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What’s the best toddler travel car seat? (2023 reviews)

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This article, written by certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Melissa Conn, is about the best lightweight travel car seat for a toddler and may contain affiliate links.

One of the most frequent questions we’ve always gotten about traveling with kids is what to do about car seats. In particular, it’s a tough conundrum for parents whose kids have outgrown their infant car seats but aren’t yet old enough for the Wayb Pico, the Ride Safer travel vest, the Bubblebum or another innovative travel car seat. Because it needs to rear-face, a toddler travel car seat just doesn’t lend itself to such a creative solution. So what’s a globetrotting parent to do about flying with a car seat?

One option is to buy the lightest convertible car seat possible. Fortunately there are plenty of great travel convertible car seat options on the market that will work for kids of all sizes and families with all budgets. This detailed guide will take you through what to look for in the best convertible car seat for travel for your needs and some of the top models available to consider. Remember, there’s no universal “best car seat for airplane travel” because every kiddo is different.

Quick Picks: Best Travel Car Seat for Toddlers

If you want to skip the details, here are my top picks for the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel:

Lightest Car Seat For Toddlers Comparison

I’ve used many of these light weight car seat options myself and have gotten feedback on the others from our Facebook group and fellow CPSTs. Check out this broader quick comparison of the best lightweight car seat options to begin your search:

Best travel
car seat options
Cosco Scenera
Next DLX
7 lbs
Cosco Onlook
8 lbs
Baby Trend
medium size,
10 lbs
Cosco Mighty
Fit 65
medium size,
11 lbs
Sonus 65
medium size,
11 lbs
Graco Contender Slim/
Graco Contender GO
medium size,
14 lbs

Check out these full-featured, comfortable convertible car seats to use for long drives and at home

If you’re on a budget, jump to this in-depth comparison of the Cosco travel car seats

How to choose the best lightweight convertible car seat for travel

It can be extremely difficult to whittle down the choices when you’re looking for the best convertible car seat for travel for your family. After all, everybody’s needs are different! Here are some key features to look for as you consider your options for a light car seat for travel:

What is the lightest convertible car seat for travel?

One of the most important features of a travelling car seat is light weight. Why? Because you’ll be moving it around much more than you normally would at home. Out of the car when you arrive at the airport, through the airport, into the scanner at security, to the gate, on to the plane, off the plane, through the airport, on the rental car shuttle and then into a car – that’s our typical routine! 

All of that will be much easier with a lightweight convertible car seat. What does “light” mean? Most of the big fancy car seats like this and this weight 25 to 30lbs. The best convertible car seats for travel weight 8 to 15lbs, which can make a huge difference. This one is the lightest convertible car seat available.

The weight of the car seat doesn’t matter quite as much if you plan to use a car seat travel cart, but makes a much bigger difference if you’ll get it through the airport in your arms or in a car seat backpack.

The right size travel convertible car seat

We often think that “smaller is better” when it comes to travel gear, but in the case of a travel car seat it’s more about the right size for your situation and your child. What should you consider?

A car seat’s “shell height” refers to how much space there is along your child’s back and head. For kids who are in a rear facing travel car seat, they should have at least 1” of shell above their heads in addition to being within the car seat’s state’s height limit (if there is one). Once you switch your convertible car seat to forward facing you’ll need to make sure that the tops of your child’s ears are still within the shell and that the top harness slots are above your child’s shoulders. 

By the same token, you may not need to get the tallest possible car seat. Once your child is around 4 years old, you might want to switch to an ultra-light solution like the Ride Safer Travel Vest. So the tallest convertible car seats for travel might be the best choice for an ultra-tall kid, but could be unnecessary for another.

There’s truly no ideal size, just what suits your needs best. A car seat with a short shell will generally be lighter (less material!) and fit better in cramped spaces like economy airplane seats and subcompact rental cars. A car seat with a tall shell and harness slots will accommodate tall kids for longer. 

An easy to install travel car seat

When you’re traveling with a car seat, one things for sure: you’re very likely to have to install it in an unfamiliar car! The last thing you want after a long flight with a cranky kid is to be huffing, puffing, crying and swearing as you try to muscle an uncooperative car seat into your rental car (me in Phoenix circa 2013).

What can make or break a travel car seat’s ease of installation? In my experience, there are a few important things to look for. 

If you’re traveling with an infant or very young toddler in a convertible car seat, some seats may require a very reclined installation. Some seats have a flip down foot or a curved base to make it easy, but others might need a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle.

The actual method of installation can vary a bit as well. All American car seats can be installed with either the LATCH system (sometimes up to a certain weight) or a seatbelt to give you total flexibility. Some LATCH clips are very basic hooks that can require more maneuvering, while others are the easier push-on style (with a red button to release). But they’ll all work in the end.

If you’re traveling overseas or need to put a car seat in a middle seat that might not have LATCH, prepare to install your travel convertible car seat with the seatbelt. Practice in advance! In the US all cars have locking seatbelts to make this easy. But in other countries it can be hit-or-miss. You can either look for a convertible car seat for travel that has a lock-off built in, or you can purchase an inexpensive locking clip and learn how to use it before your trip.

It’s especially important to practice if you’ll be taking taxis or Uber’s at your destination. Some will get impatient and pressure you to hold your child on your lap if it’s taking too long. Ignore them. Just keep the door open while you install and that car won’t go anywhere. They might start the meter while you’re installing to compensate for their time, and that’s ok.

Another important installation consideration is whether or not your car seat requires you to use a top tether for forward facing. They’re ideal for safety, as they decrease your child’s head movement 4-6″ in a crash, but not every car around the world has a tether anchor available! You’ll find them in nearly every car in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; they’re increasingly prevalent in the EU (newer rental cars should have them). But if you’re riding in an old taxi or planning to drive in Eastern Europe, South America, Asia or Africa you’re unlikely to find one. At that point you’d need to make the judgement call on whether or not to install against the manufacturer’s directions.

A comfortable convertible car seat for travel

This last factor is perhaps the most subjective. But the last thing you want is a cranky kid on a long-haul flight! Some travel car seats have virtually no padding over the plastic shell. If you’re just using the car seat on the plane and then for a quick taxi ride, it won’t matter too much. But if you plan to use that seat every day during your trip or go on a long road trip at your destination, the last thing you want is a complaint every five minutes (me in Vancouver circa 2015). 

Want to know all my best secrets? Click here to learn how to travel with your car seat like a pro!

Read more: 5 Car Seat Tips for New Parents That I Wish Everyone Knew

The best convertible car seats for travel

Ready to dive in to the travel car seat for toddler reviews? We’ve reviewed the best convertible car seats for travel in 2023 below to help you choose the one that’s right for your family.

Cosco Scenera Next DLX review

Key stats:
-Weight 7lbs
-Shell height 23”
-Max harness height 13.5”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-40lbs, 29-43″

✔ Compact
✔ Lightest convertible car seat
✔ Low price

✘ Low size limits
✘ Hard to install in some cars
✘ Limited padding for patterned covers
✘ No extra protection in headwings
Requires top tether for forward-facing

The most popular convertible car seat for travel is the Cosco Scenera Next DLX. What makes the Cosco Scenera car seat so insanely popular and one of the best car seat for travel options? It’s as easy on the scale as it is on the wallet! The Cosco Scenera Next is the lightest convertible car seat and the cheapest convertible car seat as well, making it an ideal toddler travel car seat.

Just how light is it? It would be no problem to carry on your back in a car seat backpack like this one, and some parents even use these hooks to hang it from the back of the stroller as they walk through the airport. It’s the lightest car seat for travel and has held that crown for many years.

It’s good to know that the top harness slots are just 13.5” high, so some kids will outgrow the Scenera Next forward-facing even while they still have another year or two rear-facing. Remember, when your kid is forward-facing the straps need to come from above their shoulders. For rear facing, short shell means that very few kids will get to 40″ with the required 1″ above their heads.

If you’re debating the Cosco Scenera vs Evenflo Tribute, definitely go with the Cosco Scenera Next convertible car seat. It’s lighter, fits small babies better and lasts longer for toddlers and the price is comparable to the Evenflo travel car seat. It’s a solid choice for occasional travelers looking for a lightweight travel car seat. The Scenera is widely regarded as the best travel car seat for 1 year old globetrotters!

Cosco Scenera Next basically outgrown by a short 4 year old

Our petite kids were able to rear-face in the Scenera Next until almost 4yo. However, it wasn’t necessarily a comfortable seat at that age. The crotch strap that comes with the seat is extremely short – like, newborn short. They will send you a longer one for free if you provide the serial number, so make sure you reach out to them the minute your seat arrives if you have a trip coming up. 

The Cosco Scenera Next fills an important niche as an affordable seat that travels fairly well and keeps kids rear-facing until at least 2.5yo. It’s also the best convertible car seat for small cars if you’re on a tight budget. Many parents feel that it’s the best travel car seat for 2 year old globetrotters.

It’s an excellent portable car seat for city trips because many parents are able to attach it to various lightweight travel strollers thanks to its compact shell and light weight. The Mountain Buggy Nano has a car seat strap built in, making the Scenera + Nano a very popular combination. Be sure to get 20% off with the monthly rotating coupon code (for example, APR20 in April).

Why don’t I love it? We found it very challenging to get a truly tight installation (especially on leather seats) and the patterned version of the seat that we got has absolutely no padding. Babies may not notice or complain but our preschooler was clear that it wasn’t the seat for him!

There’s now a DLX version that comes in solid colors but has more padding, so if you opt for the Cosco Scenera Next be sure to pick up that one even though it costs a few dollars more. Even better, Cosco now offers the Cosco Scenera Deluxe convertible car seat. They’ve basically taken the Cosco Scenera DLX and added a head pillow, lower back pad and strap covers. These are good changes that will appeal to many parents who don’t like the idea of their precious cargo riding in such an unpadded seat. I’m sure that my kid who complained about his original (non-DLX) Cosco Scenera Next would have been pleased!

Another version available for 2023 is the Maxi-Cosi Romi. It uses the Cosco Scenera Next shell but adds Maxi-Cosi’s flame retardant free PureCosi cover in addition to a head pillow and harness covers. Be sure to grab the monthly coupon (three letter month and 20, like APR20 for April) to save 20% at one of my favorite stores. That puts the price tag around $100 for this version, plus you’ll accumulate valuable rewards towards future purchases.

Despite its short shell, the Scenera may still need to be installed more upright than technically allowed on many planes. That’s ok with older infants and toddlers, but not for very young babies without head and neck control. We always found it easier to travel with an infant car seat as long as the kids fit.

If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you bring a locking clip. Cars in many other countries may not have locking seatbelts like the ones in the US; they lock in an emergency, but you can’t manually lock them by pulling all the way out. You should be able to use LATCH in cars where available, but if the seating position you want to use doesn’t have LATCH or it’s an older car without LATCH then you will need a locking clip. Grab a locking clip here – it’s cheap and doesn’t take up any space!

As with all of Cosco’s seats, they now require use of the top tether when forward facing in cars (that’s not relevant when you’re choosing the best carseat for flying, as planes in most countries don’t have top tethers). It’s great for safety, but you may not find one when you’re traveling outside of the US, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand (or if you’re in an older car in one of those places). If you come across that situation, you’ll have to make a judgement call on whether or not to install your car seat against the manufacturer’s directions.

Read more: Cosco travel car seat comparison

Cosco Onlook review/Safety 1st Getaway review

Key stats:
-Weight 8lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 16”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-40lbs, 29-43” (the 43” limit may not be realistic depending on how long your child’s torso is)

✔ Low price
✔ Compact front-to-back when installed more upright

✘ Same size limits as Scenera but more expensive
✘ Extremely wide near the head
✘ Hard to install in some cars
✘ Limited padding for patterned covers
✘ No extra protection in headwings
Requires top tether for forward-facing

Around the same time that Cosco ditched the old Scenera model in favor of the Cosco Scenera Next and Cosco Scenera Next DLX, they also refreshed the slightly larger Cosco Apt in favor of the Cosco Apt 50 convertible car seat. In mid-2022, they dropped the Apt 50’s weight limit back down to 40lbs and slapped two new names on it: the Cosco Onlook and the Safety 1st Getaway.

I’ll be totally honest: I don’t quite understand why Dorel is making both of those seats and the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 (which has been around for years as the Safety 1st Guide 65 – more info below) especially with the lower weight limit of the new Onlook. There’s a lot of overlap between the three Cosco convertible car seat options, so if you’re considering one of them it’s worth considering the others as well to make sure you’re choosing the one that best suits your needs – read my detailed comparison.

The Cosco Onlook is much the same as its younger sibling, the Cosco Scenera Next. It’s one of the lightest weight convertible car seat options, well-priced and gets the job done with minimal frills. The shell height is similar to the Scenera Next so it won’t buy you any extra time rear-facing, but thanks to the higher harness height, skinny kids kids can comfortably forward face in the Cosco Onlook until at least 4 years old. It’s a solid choice if you want a convertible car seat for travel that allows for extended rear facing but you don’t have a big budget.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the Onlook over the Scenera Next is that it’s extremely wide near the top – several inches wider! It’s not your best choice if you’re trying to fit three-across in a tiny European rental car. It also needs to be very reclined for kids under 22lbs, so might be a tight squeeze if you’re trying to rear-face on a plane with a baby. And if you’re flying overseas, be sure to bring a locking clip just in case.

As with all Cosco carseat options, they now require use of the top tether. It’s great for safety, but you may not find one when you’re traveling outside of the US, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand (or if you’re in an older car in one of those places). If you come across that situation, you’ll have to make a judgement call on whether or not to install your car seat against the manufacturer’s directions.

Baby Trend Trooper review

Key stats:
-Weight 10lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 16.5”
-Rear-facing size limits 4-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 23-65lbs, up to 50”

✔ First from preemie to elementary school
✔ Extremely narrow convertible car seat
✔ Built in cup holder
✔ Very clear labeling on car seat and inserts

✘ Very steep recline under 22lbs
✘ Doesn’t last as long as the Evenflo Sureride
Requires top tether for forward-facing

Baby Trend has a newer offering in the compact car seat space and she’s got a lot to offer for traveling parents! The Baby Trend Trooper convertible car seat (be sure to check prices here too) ticks many boxes for traveling families.

What’s so great? For starters, it’s very lightweight at just 10 lbs and extremely narrow. It’s even a hair narrower than the Cosco Scenera Next. But unlike the Scenera, the Baby Trend Trooper will fit most kids until until around age 6. The price tag is higher, but you’ll get about double the use from it! The Trooper also has a few different padding configurations available (some with weight limits, some totally optional) including a body pillow, a head pillow and harness pads.

I don’t recommend the Baby Trend Trooper for families traveling with a newborn or young infant. The car seat will fit your baby well thanks to tons of adjustments, but the steep recline for babies under 23 lbs will take up a ton of space and can be tough to get right. It’s much more compact once your child reaches 23 lbs (around 18 months on average).

The Trooper won’t last quite as long as the Evenflo Sonus 65 (below) for forward-facing, but the more compact shape could make that trade off worth it for many families. This is the best travel carseat for families who need to fit 3-across on a budget, with the added benefit that they’ll only have to learn the rules for a single seat.

It may seem like a small detail, but I appreciate Baby Trend’s attention to labeling and instructions on this seat. In a world where the vast majority of car seats are misused, clear labels make such a difference. Baby Trend tells you the weight limit for the insert right there on it. The special harness routing for newborns is labeled on the seat. The harness has stripes to let you know it’s laying flat with no twists. There’s a big picture of an airplane on the side of the seat to show flight attendants, rather than searching for obscure red lettering.

The manual itself is useful. Truly! There’s a page with clear cleaning instructions for each part. There’s another page that lays out the rules for various padding that comes with the seat. There’s a quick safety checklist for parents to review. The manual is full of easy-to-digest information to help parents use their car seat correctly. Be sure to read it for the seat’s many adjustments. There’s even a QR code to scan that gives direct access to installation videos.

Evenflo Sonus 65 review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs
-Shell height 25”
-Max harness height 18”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 28-50”

✔ Generous size limits
✔ More comfort features than other travel car seats
✔ Nice enough to use as an everyday car seat
✔ Somewhat narrow convertible car seat

Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
✘ Heavier than Cosco Scenera Next and Cosco Apt 50
✘ More expensive than Cosco car seats
✘ Can be a tight squeeze front-to-back when rear-facing on some airlines with limited seat pitch
✘ 6 year expiration

The Evenflo Sonus 65 is a replacement for Evenflo’s older introductory-level lightweight car seat, the Evenflo Tribute LX (which won’t seem to die). We’ve had several well-loved Evenflo car seats over the years so we’re glad to see they’re offering a great option for younger travelers now!

The Evenflo Sonus 65 is a great choice for a lightweight car seat for travel thanks to its more generous size limits combined with light weight. Most kids will make it to their fourth birthday rear-facing in this traveling car seat. This is one of the best travel convertible car seat options to come on the market in the last few years.

It offers reasonable padding for kid comfort (unlike some other bargain models) and gives kids built-in cup holders to boot so many families use this as an everyday lightweight toddler car seat. The Sonus 65 not only has a higher forward-facing weight limit (65 pounds vs 50 pounds) than the regular Sonus, but it also adds a recline wedge to get the correct angle without needing a pool noodle or rolled towel.

Thanks to fellow CPST Rebekka for this photo of the Evenflo Sonus on a plane

If you mostly fly on airlines with limited seat pitch (the space between the seats) it may be a tight fit to install the Sonus 65 rear facing, particularly if you have a newborn or young infant and need the full recline. If your child is old enough and big enough, you can consider forward facing for your flight and then rear facing again in the car. Even better, it’s low-profile enough that your child will be able to use the tray table on many airlines!

PSA: I’ve read that the seat comes with the LATCH strap set up to install forward-facing. If you want to install rear-facing, be sure to switch it. Read the manual and do it before your trip because it can be tricky!

Graco Contender Slim/Graco Contender GO review

Key stats:
-Weight 15lbs
-Shell height 27”
-Max harness height 18”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, under 49″

✔ Fits from newborn to elementary school
✔ “Closed” belt path means no buckle in the back when forward facing on a plane
✔ Easy to install with either LATCH or seatbelt
✔ Allows rear facing past 40″ (as long as there’s 1″ of head room)
✔ Newer version is narrower near the legs so it fits better on airplanes

✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats

What’s a 15 pound monster doing in the middle of a list of featherweights? If you want to keep rear facing a tall child or have a child who will be forward-facing on a plane now or in the near future, the Graco Contender Slim (or its twin, the Graco Contender GO) deserves at least a moment of consideration. These are the same seat except that the GO comes with two removable cup holders to lose instead of one. I recommend buying whichever is cheaper!

Unlike nearly every lightweight car seat, the Graco Contender does not have a 40″ standing height limit for rear facing. That means you can keep your tall, lanky kid rear facing longer in the car (even if they forward face on the plane – it may be a little big to rear face on the plane due to its recline).

The Contender has a really neat trick up its sleeve for flights. Unlike most other lightweight car seats, it has a “closed belt path” for forward facing. What is a closed belt path? It means there’s a panel separating your child’s back from the airplane seat belt buckle. Having flown long-haul with kids forward-facing in other car seat, I can tell you that’s a big deal for their comfort.

The other nice feature for forward facing on planes is that there’s plenty of natural recline to the seat while many others are extremely upright. Double-win for in-flight comfort! Unfortunately that reclined position means your child wouldn’t be able to use the tray table so you’ll need to evaluate how important that is for you. Like some other tall, reclined seats it’s also not ideal for flying with an infant as you may not be able to recline it as much as you need to.

It also has all the other great features of a full-sized car seat: ample padding, a cup holder, easy installation. You could certainly use this as your everyday seat for many years.

The major downside compared to other options on this list is just the size. Getting it through the airport won’t be as easy as with a lighter car seat. One of these would definitely come in handy!

Century Drive On review

Key stats:
-Weight 14lbs
-Max harness height 16”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, under 49″
-High back booster size limits 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+

✔ Fits from newborn to early booster years
✔ Good fit in all modes
✔ Light enough for travel
✔ Simple to install
✔ Works with inflatable seatbelts
✔ Fun colors

✘ Recline line must be parallel to the ground, requiring a rolled towel in some cars
✘ 40lb rear facing limit won’t get big kids to 4 years old
✘ Low top harness slots so not ideal for tall/long torso kids

If you have an average to petite child and only want to buy one travel car seat ever, it’s time to read up on the new Century Drive On. This isn’t actually a lightweight convertible car seat; it’s the lightest all-in-one car seat (more accurately called a “multi-mode car seat”). The Drive On offers a simple solution for both home and away. You may never have heard of the Century brand, but the name has been around for decades and was recently revived by Graco’s parent company to product a line of budget-friendly seats.

The Drive On gives plenty to love with just a few downsides. There will always be trade offs, but for some families it’ll be a wonderful choice to fulfill their travel convertible car seat needs.. The first reason why I recommend the Century Drive On is that the fit has been great on every kiddo I’ve seen in it, from newborn to late preschool/early elementary school.

Second, the installation is very straight-forward with no major quirks to report. It’s simple and it works. If you’re short on storage space, it’s nice to just have one travel seat kicking around your house (or even installed in a secondary car) rather than keeping a parade of shorter-lived seats around.

Speaking of short-lived, there’s the rub with the Century Drive On… while average/petite kiddos or those with short torsos will be able to use this seat until as old as 8 years old (once in booster mode), it won’t last tall kids quite as long as a lightweight convertible car seat with tall harness slots like the Evenflo Sonus 65. The rear facing mode is nice because it doesn’t have a standing height limit vs the 40″ rear facing limit for many travel car seats, but the tallest harness slot for forward facing just isn’t that tall.

The earliest kids have the maturity to use a booster seat is typically 5, but some kids do best in a harness until 6 or even 7. If they happen to be tall and need more time harnessed, the Drive On may fall short.

The other annoyance with the Drive On in some vehicles is that the recline line is supposed to be parallel to the ground at all times when rear facing, no matter how old your kiddo is. This is probably a rule to save money on testing by just allowing a single recline, but the included adjustable recline foot might not be enough in cars with extremely sloped seats. Some people overcome this with an 11″ piece of pool noodle while others use a rolled towel to prop it up. This method can also be very effective.

It’s also worth noting that the Century Drive On comes in a neutral gray, a beautiful blue and a cheerful pink. Not that color should be a determining factor in a car seat it’s nice to see a little variety now and then! The covers are all made from recycled plastic but feel nice and soft.

Safety 1st Guide 65/Cosco Mighty Fit 65 review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs
-Shell height 24”
-Max harness height 17”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs, 19-40”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 29-49”

✔ First from infancy to elementary school
✔ Somewhat narrow convertible car seat

✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats
✘ Doesn’t last as long as the Evenflo Sureride
✘ Won’t fit newborns well
Requires top tether for forward-facing

This portable car seat has been around for a long time but has gained in popularity thanks to fresh branding. Dorel has now added its well-respected Safety 1st Guide 65 to the popular Cosco toddler car seat lineup as a longer-lasting convertible carseat option, renaming it the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DLX. As with other Cosco car seats, you may find the best price at Walmart. I’ve had an opportunity to work with the DLX version specifically, and it offers nice padding for kid comfort.

The Guide 65 has proven its worth as a travel carseat for many years and continues to work well for many families. It’ll last rear-facing kids until a safe age for forward-facing, and then for a few years beyond until they’re ready for our favorite travel booster seats.

One of the biggest downsides of the Cosco Mighty Fit 65 is that the steep recline needed for kids under 22lbs is tough to achieve without using a pool noodle or rolled towel – which is not the kind of gear we prefer to travel with. It sort of defeats the simplicity of bringing a compact, lightweight car seat!

The other issue worth considering for international travel is that the Mighty Fit 65 requires you to use the top tether when installing forward-facing. The top tether’s job is to decrease head movement – and that’s a good thing. But in some countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and even Eastern Europe you won’t find a top tether is many cars. At that point you’d have to make a judgement call about how to install the seat when you can’t follow the manufacturer’s rules.

It’s also worth knowing that you can only use LATCH to install the Mighty Fit 65 until 40 pounds. After that, you’ll have to install with a seatbelt – both options are just as safe, but for travel overseas I recommend bringing a locking clip and knowing how to use it in case you encounter a car with seatbelts that don’t lock.

Britax Allegiance review

Key stats:
-Weight 18lbs
-Shell height 26”
-Max harness height 17”
-Rear-facing size limits 5-40lbs
-Forward-facing size limits 20-65lbs, under 49″

✔ Fits from newborn to elementary school
✔ Premium LATCH connectors
✔ Lock-off for seatbelt installation
✔ Integrated carry handle
✔ Allows rear facing past 40″ (as long as there’s 1″ of head room)
✔ Multiple recline options

✘ Tall shell won’t fit well rear-facing in compact cars and economy airplane seats if you need the full recline for a newborn
✘ Heavier than other travel car seats

And now for the moment when all the readers will think I’ve lost my mind. The Britax Allegiance convertible car seat weighs in at almost 18lbs and it’s not an especially compact car seat for travel.

But the Allegiance has one amazing feature that you won’t find anywhere else on this list: a built-in lock-off. Simply put, you can install this car seat using the seatbelt without having to lock it or use a locking clip. That’s extremely handy if you’re traveling in the developing world or other places where you may not find LATCH or locking seatbelts. If you do come across LATCH, the Allegiance has premium push-on connectors rather than the frustrating “j hook” style on light weight travel car seat options.

Beyond the installation, parents looking for the best car seat to travel with will also appreciate the integrated carry handle and multiple recline options. It also has a no-rethread harness, which is useful if you forward face on the plane and rear face in the car right afterward.

This isn’t the longest-lasting choice on this list of the best car seats for travel, as the top harness slot for forward facing is not quite 17″. It should be adequate to get most kids to a safe booster age and size, but not if they’re very tall or need a little extra time to mature.

We hope this guide has helped you choose the right travel car seat for your family. Wondering how to transport that car seat through the airport, weird installation quirks, travel car seats for other age groups and other nitty gritty of traveling with car seats? Check out our epic guide to traveling with car seats.

Best car seat for travel with toddlers FAQs

What is the lightest convertible car seat?

The Cosco Scenera Next DLX is the lightest convertible car seat, weighing just 7.65 pounds.

Are lightweight car seats safe?

All car seats sold in the United States have to pass the same minimum standards – if they can’t pass, they can’t be sold. The most critical piece of a car seat’s safety are that it fits your child properly, is appropriate for their developmental level, and is used properly every time. Find out more here.

While heavier car seats often add more features in the interest of safety or comfort, there’s no publicly available data comparing crash test results so it’s hard to accurately compare the safety of lightweight car seats versus heavier seats with extra safety features.

Can you take a car seat on a flight?

In most cases, yes you can take a car seat on a flight. That’s especially true for US airlines, which are governed by FAA rules. International carriers set their own rules but usually permit car seats on board if you buy a seat for your child. Find more information here.

Do I need a travel car seat?

Not necessarily, but you may prefer a lightweight carseat. Nearly all car seats sold in the US are FAA-approved, but some of the bigger ones can be cumbersome to take through the airport and on to the plane. If you’d rather take your everyday car seat on the plane, one of these options will make it easier.

What convertible car seat is best for small cars?

The most compact convertible car seat depends a lot on how old your child is. Newborns and young infants need to be very reclined to protect their vulnerable airways, while older infants or toddlers can usually be more upright if their car seat allows it. For toddlers over 22 pounds, the Cosco Mighty Fit or Baby Trend Trooper makes a very compact car seat on a budget. If you’re looking for a high-end compact car seat for small cars, consider the Nuna Rava or Britax One4Life.

What is the best travel car seat in Canada?

Canada has different options for the best lightweight travel car seat – some of the seats have different limits and the selection isn’t identical. Read about the best travel car seats in Canada.

More resources:
Flying with a car seat
Best travel car seat for every age
Wayb Pico review
Ride Safer Delight travel vest review
Bubblebum inflatable booster seat review
Most comfortable convertible car seats for long trips
Car services with car seats around the world

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10 thoughts on “What’s the best toddler travel car seat? (2023 reviews)”

  1. Can’t you check in the car seat at the ticket counter to the final destination (traveling on United domestically)? If so, then you only need to worry about the weight of the car seat to carry it from the departures area to the check-in area right? Am I missing something? Or will I be forced to gate check the car seat?

    Or is there an advantage to having the car seat on the plane?

    “Out of the car when you arrive at the airport, through the airport, into the scanner at security, to the gate, on to the plane, off the plane, through the airport, on the rental car shuttle and then into a car – that’s our typical routine! “

    • Hi Victor,

      You are permitted to check a car seat at the ticket counter, but that’s the riskiest option on many ways. You run the risk of your car seat being lost or damaged, which is a really terrible way to start your vacation! Bringing your car seat on the plane and using it for your child is the best way to keep your child safe during a runway event or severe turbulence. You’ll find lots of helpful information in this article.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Safe travels,

    • Hi Thanh,

      Thanks for stopping by! US car seats that require a top tether only need it for installation in a car. You don’t need to use a top tether on flights.

      In case you happen to be based in Australia or NZ, those seats have different rules and MUST be top tethered on the plane. Australia-based carriers have a limited number of seating positions on their flights that will accommodate an Australian car seat and they must be reserved in advance over the phone/chat.

      Safe travels,


  2. Are you really able to use a convertible car seat in the stroller caddy? On the stroller page it says it is only compatible with infant car seats.

    • Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for stopping by! I wouldn’t use most convertible car seats in one, but the Cosco Scenera Next is similar in size to an infant car seat (just a little taller), lighter than some infant car seats and has a similarly located belt path for rear facing.

      Safe travels,


  3. Is the top tether requirement a problem in German rental cars? Do you have any experience with the Graco slim fit 3 in 1? Thank you!

    • Hi Jeanette,

      Thanks for stopping by! Newer European cars (2014+) should be equipped with a top tether, as it’s part of the R129 standard.

      What are wondering about the SlimFit? The top tip I can give you is that the *original* SlimFit isn’t actually that slim at around 19″. The newer SlimFit3 LX (also called True3Fit) is under 17″ wide and many families like traveling with it since it’s easier to fit on airplane seats. It also has a lock-off for easy seatbelt installation when forward facing.

      Safe travels,


  4. Hi! I’m kind of confused about what to do. The Wayb Pico seems SO convenient but we are a family that is big on safety. How much safety are we sacrificing by choosing it over some of the other options? I have a 2 year old boy who is pretty big for his age – 37 inches and 35 lbs.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Emily,

      The good news is that at that age any harnessed seat that’s used properly is VERY safe. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Pico for your kiddo at this point, and in fact he has outgrown some of the more common travel car seats for 2 year olds. Don’t miss my suggestions for how to get a WAYB Pico discount!

      Safe travels,



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