright side, it can be nice to strap your little one in while they sleep and not have to hold onto them or make sure they don’t fall out of their seat.

On the other hand, lugging a car seat around is a real pain. Between the stroller, car seat, diaper bag, and playpen, many parents wind up bringing a trunk full of baby gear that they really might not need. While some trips might merit all of this, you can usually make do with just one or two of these things!

On top of that, our son has always preferred to stretch out across the plane seat rather than to sit upright, anyway. If we were to bring a car seat on board, it would get rid of his ability to stretch out AND it would eat into our own space. The best thing to do is to think about what your little one truly likes and needs, and then pack accordingly.

Is it Worth Paying for a Premium Travel Car Seat?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as everyone operates with different resources and different needs. However, in my experience, it is not worth paying for a premium travel car seat. My favorite travel car seat is actually a very affordable one!

It is very common to pay more for a brand name than for a product itself. That is often the case with many travel products that fade into and out of the limelight. While premium brands usually do create premium products, the price gap is rarely ever justified.

If you have all the money in the world, I’d advise buying the best product on the market. However, if you are operating with a budget in mind, it is usually not worth stretching your budget to purchase one of the “top models” on the market. This is my experience at least!

You Can Trust Us – We Do This A Lot

We are a family that travels a ton. We definitely get high mileage out of our baby and toddler travel gear. I’ve gotten used to the fact that items will wear out, and it is usually not worth spending top dollar on a travel item. There are some exceptions, but at the end of the day, it is unlikely that a $500 car seat will last five times longer than a $100 one, and the quality is almost never five times as good, either.

There are plenty of trendy, expensive products out there. One that comes to mind is the WAYB Pico, which is a several-hundred-dollar portable car seat. While products like this are great, it is hard for them to beat the overall value of the top car seat for flying with toddlers which I recommend.

If you do spring for an expensive travel car seat, I highly recommend also purchasing a car seat bag to protect it while in transit.

The Best Car Seats for Flying with Toddlers

​It would be presumptuous for me to tell you that I know the best car seat for flying with toddlers. After all, one person can only try out so many car seats! What I can tell you is that through years of traveling with my kids and trying out different brands, there’s a car seat I strongly recommend.

And it only costs about $60 and is available at Walmart.

1. Our Overall Top Pick – Cosco Scenera Next

If you ask me, the Cosco Scenera Next checks all the boxes that you’d want in a travel car seat. While it is designed to be an everyday convertible car seat at home, it makes a great option for your travel seat as well. We picked one up while on a month-long trip through Texas and the Southwest, and we have no plans on getting rid of it any time soon.


The Cosco Scenera Next is incredibly lightweight, although it isn’t flimsy by any means. It is simple, has no frills, and comes in several colors. What I love the most about it is how practical it is for traveling.

Easy to Clean

​The car seat is made of plastic with a removable, machine-washable cover that can be removed in under a minute. This is a huge advantage when cleaning up after spills, accidents, and general airport grossness. 

Easy Installation

It is also equipped with a latch system, making installation a breeze. During that trip through Texas, we had to swiftly install and remove it from more than one rental car, and it never took us more than a couple of minutes. Once installed, it is sturdy, in position, and comfortable for the little one riding in it.

​Ease of installation is really important when picking a car seat, as things always feel hectic when trying to get your items in place at your airline seat. The last thing you want is to feel the pressure of holding up the boarding process while trying to configure a complex car seat on the plane!


Of course, the Cosco Scenera Next is an FAA-Approved car seat and it also passes all of the rigid standards expected for cat seats sold in the United States. It has the same standard 5-point harness found in most regular car seats. We are very frequent travelers, and we can confidently tell you that the Cosco Scenera Next is an excellent choice.

Killer Price

When you consider the price, it is almost a no-brainer! This might be the best lightweight travel car seat for under $100 you’ll ever find, and it has never let us down on a domestic road trip or for international travel. It is not my primary car seat for when I am at home, but it works for both forward-facing kids and as a rear-facing seat when I travel.

The Cosco Scenera Next isn’t currently available on Amazon, but a very similar model is! Buy it on Amazon here.

2. Another Great Option- Graco Contender GO Convertible Car Seat

While it is hard to top the value of the Cosco Scenera Next, the Graco Contender GO is a pretty solid option. This car seat has many of the same features as the Cosco Scenera Next, plus two removable cup holders! It gets high reviews, with many claiming it is the best lightweight car seat under $150. It is fully cleared for use on airplanes by the Federal Aviation Administration and passes the regulations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If you have the chance to purchase the Graco Contender GO, you’ll be pleased. It is also conveniently sold by Walmart, making it an easy last-second pickup. The downside is that it costs almost double what the Cosco Scenera Next costs, and isn’t significantly better in any way.

Full disclosure, I do not currently own a Graco Contender GO. However, if I were shopping for a new travel car seat for a toddler, I’d certainly consider this one to be a great option.

3. If You Want to Splurge- WAYB Pico

Purchase on Amazon

While I personally have not yet shelled out $380 for the WAYB Pico, I’ve considered it. It is incredibly light weight at just 8 pounds, and its compact size is beyond comparison. The WAYB Pico is incredibly portable and can even be folded up to fit in a backpack.

This car seat is designed for small children rather than babies. It only works for forward-facing kids, and it’s paramount that you make sure your child fits before you buy it. WAYB’s website specifies that the Pico works for kids between 22-50 pounds and 30-45 inches tall.

There’s no denying that this is a massive investment. But the WAYB Pico is the best choice if you need to bring a car seat but don’t want to haul around a full-size one through the airport. It fits nicely in a typical aircraft seat and is also very easy to install.

The biggest downside is just that these are only forward-facing seats. They can’t be used for most kids under two years old.

The Best Car Seats for Flying with Babies

While there are occasions we’d recommend bringing a car seat for a toddler, there are few occasions that we’d ever bring a car seat onboard for a baby. We almost always bring our young children onboard as lap infants, both for cost and practical reasons. Babies usually just prefer to be held, and we love to hold them!

Our Top Pick for Baby Air Travel – Evenflow LiteMax35

Purchase on Amazon

If you are looking for a car seat to bring on board with a baby, the best option depends on your baby’s age. For babies still in a carrier car seat, I would recommend just bringing that onboard. If they are too small for a convertible car seat at home, you shouldn’t put them in one on the plane.

We have an Evenflo LiteMax 35 that we use with our babies, and it has always done the trick. There may be better models out there, but the Evenflo LiteMax 35 checks all the boxes. It is light weight, easy to install, and very easy to carry around.

The traditional infant car seat is specially designed to cater to little babies. It’s never a good idea to rush them into less-supportive car seats.

If your baby is a bit older and can sit comfortably in a convertible car seat, I would recommend the Cosco Scenera Next for them. We started using this car seat for traveling around 12 months, and our son could have easily used it earlier.

Do you have more carseats to add? Comment your favorite travel carseat below!

We will try it out ourselves and see if it passes the travel test!


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.