This article about folding car seats for travel is written by certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Melissa Conn and may contain affiliate links.
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 2023 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 portable car seat for travel with your family.
Quick picks: which folding car seat for travel is right for you?
|Travel car seat||Size|
|Doona Infant Car Seat|
(also at Pottery Barn)
|birth to age 1;|
rear-facing car seat
|Evenflo Shyft DualRide|
(also at Walmart)
|preemie to age ~1.5;|
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;
|Hiccapop Uberboost||age 6+;|
backless booster seat;
|Graco RightGuide||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, a foldable car seat stroller is 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 this foldable carseat 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. If you prefer a lightweight infant car seat, you’ll find great options here.
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!
Evenflo Shyft DualRide review
*Ideal for preemie to age 1.5 years old
-Weight 8-9lbs without wheels, ~19lbs with wheels
-Rear-facing size limits: 3-35lbs, up to 32”
✔ Integrated car seat/stroller
✔ Several installation options
✔ Approved down to 3lbs
✔ Option to leave the wheels in the car if you want to carry the car seat alone
✔ Tensioning panel on base for easy seatbelt installation
✔ Anti-rebound panel on base
✔ Approved in Canada
✘ High price
✘ Requires 1.5″ between car seat and front seats if not installing in the center
✘ Can’t be used with other strollers
✘ Need to buy a new car seat and travel stroller when it’s outgrown
The Evenflo Shyft DualRide integrated infant car seat/stroller is brand new for 2023. If it looks similar to the Doona above, that’s because it is. But the Evenflo has a few nifty tricks up its sleeve that are worth mentioning.
First, the Evenflo Shyft DualRide is approved for newborns as small as 3 pounds (just like most Evenflo infant car seats). No one outside of Evenflo has gotten to test one out with such a tiny baby so we’ll need to see how the fit is for preemies in the real world – sometimes the beefy headrests of no-rethread harnesses like this one can be challenging for newborn head positioning. Hopefully the fit will be just as good as it is with this excellent preemie car seat.
On the other end, many kids can use it until 15-18 months thanks to the extended headrest. It’s a very convenient option for travel with toddlers!
Second, while the Doona always brings its wheels (and their weight) the Evenflo Shyft DualRide can leave the wheels behind on the car seat base or at home if you don’t anticipate needing them. That brings the weight of the car seat itself down to just 8-9 pounds – in line with many other car seats on the market. But it’s nice to have the flexibility to use the wheels when you want them and leave them behind when you don’t.
Third, the base has an integrated anti-rebound panel to help manage crash energy and a tensioning arm for easy seatbelt installation. You still need to lock the seatbelt when you install – always read your manual – but you don’t have to worry about putting much force into installing it.
As with all products, the Shyft DualRide isn’t perfect. For starters, the Evenflo Shyft DualRide is not compatible with any of the company’s strollers. That’s a bummer since many parents with an older child might like the flexibility to sometimes use the car seat with the Evenflo Pivot Xpand single-to-double stroller.
Like all Evenflo car seats, the manufacturer wants 1.5″ of clearance between the car seat and the vehicle seat in front of it. Practically speaking this rules it out for some compact cars unless you will always install it in the center seat (where the rule doesn’t apply). Keep that in mind if you’re planning on installing it by the window so that you can install another car seat on the other side!
The 10lb weight of the wheel assembly is surprisingly high. Families already sometimes complain that the Doona is too heavy, and the Evenflo car seat stroller combo is even heaver; the trade-off, of course, is that if you plan to hand carry it you can leave the wheels behind… unless you’re traveling and taking a taxi followed by a lovely walk over cobblestones.
Moment of truth here: I’m also surprised by the price point of the Evenflo Shyft DualRide. There are several versions with slightly different features/accessories and they range from $500-600. Thankfully you can get a discount when you buy direct and sign up for the email list, and Evenflo runs frequent sales as well. There’s also a slightly less expensive Walmart version, which lacks the carry-all bag and leather accents.
It’s great to see more innovation in this space, and finally a competitor to the Doona. The Evenflo Shyft DualRide has a lot going for it and will definitely be a contender for car-free city dwellers and travelers alike!
Read next: Best portable car seats for a 1 year old
Wayb Pico review
*Ideal for ages 2-5
-Max harness height 16.5″
-Forward-facing size limits: 22-50lbs, 30-45″, recommended 2+ years old minimum
✔ 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 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 with this foldable toddler car seat without compromising safety.
In many ways their promise has come true. For certain families the Pico is the perfect solution to a really tough question of what to do when they need a travel 5-point harness, while for others it isn’t quite 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 a fold up car seat 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, since it’s so low-profile.
The major disadvantage of the Wayb Pico foldable child car seat 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, though if you’re buying it at 2 or 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 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 for a portable car seat for 3 year old. Of course, some families opt to use it at home too though it doesn’t offer the same creature comforts as typical forward facing car seats.
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
✔ 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 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 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. Read our in-depth Ride Safer review.
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 (full review here) 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.
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 a pretty amazing collapsible booster seat. 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.
Read more: My in-depth Bubblebum review
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.
hiccapop Uberboost booster seat review
*Ideal for ages 7+
If you like the idea of an inflatable booster seat for travel, there’s a new option to consider these days. The newish hiccapop Uberboost follows the same basic concept as the Bubblebum but with a few pros and cons.
The hiccapop packs down slightly smaller than the Bubblebum but inflates to offer a larger seating seating area. Score! It also has a grippy layer on the bottom to prevent it from sliding around.
The biggest downside for us is that our leggy 48″ rider needs the shoulder adjuster clip in most seating positions but finds it very uncomfortable. The clip is much bulkier than on our other travel booster seats.
If your child is 48″+ or has a longer torso, you might be able to avoid using the clip – just be sure that the shoulder belt makes nice, complete contact with the middle of the collar bone. In that case the hiccapop Uberboost is a great choice for a traveling booster seat. For a smaller child, I’d stick with the Bubblebum for now.
-Weight 2 lbs
-Backless booster size limit 50-120lbs, 43-60″, age 5+
✔ Extremely light booster seat
✔ Very compact booster seat when folded
✔ Narrow option for 3-across with big kids
✔ Inconspicuous option for tweens
✔ 10 year expiration
✘ Belt guide may not stay in place securely
✘ Incompatible with some seatbelt designs
If you have a big kid or tween who’s approaching readiness for the adult seatbelt (usually 10-12 years old) but not quite there, check out the Graco RightGuide. It’s ultra low profile and easy to throw in a backpack or clip to the outside of a carry-on suitcase. It does require that kids be at least 5 years old, 43″ and 50lbs – a weight many kids don’t achieve until they’re around 7 or even older.
The RightGuide offers a wonderful seatbelt fit even for kids at the bottom of the stated size range. It can be problematic with certain types of seatbelts, so be sure to read my Graco RightGuide review to know what you need to look out for.
Foldable Car Seat for Travel FAQs
Yes. All car seats sold in the US have to pass the same Federal testing. The most important factors in keeping your child safe in the car are choosing an age-appropriate car seat for and using it correctly 100% of the time.
The best car seat for traveling is the one that fits your child properly and that you’ll use every time you’re in the car. Check this list to find the best choices by age.
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!