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What’s the best travel car seat for a 3 year old? (2024 reviews)

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This article about the best travel car seat for a 3 year old is written by certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Melissa Conn and may contain affiliate links.

If you’re looking for the best travel car seat for a 3 year old, you’ve come to the right place! If you’re shopping for a child of a different age, check out the best travel car seats for all ages to get to the right list.

These days most kids ride around at home in huge convertible car seats at that age (we’ve owned three of them!), and they’re great for safety and comfort.

But for travel? Many families don’t want to lug a 25 pound car seat through the airport, hoist it over an entire row to get it installed in a tiny airplane window seat, navigate back through another airport and then lift it into a taxi or rental car. A better choice if you can swing it is to pick up one of the many travel car seats for 3 year old kids on the market today.

Quick Picks: Best Travel Car Seat For A 3 Year Old

If you want to skip the details, here are my top picks for the best travel car seat for a 3 year old:

DEAL ALERT! Save $11 off the Ride Safer Travel Vest with coupon ‘VOYAGE

How to Choose the Best Travel Car Seat for a 3 Year Old

What do we look for in the best portable car seat for a 3 year old? In my experience, there are a few important priorities:

-It has to be light, ideally not more than ~10lbs

-It has to be easy to use

-Ideally it should last at least 3-4 years

Of course every family has unique needs. If your child is extremely tall for her age, you might want to choose taller car seat even at the expense of a few extra pounds. If your travels involve a long flight and a long drive, look for comfort features like padding and cup holders to keep your youngest passengers happy.

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

Portable Car Seat For A 3 Year Old Comparison

Travel car seatSize
Baby Trend
medium size,
10 lbs
Sonus 65
rear-facing or forward-facing;
11 lbs
Graco Contender Slim/
Graco Contender GO
medium size,
14 lbs
Evenflo Maestro Sportforward-facing or high-back booster;
9 lbs
Graco Tranzitions/
Graco Wayz
forward-facing, high-back booster
or backless booster;
12.5 lbs
Cosco Finale DXforward-facing or high-back booster;
8 lbs
Wayb Pico
(also available here)
Wayb Pico Car Seat - Jetforward-facing, foldable;
8 lbs
Ride Safer Travel VestRide Safer Travel Vestbooster seat alternative;
2 lbs

Still researching? Pin this for later!

Collage of 5 best travel car seat for 3 year old: blue Ride Safer travel vest, Wayb Pico, black Graco Contender, red Cosco Finale DX, blue Evenflo Maestro Sport. Text in center: "8 lightweight travel car seats for your 3 year old"

Best travel car seats for 3 year olds

The NHTSA recommends that children remain rear-facing until around 3, and many safety advocates urge parents to keep their kids rear-facing until closer to 4. In the reviews below, we offer recommendations for both travel convertible car seats (that can be used either rear-facing or forward-facing with a harness) and travel combination car seats. These are also called harnessed boosters and which can be used forward-facing with a harness until your child is big enough and mature enough to use the seat as a high-back booster.

Soapbox moment: At ages 3 and 4, most kids still can’t be trusted to stay in the right position 100% of the time in a booster seat. If a beloved toy or water bottle falls, they’re going for it! It’s also hard for kids that age to stay upright if they fall asleep, which they’re more prone to do with they’re on the road. We’ve all seen those “cute” pictures on Facebook of our friends’ kids slumped sideways asleep in their booster seats. What happens if a kid is in that position in a car accident? Nothing good. So let’s not be too eager to stick little kids in boosters please.

It’s also worth clarifying some important terminology. Many parents tell me they’re looking for a booster seat for a 3 year old, but that isn’t what they really mean. A forward-facing car seat that also has a booster mode is called a combination car seat, though some marketers confuse things by calling it a harness booster.

Does a 3 year old need a carseat on a plane?

It depends on the child. If your 3 year old is under 40 pounds, as most are, she should still be in a car seat or the CARES harness (full review here). If your 3 year old is already 40 pounds but you’ll need a car seat at your destination, we recommend that you use it on the plane to avoid checking the car seat.

What to look for in your travel car seat

In the summaries below you’ll see that I’ve listed “shell height” and “max harness height”. What do these mean and why are they important when you’re choosing an airplane car seat?

Shell height is the distance from the bottom of the seat to the top above the child’s head and it’s important for rear-facing. Most car seats require that kids have at least 1″ of shell height above the top of their heads to rear face. Harness height isn’t as much of an issue for rear-facing because the straps should always come from below your kid’s shoulders.

Max harness height comes into play for forward-facing. It’s the distance from the bottom of the seat to the highest setting for the harness. Since your child’s shoulders should always be below the harness when forward-facing, the max harness height is often the limiting factor for outgrowing a seat forward-facing. Shell height also matters in that usually the tops of the ears should be contained within the shell (it’s ok if the top of the head pokes out a bit), but that isn’t usually the limiting factor.

The other weight, height and age limits are pretty self-explanatory. Manufacturers (rightly?) assume that your kid is wearing clothes and even shoes in their car seat, so you can factor those in for weight.

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.

The Trooper won’t last quite as long as the Evenflo Sonus 65 for forward-facing, but the more compact shape could make that trade off worth it for many families. The Trooper doesn’t have a stated height limit for rear-facing, only that kids need at least 1″ on shell height over the top of their heads; on the other hand, the Sonus caps out at 40″ rear-facing. If your kids are built taller, they may be able to rear face longer in the Trooper than the Sonus 65 but the extra harness height on the Sonus 65 will hold them forward-facing for about an extra year.

The Graco Contender also allows rear facing beyond 40″ and has a much taller shell than the BabyTrend Trooper, so that’ll get you even more rear facing capacity. The trade off is that the Contender is 5lbs heavier and several inches wider. For a leggy kid the Trooper will give you plenty of time rear facing, while a kid with a longer torso would benefit from the Contender.

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!

I’ve had a few opportunities to play around with it and I’m impressed. It’s light enough to lug around, padded enough for comfort, tall enough to keep almost every kid harnessed to a safe age, and affordable enough to be within reach for most families.

Best of all, it’s packed with great features that’ll have you using the seat at home too. If you’re a two-car family, this is a great choice to use for travel and your second car – maybe even your first.

The Evenflo Sonus 65 is an FAA-approved car seat (just like pretty much every American car seat out there) and can be installed either rear-facing or forward-facing on a plane. It even has a two-position recline wedge to help you get the correct angle in both planes and cars.

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. At that age, we often installed forward facing on flights even if we normally rear faced in the car. Even better, it’s low-profile enough that your child will be able to use the tray table on many airlines!

Those beefy, extra-protective headwings make the top of the seat somewhat wide, so it may be tough to position the Sonus 3-across next to another car seat facing the same direction.

All new Evenflo car seats require the top tether for forward facing. If you plan on international travel to the developing world where a top tether may be unavailable, you’ll have to evaluate whether or not you feel comfortable using the car seat against manufacturer instructions. The top tether is an important safety feature because it reduces forward head movement in a crash by 4-6″, but car seats are required to pass Federal crash tests without it no matter what. If your child still fits rear facing, you can continue using it anywhere in the world!

If you want to keep your 3 year old rear-facing when you travel, this is one of my top picks alongside the Graco Contender.

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. It’s the lightest all-in-one car seat (more accurately called a “multi-mode car seat”) and 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. 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), tall kids need not apply. 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 for 3 year olds, 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.

Overall if you’re looking for the best toddler travel car seat for your 3 year old, the Century Drive On is worth a look. For a small kiddo, it’ll give you plenty of longevity!

Evenflo Maestro Sport review

Key stats:
-Weight 9lbs
-Max harness height 18.5”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-50lbs, 28-50”
-Highback booster size limits 40-110lbs, 44-57”

✔ Lasts from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 8 (as a booster)
✔ Affordable price
✔ Easy to install

Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
✘ Narrow set harness straps with no covers
✘ 6 year expiration

Evenflo makes several great lightweight car seats for travel, including the Evenflo Maestro Sport. We used its retired cousin for travel and in one of our own cars for the five years, so I have plenty of experience with it.

If you’re shopping for a travel car seat for the 3 year old in your life and don’t intend to rear-face, it’s hard to beat the all-around package of the Maestro Sport. It’s got enough padding to keep most riders happy (unlike the previous version) and is light enough that we could carry it through the airport by the straps once we stopped bringing a stroller.

We’ve installed its cousin in an airplane seat many times while using it with the harness and it’s quick and easy. Our kids never had an issue with legroom, but we would remove their shoes and remind them not to (accidentally) kick their neighbor in front.

The price is very affordable, especially considering that it’ll last you into elementary school!

All new Evenflo car seats require the top tether for forward facing. If you plan on international travel to the developing world where a top tether may be unavailable, you’ll have to evaluate whether or not you feel comfortable using the car seat against manufacturer instructions. The top tether is an important safety feature because it reduces forward head movement in a crash by 4-6″, but car seats are required to pass Federal crash tests without it no matter what.

The biggest downside for some families is that the shoulder straps are set fairly close to each other in 5-point harness mode. If Evenflo could make them even 1″ further apart, they’d have some very happy kids out there. The narrow setting is compounded by the lack of harness pads – which you are not allowed to add. Sometimes our kids complained but usually they didn’t; when it bothered them, we pulled their shirt collars up to protect the sides of their necks. If your child has a broader build or is tall, he might do better with a different seat.

The 50 pound max harness weight of the Maestro Sport is also disappointing. Our older Evenflo SecureKid went up to 65 pounds, as does the Evenflo Sonus 65, so I wish Evenflo had incorporated that extra reinforcement for the Maestro Sport. You can switch to booster mode at 50 pounds (the weight of an average 7 year old) and continue using the seat for several more years, but some kids who are higher on the weight curve won’t be mature enough for a booster seat when they hit 50lbs. If you’re shopping for a 3 year old car seat, you probably won’t encounter this issue for a while but it’s good to keep in mind.

It’s not going to be the tallest booster seat around since the headrest on the Maestro Sport doesn’t adjust, but at least you can eek out a little more time by running the seatbelt over the headrest if your child gets a better fit that way and is still within the seat’s limits (including the tops of the ears still being within the headrest). Just know that if you’re using it as a booster seat for your 5 year old, you won’t be able to bring it on board a plane with you.

For average or smaller/thinner kids, we think the Evenflo Maestro Sport might be the best car seat for 3 year old kids whose families are on a budget but want a travel-worthy option. Since it converts between a forward-facing harness and a highback booster seat, many families can get at least four years of use out of it – not bad for a seat with a retail price around $100.

Graco Tranzitions review

Key stats:
-Weight 12.5lbs
-Max harness height 18”
-Forward-facing size limits 22-65lbs, 27-49″
-Highback booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+
-Backless booster size limit 40-100lbs, 43-57″, age 4+

✔ Fits from age 3 (as a harness) to ~age 12 (as a backless booster)
✔ Reasonable price for longevity
✔ Very narrow

✘ Can be tough to install in some cars
✘ Heavier than other options
✘ Back and base may separate when carrying
✘ 7 year expiration

If we were on the market for a travel car seat for a 4 year old, the Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 harness booster car seat would get some serious consideration. The price tag is extremely reasonable for what you get and it would be a great seat to use both at home at on the go (it may be even cheaper at Walmart) .

The best part? You might never have to buy another car seat again (unless you want to, that is) thanks to the 7 year lifespan and the ability to “tranzition” the seat to a highback booster and later a backless booster.

Unlike the Evenflo Maestro, the Tranzitions harnesses to 65lbs (instead of only 50) and has harness pads and a slightly wider distance between straps to keep your kid comfortable. It has an option pillow for extra padding in harness mode and even two cupholders, which can be rotated inward to save space and make this a great car seat for traveling with three kids. It even includes premium features like an adjustable headrest and no-rethread harness.

So what are the tradeoffs? Nothing is perfect. You’ll have to carry around a few extra pounds for all those features, though you won’t notice a difference if you use a cart like this one or strap it to your suitcase.

Some parents have had trouble installing the Tranzitions (or the Graco Wayz) in certain cars since the path for the seatbelt and LATCH strap is mounted very high on the car seat – I’ve even had difficulty sometimes when helping caregivers with this seat. Prepare to spend a little more time with it and use these tips for installing your car seat. It also requires a top tether for installation, which you may not find in developing countries.

Lastly, the base and the back can click apart from each other too easily when you’re carrying it around – this problem afflicts just about every booster seat that can become backless (including the one we use at home) and it’s such a nuisance!

Cosco Finale DX review

Key stats:
-Weight 8lbs
-Max harness height 16.5”
-Forward-facing size limits 30-65lbs, 32-49”
-Highback booster size limits 40-100lbs, 43-52”

✔ Lasts from age 3 to ~age 5-6
✔ Extremely low price
✔ Very narrow
✔ 10 year expiration

Requires top tether, which may not be available in all countries
Terrible booster mode
✘ LATCH not allowed in booster mode
✘ Sparse padding on the seat

The Cosco Finale DX is a popular next step after the budget-friendly Scenera, but I only recommend it if you understand its limitations.

It’s an extremely popular choice among the travel car seats for 3 year olds. Note that the minimum weight is 30 pounds, so if your child is on the smaller side she may not be able to safely use the Finale yet.

I’ll start with the pros, because there are two really big reasons why traveling families love (and I really mean love) their Cosco Finales. First, you absolutely can’t beat the weight. At 8 pounds, it’s the lightest car seat in its class! You can push it in a stroller, carry it in your hands or even strap it to your suitcase without breaking a sweat. Thanks to my fellow CPST Kelly who shared this photo of her kiddo riding in the Cosco Finale on a plane (you can see her younger one in the Cosco Scenera Next on a plane in the background too!).

Second, it’s really hard to beat that price tag. There’s actually an even cheaper version at Walmart but the padding is basically non-existent. Not only is it the lightest combination car seat, but it’s the cheapest one too!

There’s also a slightly fancier version of the same seat sold as the Safety 1st Grand. It includes a more padded cover and two cup holders instead of one. The specs and shell are identical to the original Cosco Finale.

So what are the cons? For starters, it’s not a seat that’s going to last particularly long. The 17″ maximum harness height is the shortest on this list – even shorter than the convertible car seats at the top! There are plenty of kids who will outgrow the harness mode at age 5-6, even if they aren’t mature enough yet for the booster mode.

The booster mode isn’t really usable. Cosco now tells customers not to use the built-in shoulder belt guide because it can prevent the seatbelt from retracting properly – an alarm bell that CPSTs have been sounding for years. You’re allowed to use it as a booster without that guide, but the fit isn’t safe.

The biggest downside for international travelers is that the Cosco Finale requires using the top tether in harness mode in a car. Not all countries have top tethers in all cars (or any cars), so the Finale may not be the best choice for international travel.

And while some kids love the seat and find it comfortable enough, my kids are extremely picky about their padding… and not shy about it either. We’ve had to replace more than one seat because they just don’t find them plush enough for long drives.

All that said, the Cosco Finale DX might be the right choice for your family if you’re on a tight budget or you need an extremely narrow car seat to fit 3-across in a tiny European rental car.

Wayb Pico review

Key stats:
-Weight 8lbs
-Max harness height 16.5″
-Forward-facing size limits: 22-50lbs, 30-45″, recommended 2+ years old minimum

✔ Compact
✔ Easy to install
✔ Keeps kids harnessed
✔ FAA-approved to use on flights
✔ Can install without top tether
✔ Narrowest car seat on the market

✘ High price
✘ Low height limit
✘ Crotch strap too short for some kids
✘ Top tether strap too short for some cars (can request an extension)

One of the coolest kid travel products we’ve seen in a loooong time is the new Wayb Pico. It was hard to miss as they plastered their Indiegogo campaign all over Facebook in 2018! The promise? An ultra-light, ultra-compact folding car seat with 5-point harness. Families would be able to travel with world without compromising safety.

In many ways their promise has panned out. For certain families the Pico is the perfect solution to a really tough question, while for others it isn’t the right fit. Read our in-depth expert Wayb Pico review here.

I’ll start with the advantages: the Wayb Pico is small and easy to use. The weight is about the same as the Cosco Scenera Next, but the genius is in how small it folds up (and even packs into its own backpack!) so that you can lug it around and have it when you need it for spur-of-the-moment taxi rides.

The concept of a folding forward-facing harnessed car seat isn’t new. They’ve actually been made for years, including the current car seat used by Uber Family. The downside of prior seats is that they required use of a top tether. Without it, the seats don’t stay upright! If you’re traveling within the US, Canada or Western Europe that’s no problem.

But if you plan to venture outside those areas you may have an extremely hard time using those car seats. We’ve encountered so many cars in South America, Morocco, Thailand and more that don’t have top tethers – rendering seats like the IMMI Go completely useless. While you’d ideally use the top tether all the time with the Wayb Pico, at least you have the option to use it without the top tether if absolutely necessary.

Travel Car Seat Mom - In need of the best travel car seat for a 4 year old? Look no further than this description of a young boy comfortably seated in a car seat. Rest assured that there are over 202

The major disadvantage of the Wayb Pico is that the 45″ upper height limit and 16.5″ harness slots aren’t high enough for some families. Many kids will outgrow it around 5-5.5 years old (my nephew pictured above is 5.5 and 44″), though if you’re buying it at 3 years old that’s a few years of good usage (and more if you can pass it down to a younger sibling).

If you’re a family that prioritizes extended rear-facing and then you want an extended forward-facing harness, this isn’t the car seat for you! But if you’ll be doing a ton of traveling with a 2 or 3 year old (like our family gap year) then the Wayb Pico is the best option to keep your kid safe without lugging a full-size car seat. On the small end, the Pico is approved for kids at least 1 year old – but that’s not recommended, and in some places (like California and New York) it’s not even legal.

The WAYB Pico is also the narrowest car seat on the market today, so it’s great if you plan to rent a sedan when you travel and will need 3-across.

Finally, the price tag of the Pico may be tough for some families to swallow if they don’t need a portable car seat for 3 year old very often.

Is the Wayb Pico right for everyone? No. But if your family is going on an extended trip or relying on lots of taxis in your daily life and a folding travel car seat is on your must-have list, you need to give the Wayb Pico a serious look!

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″

✔ 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
✔ 5 year expiration

✘ 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 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.

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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.

Ride Safer Delight (Gen 4) at age 3.5

Would I recommend the Ride Safer Gen 5 for a typical 3 year old? It depends. Your kiddo needs to be able to sit calmly in the proper position for the vest to do its job. Fortunately the 2023 update to the Ride Safer travel vest gen 5 is far more adjustable than its predecessors, so the small should fit an average 3.5 year old. The size small should last most kids until 6 or even 7, so purchasing at 3 will give you lots of use. If you have a very petite 3 year old, there’s also an XS available.

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. Read our in-depth Ride Safer review.

Travel Car Seat Mom - A young girl standing in front of a black suv.
Small Ride Safer Travel Vest (Gen 5) on a slim 7 year old

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 generally opt to bring our other travel car seat.

Speaking of flying… the other downside of the Ride Safer travel vest is that it can’t be used on the plane. The manufacturer has been working on it for a few years, so let’s cross our collective fingers. In the meantime, if your kid is under 40lbs we recommend using this on the plane to keep him properly restrained if there’s bad turbulence or a runway incident.

Best car seat for 3 year old FAQs

What kind of car seat should a 3 year old be in?

A 3 year old car seat can be either a convertible car seat (ideally rear-facing, but forward-facing is acceptable at that age) or a combination car seat using the harness mode. Sometimes when you’re researching “what kind of car seat does a 3 year old belong in”, you’ll come across manufacturers calling this a harness booster.

Do you need a car seat for a 3 year old?

Yes, 3 year olds need to ride in a car seat with a harness.

Can I put my 3 year old in a booster seat?

While some booster seats on the market have a minimum age of 3, that’s not a safe choice for kids. Their bones aren’t developed enough to withstand crash forces in a booster seat and they aren’t mature enough to sit correctly 100% of the time. Using a booster seat for a 3 year old is illegal in nearly every state in the US and in many countries around the world.

What is the best car seat for a 3 year old in 2023?

The best car seat for three year old kids is one that fits their bodies, fits properly in the family car, fits your budget and can be used correctly 100% of the time. All car seats sold in the US pass the same Federal testing, so they’ll all keep your kid safe in an accident.

There’s no list of the best car seats for a three year old child because every family’s situation is unique. Some of the most popular options that fit a wide range of children and cars are:
Chicco MyFit
Graco Nautilus SnugLock Grow
Britax Grow With You ClickTight

What’s your favorite travel car seat for a 3 year old? Tell us in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “What’s the best travel car seat for a 3 year old? (2024 reviews)”

  1. We are travelling to Miami for a cruise but and have travel covered for before where a car seat is either provided or not needed. On the trip back however since we are staying at a hotel on Miami beach there is NO available options with a car seat included. For these two trip would you recommend the harness or just a travel car seat? My girl will be 3 years and 10 months and 37 lbs. We are travelling a few more times before she turns 4 for a booster and i am just so split on what to purchase – or maybe just just lug our graco 4ever extend to fit everywhere lol. Any help is appreciated.

    • Hi Aimee,

      I would probably opt for the Ride Safer Travel Vest in this situation. While many brands *allow* a booster seat at 4 years old and 40lbs, you’d have to ensure that your child meets the minimum height requirement AND is mature enough to sit properly 100% of the time. Typically I recommend that children be at least 5 years old before switching to a booster seat.

      Safe travels,


  2. Hi Melissa!

    We’re traveling from LAX to Paris, France soon. I have the Century Drive On for my 4 yr old son. Has anyone ever used this seat in an airplane? I’m afraid it may not fit in the plane, since online it says that “Width at widest point (at the cupholders): 19 inches,” and Air France suggests not bringing car seats wider than 17.3 inches. Any thoughts or recs?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Florence,

      Thanks for stopping by! As long as you aren’t in the bulkhead seat, you should be able to raise the arm rest between you and your son and install it without a problem. Your own shoulder room might be a little tight, but I suggest that you just put a sweatshirt between you and the seat and enjoy having a place to lean your head.

      Safe travels,



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