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No matter what seat you’re using, infant car seat travel is usually pretty straight forward. But if you’re busy filling your baby registry and you know you expect to do a lot of jet setting with your new baby, there are some travel infant car seat options that can make the journey smoother.
In this article you’ll find out what to look for in a travel car seat for infants, the best travel infant car seat options, how to use an infant car seat on a plane and more!
Thanks to Clek for letting us use their awesome photo above!
Quick picks: top infant car seats for travel
If you’re in a hurry, here are some travel-worthy infant car seat options to consider. They all offer different features but one of these should meet the needs of most families traveling with young babies:
- Doona infant car seat stroller – infant car seat that converts to a stroller in seconds
- Clek liingo infant car seat + Silver Cross Jet 2020 – only infant car seat with LATCH built in + amazing carry-on stroller
- Century Carry On 35 LX (travel system)- lightest infant car seat + base combination (and cheap too!)
- Graco NimbleLite travel system – budget-friendly lightweight travel system (also check prices at Target)
- Chicco KeyFit 30 + KeyFit caddy – easy-to-use car seat with lightweight stroller frame (save $30 when you sign up for emails)
What to look for in a travel car seat for infants
Let’s start with the most important thing to know: all infant car seats in the United States pass the same testing, so we know they’re all safe to use. Yay! You can feel confident that even the most budget-friendly infant car seat will keep your precious cargo safe in an accident if you use it correctly.
Some infant car seats have extra features that may help them perform better in a crash, while others have extra convenience features to make them easy to use correctly. Here are some factors to consider when you’re choosing a portable infant car seat:
Lightweight infant car seat
If you’re buying an infant car seat for travel specifically, you might want to look for one that’s light weight. That’s not necessarily the most important factor, as you can see with the more niche options below, but it’s a consideration for some traveling families. You can read more about the lightest infant car seats here.
Infant car seat installation features
All car seats in America are required by law to offer both seatbelt and LATCH installation options. But on an infant car seat, the LATCH installation almost always requires using the base – which weighs an extra 10 pounds.
For seatbelt installation, some infant car seats now offer the option of using a “European” belt path. Instead of only installing with the lap portion of the seatbelt, you also loop the shoulder belt around the back of the car seat for extra stability. If you’re visiting a country that has seatbelts you can’t lock, you may need to bring a locking clip and be prepared to use it.
And one really innovative new car seat now integrates LATCH directly into the infant car seat – no base necessary, and no need to worry about the dreaded locking clip! More on that below…
Infant car seat stroller compatibility
The last factor to look at in choosing travel car seats for babies is stroller compatibility. While it’s not strictly necessary, it’s really helpful to click your infant car seat into a stroller to get it through the airport or push it around the city. It makes traveling in a taxi or Uber straightforward and safe!
Want to get extra-fancy? Now you can opt for an infant car seat with stroller wheels built in.
Specialized travel infant car seat options
These two innovative products are currently vying for the title of “best infant car seat for travel.” They each bring something different to the table, but if you plan to take each of your baby’s monthly photos in a different country you’ll want to consider them both.
Doona infant car seat review
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.
See how easy it is to make the transition:
It’s also 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. Check out how perfectly it fits on an airplane seat:
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 Doona weight is 16.5lbs. Most infant carriers weigh more like 9-10lbs, 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!
Clek liingo infant car seat review
Travel car seats for infants just got a heck of a lot better thanks to our neighbors to the north at Clek. Their new lingo is based on the fan-favorite Clek liing, but with a major improvement for families on the go.
The liingo is the first infant car seat to be sold without a base. Since American car seats are required to offer LATCH installation, the liingo comes with a “LATCH bin” attached to the underside. If you’re on-the-go and you want to hope in a Lyft, just pop open the LATCH bin, pull out the strap and you’ll be ready to roll in about 60 seconds! That’s a real game-changer, as many parents don’t feel confident in doing a baseless installation with a seatbelt.
Check out how easy it is to install the liingo with LATCH:
Of course you can also install with the car’s seatbelt using the integrated European belt path option. That can take a little more time to get just right and some countries don’t have locking seatbelts, so using the liingo’s LATCH can help you avoid using a locking clip.
The liingo weighs 9 pounds without the LATCH bin, which adds about another pound. That’s in the same weight range as average infant car seats, but still plenty portable. The size limits are on the generous end of infant car seats and will fit nearly all babies beyond their first birthday. While the liingo’s price tag is a little on the high side, it’s still in line with most “premium” infant car seats and much less than the original liing. Like the liing, liingo is made in Canada – read about more car seats made in the USA and Canada.
Just like the liing, the new liingo is compatible with some awesome strollers. Pair it with the new Babyzen Yoyo2 (also available here) and the car seat adapter for the ultimate, ultra-compact, ultra-light travel system – you saw that combo in the featured image at the top of this article. Another great option is the Silver Cross Jet 2020 with its car seat adapter, which is a little more budget-friendly.
If you want the flexibility of using your Clek infant car seat with a base when you’re at home, you can buy the Clek liing base to keep installed in your car. The liing base is packed with awesome features for safety and ease of use, including rigid LATCH, a load leg and plenty of recline options.
The biggest downside of the Clek liingo is it can be a pricey set up if you decide that you want a base. While many two-car families opt to have one infant car seat and two bases, at least with the liingo’s integrated LATCH it’s easy enough to only own one base.
Century Carry On 35 LX infant car seat review
There’s a new ultra-cheap, ultralight infant car seat on the market for 2021 and I think it’s going to have a lot of fans among traveling families: the Century Carry On 35 LX infant car seat. The Century brand is almost as old as I am and is now being produced by Graco as a bargain version of its namesake baby gear line. If you’ve owned a Graco SnugRide recently, you’ll notice plenty of similarities with the new Carry On.
What’s got me so excited about this new infant car seat? It takes the crown as the lightest infant car seat + base combination, and not by a small margin. The Century Carry On and base together come in at just over 10lbs. For comparison, the competitive Evenflo Litemax and its base weigh around 15lbs.
Why does it matter? Weight isn’t everything, but many parents like the convenience of bringing the infant car seat base. I usually discourage that because bases are so heavy but that’s just not the case with the Century Carry On.
Great news on the fit: since it’s really a basic Graco infant car seat, the Century Carry On 35 LX offers a great fit for even small newborns. On the larger end, the tall shell means you can continue using this infant car seat for travel until 15-18 months depending on your child’s height!
A few other nifty features to note: first up, the cover and padding are made from recycled soda bottles. Second, the base includes a pop-out recline foot to make sure you newborn is riding at a safe angle. Third, if you will be mostly using trains or other public transportation and want to leave the base at home you can still do a simple and easy seat belt installation (though you may need a locking clip).
There’s a less expensive version, the Century Carry On 35 (no LX) but I’d probably spend the money to get the LX. The basic version has a shorter canopy that’s weirdly connected to the carry handle and it doesn’t come with the newborn body insert. But if you’re on a tight budget, the basic Century Carry On 35 is one of the cheapest infant car seat options when you get it at BuyBuyBaby with their sign up coupon (ringing up at just $72… you read that right). It also comes in gorgeous colors!
While you’re at it, you can grab a super-affordable spare base for another family car – or even to leave at Grandma’s so you don’t have to bring yours! If stroller compatibility matters to you, there are two singles and a double to choose from. They aren’t likely to stand up to strollers costing five times as much, but could make a helpful extra addition that you won’t mind checking on your flight.
Using an infant car seat travel system
If you aren’t interested in the specialized options above, you can use almost any infant car seat for travel. You want to look for ones that are easy to install baseless and ideally compatible with the stroller you want to travel with.
Fortunately these days you don’t have to buy a dedicated “travel system” to click your car seat into a stroller. If you anticipate traveling often, you might consider selecting your stroller first and then only looking at car seats with which it’s compatible. Why? You’ll wind up using the stroller a lot longer than the car seat! Most good strollers see at least three years of use, while infant car seats are rarely used beyond around 15 months.
Here are a few awesome ultra-light strollers (all carry-on approved) and the top infant car seats with which they’re compatible:
|Key features||Infant car seats|
|Mountain Buggy Nano||13 pounds|
|“Universal” with strap|
(also works with some lightweight convertibles)
|Babyzen Yoyo2||13 pounds|
Recline for 6+ months
|Clek liing/Clek liingo|
Nuna Pipa RX
|Baby Jogger City Tour 2||14 pounds|
|Baby Jogger City GO 2|
Graco SnugRide Lite
|Silver Cross Jet 2020||13 pounds|
|Clek liing/Clek liingo|
Nuna Pipa RX
The only infant car seat you can’t easily use for flying is the Nuna Pipa Lite/Nuna Pipa Lite R. It’s the lightest infant car seat on the market, but it achieves that feat in part by eliminating the seat belt guides on the car seat itself. It can only be installed with the base, which is now FAA-approved but adds an extra 14 pounds to your load. If you like the Pipa series and plan to fly with your infant, stick with the full-featured Nuna Pipa RX.
If you’re interested in a more budget-friendly travel-friendly infant car seat travel system, take a look at the new Graco NimbleLite travel system. While the stroller will have to be gate checked because the fold is fairly long, it still weighs under 15 pounds. It comes packaged with the Graco SnugRide Lite 35, which is fairly basic but works well and only weighs 7 pounds. It’s extremely affordable, especially for such lightweight products!
Another middle-of-the-road option is to buy an affordable stroller frame to wheel your infant car seat around. They’re extremely light weight and have huge baskets, but the downside is that you lose the flexibility of putting your baby in a reclined stroller seat for a long walk around town. But if you expect that most of your travels will be to places that involve more driving than walking, this can be a great option! When our kids were tiny, we loved traveling with our Chicco Keyfit 30 and the matching Chicco Keyfit Caddy.
How to use an infant car seat on a plane
Using an infant car seat on an airplane is very simple. The most important thing to remember is that you can’t install with the base.
First, plop the car seat on the airplane seat. Look for the level line on the side of the car seat to make sure it’s parallel to the floor. Run the airplane seatbelt through the little arms (“seat belt guides”) on each side of the infant car seat – on some seats they’re raised up above the shell, while on other seats they’re attached to the outside.
After you buckle the seatbelt, make sure it stays fairly level (especially if you’re flying with a newborn) and then pull the seatbelt tail to tighten like you would for yourself. That’s it! Installing it on the plane is one of the easiest aspects of traveling with an infant car seat.
Remember: rear facing car seats must be installed so that they don’t block the exit of another passenger in an emergency. In a single aisle plane, that means you need to put them in the window. In a two-aisle plane, there’s more flexibility if you’re seated in the center section.
Should you bring the base when you travel with an infant car seat?
Whether or not to bring the infant car seat base when you travel is a matter or of personal preference and it depends on what kind of trip you’ll be taking. We’ve done it both ways.
For a short trip, we didn’t usually bring our infant car seat base. It’s another 10 pounds of bulk to lug around, and if a trip only involved a few car rides it was no big deal to do a baseless installation in our rental car. That was especially true once our babies were older and didn’t fall asleep every time they were in a moving car!
We did travel with our infant car seat base when traveling with our newborns on trips that involved a lot of getting in and out of cars. Baseless installation is fairly easy, but makes it nearly impossible to transfer a sleeping baby. For a longer trip (more than a two weeks) that involves a lot of car trips in a rental car, I’d consider bringing the base to avoid constantly reinstalling the car seat. The more often you install the car seat, the more likely you are to make a mistake – especially if you’re in a rush.
If you choose to bring your infant car seat base on the plane you can not install it on the plane. Instead, you’d put it either in the overhead bin or on the floor under the airplane seat in front.
Pro tip: If your own carry-on bag is especially large, you may want to put that bag in front of your child’s car seat and the car seat base at your own feet. It’ll be easier to access the contents of your bag and you’ll have more leg room!
Infant travel car seat FAQs
Travel with an infant car seat is easy! Just pop it in a compatible stroller to get through the airport and then install on the airplane using the lap belt in the seatbelt guides.
In extenuating circumstances, babies have flown as young as a few days old. It’s more common to wait until babies are a few weeks old to ensure that baby and mom are both healthy and not likely to face complications in the air. If you’re flying with a newborn, you may want to bring a note from your pediatrician indicating that your baby is safe to fly.
Absolutely, the FAA strongly recommends that children under 40 pounds ride in an approved car seat or harness. US-based airlines are bound by FAA rules and must permit you to use an age-appropriate car seat if you have purchased a seat for your child. Many will also permit you to bring your car seat on board and use it if there is a vacant seat.
Yes, however many US airlines require that children under 2 ride in an approved car seat or restraint if they have their own seat. Airlines based outside of the US set their own rules so be sure to verify before your trip if you aren’t flying a US carrier.
The safest way to travel with a newborn on a plane is to bring a car seat and use it, though most airlines also permit newborns to travel as lap babies.
There are numerous rules on where you can and can’t sit on a plane with a baby. Get more details about flying with a car seat, including where to sit.
What’s your favorite travel car seat for an infant? Tell us in the comments below!