Choosing the best travel booster seat

Choosing the best travel booster seat

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If you’ve been traveling with your kids since they were tiny, finally getting to the booster stage will feel like winning the jackpot! After years of lugging around a car seat that’s bulky and heavy, now you can rest easy: there are plenty of amazing booster seats for travel that will keep your kids safe and slip easily into your carry-on luggage.

What’s the best travel booster seat for your kid? That depends a little on them and a little on you! In this article you’ll find candid reviews of some of the best portable booster seat choices in 2019 as well as guidance on what to look for when you’re shopping for a lightweight booster seat.

Quick picks: best travel booster seat options

Travel car seatSize
Ride Safer Travel Vestbooster seat alternative;
2 lbs
hifoldhighback booster;
10lbs
Baby Trend Yumihighback booster or
backless booster;
9 lbs
Graco TurboBooster
Take Along
highback booster or
backless booster;
11 lbs
Peg Perego Viaggio
Flex 120
highback booster;
15lbs
Bubblebumbackless booster seat;
1 lb
Graco Turbo GObackless booster seat;
3 lb
mifoldbackless booster seat;
1.5 lbs

How to choose a portable car booster seat

Before you buy a travel booster car seat, it’s important to think honestly about your child. Is he big enough to meet the minimum requirements of the booster seat you’re considering? Is she mature enough to sit properly in the seat 100% of the time? That means no bending down to get a tablet that falls down or putting the shoulder belt under her arm because it annoys her. Will he fall asleep in the car if he’s jet lagged after a long flight?

These are all things you’ll need to consider before jumping into booster seats. From personal experience I can say that our older child was ready to transition to a backless booster for travel at age 6 (though there were a few times during our gap year when he fell asleep and I wished we had something different for him). Our younger one has been great in the Ride Safer travel vest since age 3.5, and we’ll keep using that for her as long as possible because she still falls asleep in the car at age 5.5!

What should you look for in a portable booster seat for travel? Here are a few suggestions:

-Choose between Ride Safer travel vest, highback booster and backless booster based on your child’s age, size and how much they sleep in the car

-Look for one that is light enough and compact enough to take as a carry-on or out in the city for the day

-Ideally it should last at least 3-4 years

Every trip may have different needs, too. If your travels involve lots of driving you’ll want to make sure you choose a comfortable option. On the other hand, if you’ll just be taking a quick taxi ride from the airport to the city center then portability might be more important than cushy padding or supportive headwings.

As you can see from the criteria above, there’s no one “best booster seat for travel”. Once you know your family’s needs, you can pick the right travel booster car seat.


Ride Safer Travel Vest review

Key stats:
-Weight 2lbs
-Size small: minimum age 3, fits best for 30+ lbs and 35-47″
-Size large: minimum age 4, fits best for 50+ lbs and 45-57″

Pros:
✔ Rolls up to the size of a 2L soda bottle
✔ Perfect for taxi rides
✔ Lowers seat belt to provide an appropriate fit for young children
✔ Keeps kids properly seated better than a traditional booster seat – even when sleeping
✔ Easy to fit 3-across since it’s only as wide as the child
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
✘ No side impact protection like a highback booster seat
✘ Takes practice to get belt fit right
✘ NOT permitted for use on planes

Several years ago the kind folks at Safe Ride 4 Kids sent us a Ride Safer Delight travel vest to review, and it hasn’t left our travel kit since. The Ride Safer travel vest (“Delight” has been dropped with the latest Ride Safer travel vest Gen 5 release) is completely different than the travel car seats above.

You could say that the Ride Safer travel vest is sort of in between a booster seat and a traditional forward-facing car seat. It relies on the car’s seat belt to handle most of the restraint, but also has an optional-but-pease-use-it-always top tether that minimizes head movement in an accident and keeps your child in the correct position even if they fall asleep (or drop a toy). While we won’t put our youngest child in a booster seat yet since she’s a car sleeper – especially when jet-lagged – we’re comfortable with her riding in the Ride Safer vest.

So comfortable, in fact, that we brought our Ride Safer vest on our year-long trip around the world! It’s seen action on six continents and served us well the whole time. Once we practiced a few times, we got very fast at putting her in the vest and getting her secured in the car. The biggest change from the Ride Safer Delight to the Gen 5 is an easier buckle in the front, so that should help many parents.

The Ride Safer Gen 5 is rated for kids beginning at 3 years old and 30lbs, but honestly we felt that the fit was better starting at 3.5 or even 4 years old and other parents agree with us. Fortunately size small should last most kids until 6 or even 7 thanks to the adjustable shoulder strap length. Because there’s no side impact protection, it’s a good idea to put your Ride Safer in the middle seat if it has a top tether available.

For families going on extended journeys like ours who just can’t take a traditional car seat or those heading somewhere like NYC or Paris, where they’ll mostly rely on public transportation but need an occasional taxi ride, the Ride Safer travel vest is a fantastic option.

For a more typical trip that involves flying and then renting a car for a week or two, we sometimes opt to bring our other travel car seat. But if you’re choosing between the Ride Safer travel vest or a backless booster seat, the vest is the better choice for younger kids and/or car sleepers.

While we generally think of the Ride Safer as a travel car seat alternative, we also use it at home often. I keep it in my trunk at all times so that we can fit 3-across in our car for those unexpected carpools or for when Grandma comes for a visit! Since the vest is as narrow as the child in it, there’s no trouble fitting it between two big car seats in our compact SUV.


Best travel highback booster seat options

Ok, so what if you feel like your child year old is mature enough (and big enough) for a compact high back booster seat? There are a few great choices to consider for the next stage.

hifold fit-and-fold Booster review

Key stats:
-Weight 10lbs
-Highback booster size limit 33-100lbs, 36-59″

Pros:
✔ Tons of size adjustments for great fit
✔ Folds down teeny tiny
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 7 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Expensive if you will only use for a few years
✘ No cup holders
✘ Limited information available

Sometimes I can get just a little too enthusiastic about innovative car seats. In this case, I’m pumped. While I’ve never been totally sold on the belt fit of the mifold backless booster, the company’s new hifold Fit-and-Fold highback booster seat looks amazing for city-dwellers and travelers alike. No joke.

What’s so cool about the hifold folding booster seat? While the weight is nothing to write home about at 10lbs, it folds down into an ultra-compact package – 13.5″ square and 10″ high. That means it’s easy to carry around in a backpack, throw it in your trunk or even stow it in the overhead bin of most airplanes. Of the folding booster seats (would you believe that there are a few choices now for folding highback boosters?) it’s the lightest and folds the smallest.

The hifold is extremely adjustable to offer the optimal fit to booster riders of all sizes. There are three widths for the seat, three widths for the body, three widths for the head and nine height settings! That means it’ll fit new booster riders just as well as kids who are ready to transition to an adult seatbelt. For those of us with kids who are small for their ages but mature enough for a booster, the hifold is a fantastic option as a travel high back booster seat.

Ok so why wouldn’t everyone run out and buy a hifold? Unfortunately all that innovation doesn’t come cheap. Don’t get me wrong, I think the price is completely reasonable for what you get; however, the seat is something of a one-trick pony. There’s no harness for kids who aren’t mature enough to stay in position all the time, and it doesn’t convert to a backless booster seat when your child is ready to ride that way. Many families will feel ready to bring a lightweight backless booster around 6 or 7. So the typical usage for many families will be around two years (let’s say 5-7, or perhaps 4.5-6.5 for families who feel comfortable transitioning to the “next stage” early). If you travel a lot or have a younger sibling to use this in the coming years, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment.

The hifold is a great choice for a kid who is mature enough to ride in a highback booster seat but would still benefit from some extra support when sleeping. It’s also a great choice if you’re visiting a place like the EU or Australia, where recent laws have pushed for younger booster riders to stay in a highback booster and increased the age for backless boosters to much older stages. It’s a really slim booster seat so you won’t need to size up your rental car to fit two of them side-by-side.

There isn’t any real-world information about the hifold yet since it’ll be released later this month, but we look forward to updating you soon! You can be the first one on your block to bring it home.


Babytrend YUMI Folding Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 9lbs
-Highback booster size limit 30-100lbs, 38-57″
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs

Pros:
✔ Highback mode lasts until kids are ready for a backless booster
✔ Converts to backless booster
✔ Bargain price
✔ Cupholders and cushy padding for long drives
✔ 9 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Folded size is as large as a carry-on suitcase

If you’re shopping for a bargain travel booster seat, here it is. The Baby Trend Yumi folding booster seat has been around for a long time under different names and was a pioneer in this type of product. But is it still worth buying?

The highback booster size limits are a little lower than the hifold above, but when your child is ready you can remove the back to use it as a no back booster seat that goes all the way to 100 lbs (theoretically – in practice, it would probably be too narrow for a 100lb tween to be comfortable). Combined with the rock-bottom price tag (available on Amazon but more expensive), the Baby Trend Yumi 2-in-1 folding booster seat is an incredible value. (Note: The previous version of this seat did not convert to a backless booster and is even cheaper.)

A big plus of the Baby Trend Yumi is that it’s a booster seat designed for everyday use. It’s got cupholders and plenty of cushy padding. That makes it a great choice if you plan to fly somewhere and then take the kids on a long family road trip. Other folding booster seats like the hifold might not win kids’ hearts on a six hour drive, which of course means less peace for us parents.

The big downside of the Yumi is the fold. Whereas the hifold collapses into thirds to make an ultra-compact package, the Yumi’s fold just isn’t as small. While you might be able to fit the hifold under the seat in front of you, the Baby Trend Yumi definitely has to go in the overhead bin – and possibly sideways, depending on the size of the plane. With overcrowded bins the days there’s something to be said for a tiny package that won’t attract the attention of the flight crew!

For families on a budget or those with long drives ahead, the Baby Trend Yumi is worth a serious look.


Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Highback Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 11lbs (highback), 6lbs (backless)
-Highback booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″

Pros:
✔ Highback mode lasts until kids are ready for a backless booster
✔ Converts to backless booster
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ Bargain price
✔ Cupholders
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Won’t work for kids on the bottom of the growth chart
✘ Too long when folded to carry on

Graco has long been synonymous with booster seats, and they’ve recently added an option for a sort-of-folding booster seat that could work well for lots of families. It’s not the most portable, but it gets the job done and works as a booster seat for home as well as for travel.

The Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong booster seat comes either as a highback booster seat or as a backless booster seat; either way, the bottom part is the same. Unlike other folding booster seats, to collapse this one for travel you detach the back and then hook it onto the base of the seat. In this configuration, it’s probably too big to carry on for most airlines since you’re still dealing with the full height of the seatback.

On the other hands, the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong backless booster seat collapses in half when you pick it up by the handle in the middle of the seat. Pretty nifty! It even comes with a carry bag so that it’s easy to transport.

In either mode, this should offer a good fit for kids who weight at least 40lbs and are mature enough to ride in a booster seat. It’s a nicely narrow booster seat with the cupholders flipped in too.

Is this an amazing choice for travel? That depends on what you need it for. It’s not the lightest travel booster seat in this list, nor the most compact when folded. But many families will find it useful if they’re planning a flight followed by a long drive since it has a more traditional booster seat feel – and cupholders!


Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 Booster Seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 15lbs
-Highback booster size limit 40-120lbs, up to 63″

Pros:
✔ Steel reinforced frame
✔ Rigid LATCH
✔ Tons of size adjustments for a great fit
✔ Reclines for sleep
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
Really expensive
✘ No arm rests
✘ Heavy
✘ Folded size is as big as a carry-on suitcase

If you don’t have an enormous budget to spend on a travel booster seat, just look away now.

If you’re still reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you. The Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 has some great feature, but the price tag makes me feel queasy. It’s hard to fathom spending that much on luxury high back booster seat that doesn’t have any other modes available. However, some of the premium features make it a solid choice.

First off, it’ll last forever… or at least as long as you want it to. The upper size limit is a whopping 120 lbs and 63″, which is the size of a petite adult. Most riders that size will fit in a seatbelt just fine without a booster seat so you may not ever need a backless booster. The other piece of lasting forever is that Peg Perego gives a whopping 10 years until expiration of this seat. If you have a second child (or third or fourth!) they’ll be able to get a few years out of this seat as well.

Second, it’s loaded with reassuring safety features. The Viaggio Flex 120 has rigid LATCH connectors to easily install the booster seat and keep it from moving around, while most of the other booster seats on this list don’t have LATCH at all to save on weight. The back of the seat is also steel reinforced for additional safety.

Third, kids generally like it. It’s padded, it has folding cupholders on each side and the lack of armrests (though a downside for long drives) means it’s easier for booster-age kids to buckles themselves.

So what’s wrong with this child safety booster seat, other than perhaps the price? It comes down to the portability aspect. The steel reinforcement and rigid LATCH add an extra 5-6 pounds compared to competitors, making you less likely to sling this one over your shoulder and use it out on the town. It’s not even close to the most lightweight booster seat for travel. Likewise, it’s not all that small when folded – about 2′ long! You’ll be lucky to fit it in the overhead bin, but taking it when you walk around a city means you’ll need a really big backpack to carry it.

The best use for the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex booster seat is probably when you’re flying to head on a road trip and won’t be moving it in and out of cars all the time.


Best backless booster car seats for travel

Using an ultra-portable backless booster seat can make your travels so much easier! We made the switch when our older child was 6 years old, mature enough not to wiggle around and rarely fell asleep in the car.

Bubblebum booster seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 1 lbs (really!)
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, age 4+

Pros:
✔ Lightest booster seat
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ Good seatbelt fit in lots of cars

Cons:
✘ Can slide around if kids are wiggly
✘ 4 year expiration

The best backless booster seat for travel is one with which we’re extremely familiar: the Bubblebum inflatable booster seat. We traveled full-time with this booster seat for the better part of two years.

The Bubblebum is pretty amazing. It weighs about one pound and deflates/rolls to the size of a soda bottle. Setting it up takes just a few seconds, and there’s even a shoulder belt guide to give a great fit for kids of different sizes in all different vehicles.

If you’re a family with a mature kid who doesn’t sleep in the car the Bubblebum gives you the paragon of portability. It’s the perfect option for taking around on days in a city when you think you might hop in a taxi to get home at night or if you’re taking lots of planes and trains for an extended trip.

The Bubblebum is so light that it may shift if your kid is very wiggly. But if your kid is very wiggly, they may not be ready for a backless booster yet. In that case, I’d go with the RideSafer travel vest for an ultra-portable option or one of the high back booster seats for travel listed above. We also had an issue with one of our Bubblebums deflating after we left it inflated in a hot car for a month (oops!); we reached out to customer service and they sent us a whole new one for just the $7 shipping charge!

We started using this booster seat at 6 years old, and we think that’s about right. But it’s approved for 4 years old/40lbs and there are plenty of 5 year olds who can use it successfully, especially if your drives are short. This is a judgement call for each family and also depends on the specifics of your travels.


Graco Turbo GO folding booster seat review

Key stats:
-Weight 3 lbs
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+

Pros:
✔ Extremely light
✔ Folds up small
✔ Very narrow
✔ Good seatbelt fit
✔ 10 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Not as small/light as the Bubblebum

Do you like the idea of a more “traditional” booster seat but want a more compact form for travel? The new Graco Turbo GO backless booster seat might be your best travel car booster seat option!

When it’s all set up, the Graco Turbo GO looks just like a regular backless booster seat with nice big belt guides that are easy for kids to use on their own. Ready to hit the road? The back part of the booster seat folds underneath to make it a more compact package. When folded it’s a bit bigger than a Bubblebum, but it offers the advantage of being a more stable seating surface (and a wider one for big kids).

Note that the minimum height for this backless booster seat is 43″ – many kids won’t reach that until almost 6 years old. Our son didn’t get there until almost 7 years old, so parents of shorter kids may need to look elsewhere.

At 3 pounds, the Graco Turbo GO booster seat is one of the lightest booster seats available. It’s also extremely affordable! If your child is ready for a backless booster and you don’t mind the extra size or weight compared to the Bubblebum, this just might be the best booster seat for travel.


mifold booster seat

Key stats:
-Weight 1.5 lbs
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 40-57″, age 4+

Pros:
✔ Extremely light booster seat
✔ Most compact booster seat when folded
✔ 7 year expiration

Cons:
✘ Belt fit can be unsafe for some kids in some cars
✘ High likelihood of misuse
✘ Uncomfortable for long drives

You can’t write an article about travel booster seats and not talk about the mifold.

But at the same time, it isn’t one I feel comfortable putting my kids in or recommending to others. So why is it in this article? Because if you’ve been anywhere on social media over the last three years, you’ve seen their ads and are probably curious about it.

The mifold booster seat is sort of a cross between a booster seat and the Ride Safer vest: the child sits on top of it like a booster, but it’s essentially flat on the vehicle seat and brings the seatbelt down like the vest (rather than boosting the child up). When you aren’t using it, the mifold folds in half and is less than 2″ thick and about the footprint of half a sheet of paper. It can fit in a purse, a backpack or just about anywhere else with plenty of room to spare.

What’s the problem? There are two big issues. First, and most importantly, lots of expert reviewers have noted unsafe belt fits. In many cases the lap belt sits in the middle of the thighs rather than low on the hips. Some of the fit depends on the kid and the car, but when traveling you usually don’t know what car you’ll wind up in so that unpredictability won’t work.

It’s possible that some of the bad fits floating around the internet are caused by misuse on seats with unusual geometries, but I hesitate to recommend a car seat that’s easy to install wrong. Because when you’re exhausted after a 12 hour flight and have just crossed 8 time zones with a cranky kid and now you have a cranky cab driver pressuring you to get going… let’s just say that you may not take the time to fully evaluate the intricacies of the cab’s back seat. Oh, and the details of how to handle those cars are in the manual but not on the booster seat itself.

The other reason why we won’t be buying a mifold is that we’ve heard from lots of families that their kids complain it’s uncomfortable for anything but a very short drive. Lots of our trips involve a long flight followed by drives of at least an hour or two and I don’t want constant complaints.

I might feel more comfortable buying a mifold folding booster seat if I had kids on the bigger end of the size range who were close to passing the 5-step test and we planned to spend most of our time on foot or using public transportation and just needed to take a few short taxi rides at our destination. One thing’s for sure: it sure is the most portable booster seat!


Tips for traveling with a booster seat on an airplane

When you’re shopping for a portable booster seat, it’s important to remember that booster seats are not FAA-approved. That means you can’t use a booster seat on an airplane. From a safety perspective, that’s fine: your child will be over 40lbs, so the airplane seatbelt will secure her properly. But what should you do with her booster seat so it’s not lost or damaged?

Take it on board! There are a few ways to manage this. One option is to buy a folding booster seat from the list above. Some of these look absolutely amazing and we’re excited to try them! They fold up small enough to fit in the overhead bin of a plane or even in your child’s carry-on backpack so that you’re never separated from them. This won’t be an issue with any of the backless boosters we’ve recommended.

If you’re traveling with a highback booster seat the other option is to detach the bottom from the back and put the back in a suitcase. It’s ok to check the back that way because it’ll be protected by the suitcase and padded by clothing. You’d then carry the backless part of the booster on-board with you and put it in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of your kid. The only risk is if your luggage is lost or delayed, but at least in a pinch you could use the backless portion of the booster on its own.

What’s your favorite travel booster car seat? Tell us in the comments below!

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