Today I have an opportunity to check out a product I’ve been curious about for a long time, the Safe Traffic Systems TravelSmarter booster seat. I get a lot of questions about this one because it’s the only booster seat you can use with the Ride Safer Travel Vest.
In this TravelSmarter booster seat review I’ll explain what this travel booster seat is, who it’s for, how to use it and share my candid impressions after trying it with five kids of different ages and sizes.
What is the TravelSmarter booster seat?
The Safe Traffic Systems TravelSmarter booster is an ultra-light backless booster seat. It’s made of rigid foam and has just one job: to boost your child high enough that the adult seatbelt fits properly.
While that seems like an easy job, it can actually be tricky since every vehicle has a different seat angle and seat belt geometry. To maintain its simplicity and weight, the TravelSmarter booster seat doesn’t have an adjustable shoulder belt guide, a feature found on most backless booster seats.
This portable booster seat adjusts the lap belt fit by routing the seatbelt under the arm rests, keeping it on the thighs rather than the “soft belly”. That positioning prevents organ damage in a crash.
Importantly, the TravelSmarter booster seat can be used either on its own or in conjunction with the Ride Safer Travel Vest to improve seatbelt fit and allow kids to see out the window – more about these ways to use it later.
Every Travel Smarter travel booster seat comes with its own backpack that makes it easy for kids to carry on their own. There’s ample space to fit a Ride Safer Travel Vest in the backpack along with the booster, and my petite 9 year old found the combination easy to carry – it can be your child’s personal item if you’re flying with a booster seat.
It’s the lightest backless booster seat that still has height and rigid structure, two aspects that recent computer modeling indicate may be important for crash performance.
The only other thing that came with my TravelSmarter booster seat is a tiny manual tucked in the pocket on the side where the label is located. I’m glad it’s flagged, because most parents would miss it otherwise. At the very bottom of the back side, it indicates that the booster seat is now certified in both the US and Canada and has a 7 year expiration date.
This booster seat supposedly has a cup holder, but I haven’t found a cup or water bottle that fits in the small mesh compartment. Many narrow booster seats don’t have any storage on them, and for travel plenty of families won’t care.
Good to know: the TravelSmarter booster seat replaces the older Ride Safer Delighter booster seat. They look similar at first glance, but the arm rests on the new version are much lower and shorter.
Who is the TravelSmarter booster seat meant for?
The TravelSmarter booster seat has pretty typical requirements for a backless booster seat. If you’re using the booster seat on its own (without the vest), your kiddo needs to meet these criteria:
- At least 4 years old
- 40-100 lbs
In practice, the TravelSmarter booster seat isn’t great on its own for kids at the bottom of the stated range. First off, very very few four year olds have the maturity to sit properly for 100% of a car ride. Many kids can’t sit properly in a backless booster (which has no torso or head support) until 6 or even older.
In addition, the lack of a shoulder belt guide means that kids have to be tall enough to meet the car’s shoulder belt. We look for the shoulder belt to make good contact at the middle of the collar bone, and that’s not possible for many 40″ kids in a variety of vehicles.
In my van, which has shoulder belts that are high but not too far forward, the fit was much better on my 46″ model (girl) than my 43″ model (boy). When you travel you never know what kind of vehicle you’re going to get so it’s important to bring a booster seat with a good chance of fitting properly. Aside from adjustments to the seatbelt itself, the only solution for improving the shoulder belt fit is to use the Ride Safer Travel Vest.
With all of this taken into consideration, I recommend the TravelSmarter booster seat for 6 years old and up if you plan to use it on its own.
Unlike other booster seats, the TravelSmarter can be used with the Ride Safer Travel Vest. This is the only booster seat you can safely and legally use with the Ride Safer Travel Vest. If you’re using it with the vest, refer to the size guidelines that I outline in my Ride Safer Travel Vest review. It can be used even with the XS vest, which begins at age 2.
On the top end of the range, most average-build kids will find the width at the back of the TravelSmarter booster to be too narrow around 75lbs. That corresponds to an average 10-11 year old. Some of those kids may still need a booster in some vehicles depending on their height and the seatbelt geometry, while those on the taller side may be able to safely ride without a booster seat (typically beginning at 57″). I wouldn’t plan on putting a 100lb kiddo in this booster seat; they are much better served by this wide booster seat.
How do you use the TravelSmarter booster seat portable booster seat?
Using the TravelSmarter booster seat on its own
If you’re using the TravelSmarter booster seat by itself, it couldn’t be simpler! Just place the booster on your vehicle seat, have your kiddo sit down and buckle the seatbelt. You’ll then place the lap belt only under the arm rests. This is different from most backless booster seats, which typically route the buckle-side of the shoulder belt under the arm rest as well.
I will say that neither of my kids loved buckling in the TravelSmarter booster seat. They usually ride in this backless booster and find it much easier. The previous version, called the Ride Safer Delighter booster seat, had longer, higher arms and required less precision.
I’ll also note here that the lap belt is positioned quite far forward on the TravelSmarter booster seat. Above I’ve compared it to our go-to booster for home use, which allows the seatbelt to rest about 1″ closer to the child’s hips (to the right of the blue line). I reached out to Safe Traffic Systems to discuss my concern about the lap belt being too low, but their testing shows that the angled design of the seat keeps kids from sliding forward (“submarining”) under the lap belt.
Using the TravelSmarter booster seat with the Ride Safer Travel Vest
Things get a little more involved when you want to use the booster seat with the vest. You’ll need to first put the vest on your child and adjust it properly so that the bottom panel is flat on their thighs. I have an instructional video on how to do that in here.
Then you’ll have your child hop on to the booster and buckle the seatbelt. The lap belt needs to run through both of the metal belt guides on the vest AND under both of the booster seat arm rests. The shoulder belt should go over the arm rest and then be routed through the seatbelt guide on your child’s chest that’s farthest from the buckle.
As you can see above, it really does improve the fit of the Ride Safer Travel Vest for young riders like my 2 year old niece. This isn’t a solution I would use regularly for her, but it’s acceptable if she’s just taking a short shuttle van ride in Mexico or going on a cruise excursion for example. The only alternative that’s anywhere near as portable is the WAYB Pico, which has some advantages but is much more expensive than the vest+booster. You can read my full WAYB Pico review for more info.
TravelSmarter booster seat review
So what’s our overall impression of the TravelSmarter booster seat? I’d say that it’ll be great for some families but a non-starter for others.
TravelSmarter booster seat advantages
- Lightest “traditional” booster seat
- Easy for kids to carry in the included backpack
- Can be used on its own or with the Ride Safer Travel Vest – total weight is under 4lbs!
TravelSmarter booster seat disadvantages
- Expensive for a backless booster seat
- Not as comfortable for kids on the top of the weight range
- No adjustable shoulder belt guide for kids on the bottom of the height range
TravelSmarter booster seat versus other travel booster seats
Be sure to check out my roundup of the best travel booster seats to help you choose the one that’s right for your family.
Travel Smarter booster seat vs Bubblebum inflatable booster seat
Many families consider pairing their Ride Safer Travel Vest with the Bubblebum to let their kids see out the window. Don’t do that! They haven’t been crash tested together and it’s not an approved combination – it could be both unsafe and illegal.
But if you’re looking at lightweight backless booster seats, it’s worth comparing the Bubblebum vs TravelSmarter. They both weigh about 1lb, though the Bubblebum deflates and rolls up very small. Bubblebum is narrower so it fits better in tight spaces, but my kids also felt like they outgrew the seating area sooner than the Travel Smarter. You’ll find lots of info in my Bubblebum review as well.
There have been some recent questions about the safety of “heightless” and low-stiffness (aka inflatable) booster seats. Those questions arise from computer simulations rather than real-world crash data, but if you’re concerned about that analysis the TravelSmarter booster seat is a viable, lightweight alternative.
TravelSmarter booster seat vs Cosco Rise
Many families look to the Cosco Rise backless booster seat as an affordable, lightweight travel booster seat. It can be a great pick thanks to the incredible price. My kids rate the two about equally for comfort, though they wouldn’t choose either one for a long road trip.
The Cosco Rise is a little heavier (more like 2lbs) and its shape isn’t as conducive to travel. The arm rests also flare out quite a bit so I don’t personally like sitting next to it!
That said, the Cosco has an optional adjustable shoulder belt guide that gives a better fit for booster riders on the smaller end of the size range without needing to add on a vest.