If you’ve been following along with any of our travel posts or our traveling hacks you know that we travel a lot. I mean we’re taking 22 adventures this year…That’s 1 or 2 a month if we are on pace! So it’s safe to say that we know a thing or two about traveling with kids. We are doing our best to make it easier on you by sharing what we learn by trial. Whether it’s sightseeing with kids, or how to occupy their time on a road trip, we are trying to share it all with you. This post is all about choosing a travel car seat that is best for your family.
I know traveling with car seats sounds like it’s super difficult, and yes it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. I have a friend that is a travel car seat genious, whom I lean on often with questions about my own family travel. She has kindly agreed to help us by answering some commonly asked questions about car seat safety and how to choose the right one. So “buckle up”, while we learn the do’s and don’ts of car seat travel from one of the best.
About the Travel Car Seat Genious
While preparing for the birth of her first child, my good friend Michelle realized that there was not a “one stop shop” for car seat safety. After her realization that she wasn’t going to find what she was looking for, she decided to create it on her own. That’s when she started her website, Safe in the Seat.
Michelle decided to create such a wonderful resource for new parents and seasoned parents alike. Her website includes amazing classes and one on one consultant appointments. She and her team will help you pick out the appropriate car seat for your child and specific car seat for any mode of travel. If you are struggling with how to travel safely with your kids, Michelle and her team are the people you want to talk to!
How did you get into Car Seat Safety?
When I was preparing for the arrival of my oldest, who’s almost 9, I found resources for almost everything baby related. Nursery decorating, the best gadgets for my registry, all the cute clothes! But when he was born and it was time to head home from the hospital I realized nobody had told me how to keep him safe in the car.
With a little more research I couldn’t find a reputable and knowledgeable one-stop resource for car seat safety. So I decided to become that resource for other parents so they never have to feel as helpless as I did!
What are your thoughts on renting a car seat at your destination?
I really recommend against it. Rental car seats have an unknown history, so they may have been in a crash or otherwise compromised. They’re often hosed down or disinfected, which degrade the seats. Aaand to top it all off, many rental companies only offer a few models of seats – often infant seats and boosters, possibly with a harnessed seat in there – so they may not even offer a seat appropriate for your child’s age and size.
What are some things parents should consider when looking for a travel car seat?
They should consider their plans for the full trip, as well as their children’s ages and sizes! There’s no way to get around the need for child restraints in vehicles – it’s just not safe to go without. We’ve already discussed why rental seats aren’t a safe option, which leaves us transporting seats ourselves during the trip. Lightweight, travel friendly seats can make this process easier. Check out our favorites here.
Are there safe car seat alternatives?
If there won’t be any vehicle travel at destination at all – including rental cars, private cars, or Uber/taxis – or if you have safe seats from a trusted source available to meet you at the arrival airport, then bigger kids may not need a car seat or any car seat alternative in flight.
Smaller kids may benefit from a airplane safety harness for extra restraint on the plane. However, the harness still leaves littles with more freedom than a car seat would, so it’s not always helpful for the wiggly three-and-under crowd.
What should parents think about when traveling by plane versus Car? Do parents need a car seat if they are NOT renting a car? How about riding in Uber or taxis?
Even though taxis and Ubers are exempt from car seat requirements in some states, it’s not safe to skip the car seat! Unfortunately the law doesn’t reflect what’s safe in this instance. If there is any vehicle travel planned at all – be it a rental car, family member or friend’s vehicle, rideshare or taxi – then a suitable child restraint is necessary.
What are the options for our littlest travelers? Is it best to bring their infant car seat?
For families who plan to travel often during the first year, the Doona may be worth the investment! Having an all-in-one car seat and stroller is definitely convenient, but almost all infant seats are FAA approved, so parents can also travel with other seats by conveniently rolling through the airport with their car seat’s compatible stroller. Gate check the stroller, rock that car seat’s baseless airplane install, and relax!
Do you have any tips on how to make traveling with an infant car seat easier?
My biggest tip is to practice baseless installation before you travel so that you can leave that base at home. Who wants to drag an extra ten-pound slab of plastic around when you don’t need to?! Nearly all infant seats allow baseless install (most Nuna Pipa Lite models don’t), so getting comfortable with this installation method will make travel much easier. You’ll install the seat baseless on the plane and do the same for any vehicle travel during the trip! Add in a compatible stroller to roll baby through the airport and you’ll be good to go.
Are there alternatives for infant travel?
While these products promise to make it easy to fly with a lap baby, they can’t and don’t make lap babies safe. Their only purpose is to potentially limit a wiggly baby’s movement when they are on an adult’s lap – the product websites say right up front that they can’t be used during takeoff, and landing, which are the two most likely times where an emergency may occur during a flight. During these critical times when the seatbelt sign is on, lap children are the only items on the plane that aren’t secured. That’s so unsettling!
What is the safest option?
The safest place for infants is buckled into their car seat on the plane, particularly when the seatbelt sign is on. Save a little bit of money and carry-on bag space and skip these items!
What if your kids are a bit older? Should they still travel with their car seat from home?
The airplane lap belt begins to fit safely around 40lbs, so at that point a car seat becomes less necessary onboard the plane. However, if you need a harnessed seat for your big kid at the destination, using it on the plane is still the best option! You’ll ensure the seat arrives in safe and usable condition instead of gambling on baggage handlers treating it with care.
You can also get more creative with big kids – keep a harnessed seat at grandma’s house, bring a booster onboard as the child’s personal item (they won’t sit in it in flight!), or try out the Ride Safer Travel Vest (another restraint that isn’t usable on airplanes, but works well at destination starting around 4-5 years old).
What are your favorite alternatives for older kids and why? Harness versus Booster?
Kids who use a belt-positioning booster at home can use it while traveling too! Boosters can’t be used on airplanes, but you can still bring them along. Backless boosters make a great personal item for a big kid – pack the high back portion in a large checked suitcase well padded with clothing, or skip the back altogether if the child gets a good seatbelt fit without the extra support. Then your big kid can take responsibility for their own safety by carrying their backless booster onto the plane and storing it in the overhead bin.
What is your advice for a traveler like me who tries to pack as minimally as possible? How can I still keep my kids safe?
My best advice is to control what you can control. This means traveling with your kids’ vehicle safety needs in mind and in hand, even though it’s inconvenient! With the right logistical planning ahead of time, you’ll probably find that it’s really not as bad as it sounds to fly with car seats.
The obvious pain points – physically lugging seats through the airport and the sheer amount of stuff – are easily addressed by using a stroller/wagon, car seat cart, or luggage strap for the car seat(s) and checking any suitcases you won’t need en route.
Traveling is full of surprises, and adding kids to the mix can mean one unwelcome surprise could derail your entire trip. So remove the car seat variable from the get go! With the peace of mind of having a safe way to transport your little ones no matter what other surprises come your way, you’re all set for a great family trip!
Can you tell us more about your resources for parents?
Head to our website to purchase our Wheels Up: Airplane Travel Course. You’ll find lessons, resources, and various tips and tricks to ensure smooth travel from start to finish. You’ll also get access to our private Facebook group where you can have your questions answered by our Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians.
We also offer an infant course and buying kits for all the stages of car seats. If you still have questions, we offer 1:1 virtual consultations with our Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians to get you the help you need.
Hope you guys enjoyed this post. I always enjoy talking car seat safety with Michelle. If you have any feedback, want to get in touch with Michelle, or have new ideas on this or for future posts please tag me on Instagram or Tiktok.