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The car seat game is changing quickly these days. Child safety seats for use at home are getting bigger and beefier with every new generation – steel frames, massive headwings, and extremely high weight and height limits.
But on the other end, there’s a new set of folding car seats for travel that are changing how families explore the world. Gone are the days when you had no choice but to stay within the confines of the US and Europe lest you risk your child’s safety on crazy roads (there are still places like that, for the record). No, in 2020 you have options.
There are some amazing foldable car seats for travel and car seat alternatives that will take you around the world and back again without breaking a sweat. Especially once your child is a mature enough, there’s now an entire ecosystem of foldable booster seat choices for you!
In this article will share our top picks for folding travel car seats at each stage, including the advantages and disadvantages of each. You’ll also learn what to consider when you’re choosing the right option for your family.
Quick picks: which folding car seat for travel is right for you?
|Travel car seat||Size|
|Doona Infant Car Seat||birth to age 1;|
rear-facing car seat
|Wayb Pico||age 2-5;|
forward-facing car seat;
|Ride Safer Travel Vest||age 3+;|
booster seat alternative;
backless booster seat;
|Graco Turbo GO||age 5+;|
backless booster seat;
backless booster seat;
How to choose a foldable car seat for travel
What should you look for in a collapsible car seat? In reality, you don’t have nearly the same choices as you do in more “traditional” car seats.
The most important feature to look at is what stage the car seat is and how that matches up with your child’s age and size. After all, it’s not safe to put a 2 or 3 year old on a backless booster no matter how convenient! Likewise, your 6 year old who still sleeps in the car might not fit into the folding car seat with a 5 point harness option.
Since this article is all about folding car seats, portability is the name of the game! You want a car seat that folds small enough to take out for the day so that you have it when you need it. So some of the options on this list may not be the lightest in their classes, but they’re the best for putting in the overhead bin of an airplane or toting around the city.
In the picture at the beginning of this article, you can see how our family rocks folding travel car seats (and car seat alternatives). That photo was taken at the beginning of our family’s gap year – we needed to travel extremely light while keeping our kids as safe as possible. We’re fortunate to live in an era when we could make that happen!
Reviewing the best foldable travel car seat options
Doona infant car seat stroller review
*Ideal for birth to age 1-1.5 years old
Do you want the Swiss Army knife of baby travel gear? You’ll find it in the Doona infant car seat stroller, one of the coolest baby products I’ve ever seen. In just a matter of seconds your very capable infant car seat deploys its own wheels and converts into a perfectly serviceable baby-friendly stroller! I’ve had the opportunity to play around with it in person (though it was released after our youngest was born) and I definitely let out a few “WOW”s during my test drive.
This is the perfect foldable baby car seat for families who live in or travel to big cities and need to hop in and out of taxis. You’ll never have to worry about your baby being safe on the road, but you also won’t have to wonder what to do with your car seat while you hit a museum or go into a store. Likewise, it’s an easier solution than a two-piece travel system that has to be separated and stored in the car trunk. The Doona is even FAA-approved and you can just wheel is straight down the airplane aisle. (While this isn’t truly a “foldable” car seat for a 1 year old, it’s the closest option out there – not including the extremely unsafe unapproved knock-off contraptions you’ll find online).
So why wouldn’t every family put one on their baby registry? There are three downsides to consider with the Doona, and it’s up to you how important they are.
First, it’s heavy compared to other infant car seats. The official Doona weight listing is 14lbs (some reviewers say it’s more like 16lbs). Most infant carriers weigh more like 10lbs, but of course they don’t have a whole stroller built in.
Second, it ain’t cheap. The price tag may make it a non-starter for many families, though once you add the cost of a well-respected infant car seat and a car seat stroller frame the sticker shock might subside a little.
Third, once your baby outgrows the Doona as a car seat around 1 year old you’ll be on the hook to buy a new car seat and a new stroller. Obviously that’s a tough nut to swallow financially. But many families find that the stroller they love for the newborn and infant stage just isn’t ideal for the toddler stage and they wind up wanting a new stroller anyway. Especially if you’re focusing on lightweight, travel friendly products you’ll find that many of the best ultralight strollers aren’t ideal until at least 6-12 months anyway.
All those cons aside, the Doona really is an incredible option for families who want to travel extensively with a young baby. It’s the only collapsible car seat that rear faces to keep the littlest travelers safe!
Read next: Best portable car seats for a 1 year old
Wayb Pico review
*Ideal for ages 2-5
-Forward-facing size limits: 22-50lbs, 30-45″, recommended 2+ years old
✔ Easy to install
✔ Keeps kids harnessed
✔ FAA-approved to use on flights
✘ 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 collapsible car seat. 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 Wayb Pico is by far the best foldable car seat for a 3 year old if you plan on lots of international travel. Why? 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.
Because it doesn’t require a top tether, the Wayb Pico is also the only foldable car seat for airplane use. Your kids can even fully use the tray table, unlike most forward-facing travel car seats.
The major disadvantage of the Wayb Pico foldable child car seat is that the 45″ upper height limit isn’t that high for some families. Many kids will outgrow it around 5-5.5 years old. 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 fold up travel car seat is the best option to keep your kid safe without lugging a full-size model. 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.
Finally, the price tag of the Pico may be tough for some families to swallow.
Is the Wayb Pico right for everyone? Maybe not. 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, give the Wayb Pico a serious look once it’s available again.
Read next: Best travel car seats for a 2 year old
Ride Safer Travel Vest review
*Ideal for ages 3.5-6
-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
✔ 10 year expiration
✘ No side impact protection like a highback booster seat
✘ Takes practice to get belt fit right
✘ NOT permitted for use on planes
✘ Fits most kids better when they’re close to 3.5-4
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. It is not approved for use on an airplane, so you may want to pair it with the CARES harness to use on the plane.
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 one of the travel car seat alternatives, 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.
Read next: Best travel car seats for a 3 year old
hifold fit-and-fold Booster review
*Ideal for ages 5+
-Highback booster size limit 33-100lbs, 36-59″
-Belt guide 14-20″
✔ Tons of size adjustments for great fit
✔ Folds down small
✔ Legal to use everywhere except Australia (in progress)
✔ Extremely narrow
✔ 7 year expiration
✘ Expensive if you will only use for a few years
✘ No cup holders included
✘ Bigger than some of the other travel-specific car seats
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.
Read more: My in-depth hifold review
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. It also comes with a convenient carry strap to take it along for carpools and taxis or Ubers.
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. In fact, it’s even approved everywhere in the world except Australia – and that’s in the works. 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.
Read next: Best travel car seats for a 4 year old
Bubblebum booster seat review
*Ideal for ages 5+
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. It’s my favorite folding travel booster seat!
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 the hifold folding booster seat. 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.
You can also read my in-depth Bubblebum review.
Read next: Best travel car seats for a 5 year old
Graco Turbo GO folding booster seat review
*Ideal for ages 5+
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 foldable booster car 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 and makes car-to-car transfers a breeze. 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 folding booster seat for travel.
Read next: Best travel booster seat
mifold booster seat
You can’t write an article about foldable travel car 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 smallest folding booster seat!
Need more ideas? Check out the best travel car seats for every age
What’s your favorite folding car seat for travel? Tell us in the comments below!