The Best Car Seat for Travel

Jun 6, 2016

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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?

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