When you’re traveling, you need both hands to corral your kids, not lug around a heavy car seat. You can rent gear for when you get to your destination, but if you want the car seat to buckle your child into on the plane — or to use in your rental car as you leave the airport — you’ll need something that’s easier, lighter, more portable. Maybe something more like this:
- Doona: It’s expensive ($499), but if you can afford it, this little baby is the best thing to happen to traveling parents since personal seat-back entertainment systems. Picture this: You’re wheeling your baby easily through the airport and right onto the plane. Once you get there, you press a couple of buttons, make a couple of adjustments — and now you have an infant car seat, ready to install on the plane. Your plane trip is over, you’re ready to leave, a couple more adjustments, and the wheels pop out again, allowing you to stroll your baby off with ease, right to the rental car, where it safely installs without a base (you’ve left that back at home in your own car). It’s a miracle!
- Cosco Scenera NEXT: If you have a small child or infant you want to fasten safely in a car seat on the plane, you need a seat with a 5-point harness that is safely installed using only a lap belt, because planes don’t have shoulder belts. This fact limits your options, but you needn’t travel with the same behemoth you may have fastened into your car for everyday use. The Cosco Scenera NEXT is so lightweight — 7.6 pounds — that you can toss it from hand to hand if you wanted. It easily installs forward- or rear-facing on the plane, and then in your rental car. And at about $50, it’s cheap enough to have on hand for a second when-needed seat. It holds children from 5 to 40 pounds, so it’s suitable for newborns up to preschool or beyond.
- Ride Safer Travel Vest: This car seat alternative clips into the seatbelt system in cars. You can’t use it as a restraint on the plane, and it holds kids from 30 to 60 pounds, so obviously not made for small children. But this innovative car seat alternative is crazy light — just over a pound! — and easy to throw into a suitcase. It’s safe for car travel, and works great for kids of different ages and sizes, including tall kids who’ve outgrown boosters, and wily children who manage to get themselves out of other car seats.
- Immi GO: Most booster seats aren’t safe on a plane, because you need a shoulder-and-lap belt. But this seat is a convertible booster, meaning that it converts from a forward-facing seat to a backless (not a high-backed) booster. If you ride in an Uber and request a car seat, this is the seat the driver has waiting in the trunk for you, because it easily folds into its own carrying case. It works for kids between 22 and 65 pounds — so, not infants — and it can’t be used on the plane, because it needs either a tether or anchor or a lap-and-shoulder belt. But at 10 pounds, it’s light and easy to carry and folds into a smallish package that can be checked or go in a bigger bag.
- Safety 1st Guide 65 Sport: It weighs about 11 pounds and holds children from 5 to 65 pounds either forward- or rear-facing, so this is a terrific car seat to take traveling. Kids find it comfy — even though the “sport” model of this seat doesn’t contain the “positioning” pillows found on the more expensive non-sport model — parents find it easy to install, and at $75, it’s inexpensive enough that you won’t lose your mind if you accidentally leave it behind somewhere, even though it’s sturdy and comfy enough to be your everyday seat at home, too.
- BubbleBum Backless Booster Seat: Truly an easy seat to take anywhere, the BubbleBum is an inflatable booster seat that “boosts” (hence the name) your child up enough to safely use the seat belts in a car. It’s not rated for airline travel, so your child will have to use another seat on the plane, or just use the lap belts. And the BubbleBum can only be used by children aged 4 to 11. But if your child falls within these ages and 40 to 100 pounds, this seat can be rolled up and carried in a purse or a backpack, ready to swing into action in a taxi or a rental car.
- mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat: Perhaps the BubbleBum’s closest competitor, this tiny wonder unfolds like a laptop computer, and two guides slide out of either side to hold a car’s seatbelt in the right places. It’s the size and weight of a paperback book, and it’s just as easy to carry — bring it on travels when you’re not sure whether you’ll need a seat or not, and you’ll have one at the ready without the hassles of carrying a big, heavy seat. It safely holds kids age 4 and up, 40 to 100 pounds and 40 to 57 inches tall.