Wondering if there’s a better way to travel with kids that doesn’t require lugging their heavy safety seats? Find 7 car seat and booster seat alternatives that are completely legal, safe, and federally approved!
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links for products and services I recommend. When you make a purchase through an affiliate link, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read our full disclosure here.
Hands down, the single downside to traveling with my kids is lugging their bulky car seats around.
Safety is the number one concerned for parents, traveling or at home. I don’t know a single mom who’d compromise her baby’s safety in the name of convenience.
But if you’ve ever hauled your car seat and stroller, along with your luggage and your children, to a plane gate you understand the desire for a simpler alternative.
What if there were an easier way to travel with young children? What if you didn’t have to haul your heavy car seats and boosters along with your children and luggage?
I’m sharing seven options that make travel with kids easier. And they’re ALL legal, safe, and approved by proper U.S. authorities!
But Wait, Can’t I Just Rent Car Seats??
First things first, you absolutely can rent car seats through most rental companies. That doesn’t mean you should.
When renting car seats and boosters, you have absolutely no way of knowing for sure, that the seat was never in an accident.
Did you know that the minute your child’s car seat is in even a minor accident, the safety warranty is null and you need to get a new seat? Can you guarantee the rental company followed protocol?
You also cannot guarantee the seat has a valid expiration, is assembled properly, contains all parts, or is ready for use according to the manual. Last time we rented car seats (which was our first and ONLY time) the manuals weren’t even present.
Furthermore, I wonder if rental car seats are clean. Most companies promise that the seats are cleaned between uses (I doubt it with some), but with what? Harsh chemicals can compromise the ability of the straps to function properly. Alternatively, seats that aren’t clean are disgusting and full of germs/bacteria/allergens.
And even worse, sometimes the rental company doesn’t even have what you requested (and paid for!).
Our Horrifying Experience Renting Car Seats
I never said I wasn’t a tad dramatic…
Renting a seat through a budget rental car company was a nightmare; enough of a horrific experience to make me realize that I’ll never rent again!
Prior to flying to Dallas, I booked and paid for two car seats – one for a toddler and one for an infant. Not only was the reservation void of car seats when we arrived (thank goodness I save receipts) but I’m pretty sure the seats were useless.
The seat for my toddler was dirty, sticky, cracked, and the straps were installed wrong. I wonder how many parents used these seats, trusting in the rental car company to provide something safe and up to standards.
Then, they gave me a forward facing seat for my four month old. This is illegal in Texas. When I brought it to the office’s attention, they suggested I turn the seat around. I know what a convertible seat looks like; this wasn’t one.
When I asked for the latch straps to secure the “rear facing” seat, they had to “look through the pile.” How could I guarantee I had the correct straps?
Afterwards, they handed me a single top tether anchor. Which is useless for a rear facing seat.
The icing on the cake, though, was being told to brace the car seat with the front passenger seat. Yeah, my mom claws came out…along with a few choice words.
Needless to say, we went back to Love Field and started our car rental reservation elsewhere, with a different company.
Renting car seats hardly seems like a safe alternative for your child when you consider my experience and the risks.
So, what can you do? What safe and reliable options exist outside of lugging bulky seats across the world?
7 Safe and Legal Alternatives to Traveling With Your Child’s Clunky Car Seat or Booster
Car Seat Alternatives for Plane Travel
Baby B’Air Flight Safety Vest
The Baby B’Air, designed specifically for lap babies, is the only device that works for lap babies, in conjunction with the airplane seatbelt.
After take off, a parent would simple slide the seat belt through a tether at the back of the Baby B’Air vest, and refasten. Hold, feed, and change your baby while both parties remain safely in the airplane seat.
While the vest is not approved for taxi, take-off, and landing (no device is except approved car seats), it is one of the best choices for in flight safety. Over 90% of injuries occur during turbulence. The Baby B’Air is constructed with impact absorbing foam while the tether will keep baby on your lap.
Shop the Baby B’Air here
The Primo LapBaby keeps your baby snugly secure to you, while you keep your hands free to eat, work, or focus on other children.
If you’re leaning towards booking your baby as a lap infant, rather than getting her a seat with her car seat installed, this provides a little extra safety and comfort.
According to the manufacturer, the device is for children who are at least three months old and have neck control. It comes with an easy-to-clean drop cloth and packs up nice and small.
Though the device is NOT approved for take off and landing, it is approved for in-air time. It’s also beneficial in restaurants/at the dinner table or anywhere your baby might need to be on your lap, making it a great travel product for a small price.
Shop the Primo LapBaby Here
I also love traveling with my favorite inexpensive baby carrier. Don’t forget, baby wearing makes getting through security and the airport a breeze.
CARES Airplane Travel Harness
Created specifically for plane travel, the CARES Harness is the only harness FAA approved for all stages of flight – taxiing, take-off, turbulence, and landing.
It works with the airplane seat belt to provide safety restraint equal to your child’s carseat. The CARES prevents a child from being tossed around during turbulence because the shoulders are secure to the plane seat via the harness.
The harness is approved for children at least one year old and weighing between 22 and 44 pounds.
Since the harness weights about one pound and stores in a small bag, it’s easy to bring on board. Many traveling parents check (or gate check) car seats and carry the lightweight CARES Harness on board.
Additionally, the CARES Harness is one of the best alternatives when traveling anywhere that public transportation can take the place of the car seat. Thanks to the CARES, you can skip the car seat altogether.
Shop the Cares Harness Here
These safety restraint options are ideal for cruising, too! Easily get to your cruise ship, without worrying about storing a bulky seat. Conveniently book driving based excursions, knowing your child will be safe and secure! For more family cruise tips check out our popular post here.
Booster Seat Alternatives for Car Travel
RideSafer Travel Vest
One of the best booster seat and car seat alternatives on the market is the RideSafer Travel Vest.
The RideSafer Travel Vest meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #213, which specifies requirements of child safety restraints. Meeting this standard means the vest is legal in all fifty states, as the vest goes through the same crash tests as other safety restraints.
Currently, the vest is available in three sizes, accommodating children at least three years old and 30 through 100 pounds. Not just for travel, the vest is convenient for seating three across and for special needs children.
We purchased the RideSafer Travel Vest for our three year old to make traveling with two children easier. Since the RideSafer is lightweight and packs up into a small bag, it’s clearly more convenient.
Of all the booster seat alternatives on the market, the RideSafer is the only legal and safe option I can find that also takes the place of a forward facing car seat.
Shop the RideSafer Travel Vest here
The Mifold is the most compact, backless booster on the market; it’s 10 times as small as traditional backless boosters.
Instead of lifting the child, like other booster seats and alternatives on the market, the Mifold lowers the seatbelt to fit a child safely.
It’s adjustable, even for contoured seats, and comes with a shoulder belt slip for proper positioning.
The Mifold is for children at least four years old and weighting between 40 and 100 pounds.
Shop the Mifold here
The BubbleBum inflatable backless booster is a compact way to bring a booster along for your travels.
Like other traditional booster seats, this positions the child so that the seat belt sits at the proper places and prevents slouching.
Meeting FMVSS213 Federal Regulation, the BubbleBum is for children 4 through 11, weighing 40 to 100 pounds. It also meets EU safety standards, making it great for Europe travelers. The booster also comes with a shoulder belt positioning clip to ensure the seatbelt is away from the child’s neck.
The BubbleBum inflates in seconds and packs up small.
Shop the BubbleBum here
There are many travel alternatives on the market that are NOT FAA approved / don’t meed FMV Safety Standards. ALWAYS check safety ratings before purchasing any restraint your child will be in and make sure it’s approved by proper authorities in your country. Please, don’t buy car seats second hand, either!
Are There Any Options for Infants?
When it comes to traveling with infants and babies, there’s not many options in the way of replacing a car seat if you need to travel by car.
All fifty states have laws in place to ensure that infants and young children are in appropriate car seats during travel. Technically, in some states, taxis and Ubers are exempt, but they also have the right to refuse you a ride if you do not have an appropriate seat for your child.
You know I’m obviously not a fan of renting, but I also want to mention that even Uber XL Carseat often only has one, forward facing seat. Renting may not be an option.
If you’re traveling anywhere where by car, there’s nothing that can replace an actual carseat for a baby under one (or two in some states!).
But there is a travel car seat on the market that makes it a lot easier.
Doona Infant Carseat and Stroller
The Doona Infant Car Seat is designed for travel. It goes from car seat to stroller in seconds flat because it’s actually both!
The Doona can easily go from taxi, to airplane, to rental car, to street exactly as it is, with your baby in it. It can easily pass through the aisles of a plane, is FAA approved for flying (without a base), and is legal rear facing car seat.
The Doona is suitable for babies 4 through 35 pounds, with a 32 inch height limit. Conceivably, this seat could last you through your child’s first year, and then some.
The Doona is a great option for moms-to-be looking for a travel compatible car seat, too!
Related: Curating a Minimalist Baby Registry
With a hefty price tag, the Doona is ideal for families traveling frequently or for long periods of time. That said, I personally know moms who use the Doona as their standard infant car seat. Simply leave the base in your car and home and take the car seat stroller on the go.
Shop the Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller Here
These car seat and booster seat alternatives are designed with your child’s safety in mind. They all meet federal regulations but provide the convenience we want as parents.
Have you used any of these products? What are some of your favorite travel products for young kids that make travel easier? Share your favorites in the comments below.
Save to Pinterest: