Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
As challenging as traveling with babies and toddlers can be, the benefits and rewards of bringing our mini voyagers along with us on the road are undeniable. The tantrums, while brutal, are short lived, and the memories last forever. Like so many families, we have missed our flight-fueled adventures, and the people and places they brought us to, enormously throughout the pandemic.
But there is one thing we didn’t miss—the car seat dilemma. Ugh.
For families just starting to get back into the skies or who are planning future travels, two AFAR staffers who moonlight as moms reveal there’s a better way to go than strapping a behemoth car seat to your back. Meet the WAYB Pico travel car seat.
WAYB Pico Portable Car Seat Review
Michelle Baran, AFAR’s senior travel news editor: Earlier this summer, we were overjoyed to finally get back into the air, flying from California to visit much-missed family in North Carolina. But with two kids under the age of six in tow, we had to find a better way to keep them safe than bringing their enormous day-to-day car seats with us. We have been down that road—with a 25-pound Chicco NextFit Zip Convertible Car Seat strapped to our backs and a 9.6-pound Chicco Bravo Travel System car seat (plus a 7-pound base) clicked into a stroller. Never again. Carrying those monsters (the car seats, not the kids) in addition to everything else we’re schlepping while traveling with small kids (who are no help with said schlepping) is the straw that breaks the parents’ backs.
The good news is that our tall-for-his-age son Niko (age five) was in the clear with only a booster seat—we just detached the backless booster from his Graco TurboBooster Highback booster car seat. (Even these can be kind of a pain to bring along, but when compared to an entire car seat it is hard to complain.) But for our two-year-old daughter, Catalina, we needed to find a solution. First, we looked into the option of renting one through the Enterprise car rental agency in Raleigh, North Carolina, or from an independent baby and toddler gear rental outfit such as Baby’s Away. Both were a bust. There just weren’t any available for our dates (we traveled over Fourth of July week). It’s hard enough to nab a rental car at all this summer, let alone find a rental car company with decent available car seats.
After a few late nights spent researching travel car seats until I was bleary eyed, I zeroed in on—and admittedly became obsessed with—the 8-pound WAYB Pico Portable Car Seat. Many car seats weigh double or triple that. It folds into a compact 11.6 x 14.5 x 18.9-inch unit, basically the size of a medium camping backpack, that’s easy enough to lift on its own, and better still when stowed in a backpack carrier you can buy for an additional $50. As someone who has traveled alone with the kids and had to mount a full-sized car seat on my back, this is life altering.
Laura Dannen Redman, AFAR’s digital content director: Michelle and I practically had to arm wrestle to decide who would write this WAYB Pico review. Ever since I interviewed the founders back in 2018 when their patent was pending, I’ve been marveling at how handy my WAYB—which stands for “Way Better”—has been. Living up to the hype, indeed. This front-facing car seat was created by Michael Crooke, Patagonia’s former CEO from 1999 to 2005; I.S. Jung, a South Korean manufacturer who helped Crooke revolutionize Patagonia’s backpacks; and CEO Tio Jung. They used aluminum and mesh fabric instead of the more common filler, polyurethane foam, so it’s somewhat more sustainable. It all feels a little space-agey, in a good way. It’s an actual U.S.-safety and FAA-approved innovation in car seats. And as Michelle says, it changes the way parents can travel with their kids.
MB: Here’s the thing, though: The WAYB is not cheap—it’s more than six times the cost of a more affordable simple car seat such as the Cosco Scenera Next Convertible Car Seat and more than three times the price of the slightly more sophisticated Evenflo Sonus 65 Convertible Car Seat, both popular options for traveling fams. I hate spending a lot on gear like this because these life phases are so fleeting, but after comparing and mulling (and comparing and mulling), I decided to conquer my analysis paralysis with a purchase.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Obviously, a car seat is about much more than your ability to carry it. So, how did the WAYB Pico fare on a trip?
Ease of installation
MB: Car seat installation is among the biggest headaches for overtired traveling parents. After arriving at a destination totally burnt out from the flight (with the kids either fully melting down or bouncing off the walls after being cooped up on the aircraft), then struggling for 20 minutes to install the dang car seats . . . well, there is no drink too strong. Full disclosure: When I travel with my husband, I hand this part entirely and shamelessly over to him—this is where he shines. Based on his observations, there were some pros and cons to installing the WAYB.
- It’s lightweight, so less cumbersome than its Graco/Chicco/insert your favorite car seat brand here counterpart.
- It folds and unfolds easily.
- It has click-in/click-out anchors on each side, as well as a hook that you attach to the anchor on the back of the seat (so you’ll need to do some seat climbing/body contorting).
- While tightening the straps is pretty easy, loosening them isn’t as seamless as with larger car seats that have convenient release buttons. There are release buttons but they’re a bit tougher to engage. All told, the WAYB is relatively simple to install once you get the hang of it (there are easy-to-follow pictographs on the actual car seat itself).
Comfort and fit
MB: What the WAYB gains in compact size and ease of transportation, it loses a bit in comfort. The seat base (where kids put their rump) is minimal and almost flat—a unique combination of a mesh fabric and aluminum frame makes it soft and springy without the bulk—so that means your kids will be very low. Our daughter was totally cool with her new low-riding position and actually thought it was kind of funny, but I could see how some kids might get frustrated when they lose their vantage point out the window. There are also no cup holders if that’s of importance to you.
Our daughter was able to nap in the WAYB just fine, though it was clearly not as cozy as her usual ride (a Chicco NextFit Zip Convertible Car Seat, which we highly recommend for around town and longer road trips), where she is in more of a cradle position. In the WAYB she did the neck-slumped-forward thing (versus fully leaning back or to the side) and could sleep that way rather well for up to an hour or two, but it wasn’t the fully knocked-out sleep she gets in the Chicco.
The bottom line
LDR: We went from using the WAYB Pico when we take big trips to now throwing it in the back of Ubers to get around New York City regularly. We now have two Picos, for our two-year-old and four-year-old.
MB: The WAYB changed how we pack and fly with the kids, especially when we’re going to a destination where we’ll need to drive once we land. (Honestly, when we’re with the kids, that’s basically everywhere.) For an extra $50, we bought the lightweight backpack carrier for the WAYB. While it’s still one more thing to carry, it’s at least a much lighter option than the vast majority of car seats. We will happily take the WAYB with us on all flights going forward for as long as our daughter needs to be in a car seat. The one caveat is that if you’re flying somewhere where you will then be road tripping—so driving for hours on end—the WAYB may not be the most comfortable option. For us, we’re usually either road tripping from home (and can head out with our comfy bulky car seats) or we’re flying somewhere where we’ll drive a bit but not for countless hours—for that kind of travel, the WAYB is ideal.