After 13 years of travel with kids and 10 years of blogging about it, I have tried a lot of kid travel products. A few have been awesome. A few have served a limited purpose well for a limited period of time. A few have been big flops.
A very select few of these products have become must-haves in our family’s travel life. One such product is the subject of today’s review: the BubbleBum Booster Seat. It is a product that is going on a full decade of use in our household at this point (replaced several times in that period of time, for safety of course!).
I have recommended the BubbleBum Booster on this site many, many times. I have loaned our seat out to friends and family in real life, who have become converts and have purchased their own. But it’s really a product that deserves a full feature article to explain the pros and cons and why it works so well for my traveling family.
(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. See our full disclosure policy linked in the menu at the bottom of this site.)
What is a BubbleBum? Specs and Basics
The BubbleBum is just what the name suggests: an inflatable booster for use in the car instead of a regular booster. It is approved for use with kids of booster seat age and size: 4 years and up and at least 40 pounds. It has a valve to blow it up in a matter of seconds to inflate for use. It then smashes fairly flat when not in use for packing or storage. It’s less than a pound, making it super compact and lightweight for travel.
Kids can use a BubbleBum for many years. The recommended practice these days is for a child is to remain in a booster seat until the age of 11 and/or until they reach a height of 4 feet, 9 inches. So that’s potentially 7+ years of use.
The BubbleBum retails for $32.99 and is available at Amazon, BubbleBum’s website, and at several other major kid gear retailers. While it was previously available in just black and purple, BubbleBum released several additional fun color choices and patterns over the years. There are stars and stripes featured on the USA version, Irish shamrocks to represent BubbleBum’s country of founding, and a Union Jack is available for the Anglophilic among us.
We have had several colors over the years with our two kids as they moved through different stages of car seat use. Since I have a redheaded daughter, we had to get at least one of the Irish shamrocks in addition to the classic black.
Why the BubbleBum Works for Traveling Families
It is pretty obvious why the BubbleBum works so well for travelers: space! Like many traveling families, we often fly to a destination where we rent a car. There is nothing I hate more than traveling with a giant car seat. Yes, safety is paramount. But the hassle of carrying a car seat while juggling kids and strollers and suitcases and everything else makes me crazy. Depending on where you are going and with whom you are traveling, sometimes it is nearly impossible to manage as a practical matter.
In addition, it’s not always possible to bring a car seat on board an airplane with you. Checking a car seat can put it at risk for damage. Additionally, I also know a lot of parents are uncomfortable with renting car seats and boosters from rental car companies, not knowing their history.
Related: Guide to air travel and car seats
That’s where the BubbleBum helps. The BubbleBum doesn’t solve those car seat woes for those of you with babies and toddlers (see my recommendations for best car seats for air travel for other product recommendations for other ages), but it’s game-changing with kids big enough for booster seat use.
While we kept both kids in a five point harness at home until they were 5 or 6, we switched to the BubbleBum booster for limited use in some of our travels once our kids were 4. We simply deflated it flat and put it in the front pocket of a rollaboard suitcase for easy access at our destination. It barely took up any extra room or added any weight at all. Plus, because we carried it with us and knew its history, we had peace of mind that we were not using a damaged or defective product.
Don’t forget that the BubbleBum is also excellent for travelers who use ridesharing services like Uber & Lyft regularly like we do (or even those of you who opt for the old fashioned taxi). It’s small enough to deflate and put into a large purse or backpack and take with you on a day exploring a city destination.
How to Install & Use the BubbleBum Properly
Of course, a booster is only as safe as its install, so you need to install it properly. Check out the video below for a demo (and always read the instructions that come with any child safety product).
The bottom line is that install is pretty easy and quick:
- Blow up the BubbleBum and turn the valve to prevent air from escaping.
- Put the BubbleBum in the back seat (in the same spot with the same positioning as you would with any booster) and have your child sit on top.
- Buckle the seat belt. Thread the lap belt portion of the belt through the two red buckles on either side of the BubbleBum.
- Optional: BubbleBum also comes with a shoulder belt positioner that is for comfort but not required for safety. It secures the shoulder belt so it won’t rub smaller kids. My daughter was a tall 8 year old when we took the picture below, so we rarely felt we needed to use at this age.
Is a BubbleBum Worth It? Pros & Cons
Bubble Bum Booster Pros
There are a lot of travel products I try and love. I find I can’t really recommend all of them, however, to casual travelers even if I think the product is a great innovation. Why? Because the price is often too high for a product regular families will likely use only a few times. It’s hard to recoup the investment on pricier specialty gear items unless you are traveling a lot.
The BubbleBum is different. I can honestly recommend it without reservation even to families who travel only occasionally. Why?
- Price: First, it’s cheap. You can’t find boosters for much less than $20, so it’s not much more than a regular product you would have to buy anyway. To pay just about $10 more for a product with much more flexibility and a wider variety of uses is a no-brainer.
- Non-Travel Functionality: Second, it has a ton of non-travel uses. We often have kept a BubbleBum in the trunk of our car to use when we have to carpool one of my kid’s friends unexpectedly. It’s a helpful product to give to grandma or a babysitter who only occasionally needs to transport your child.
- Fits in Tight Back Seats & 3 Across: When my younger child was still in a large convertible car seat, the BubbleBum was the only booster that would fit in our small back seat between that seat and my daughter’s regular booster. For bigger families with smaller cars, this may well be the only product that works.
But it can’t be all good all the time, right? Here are the negatives we’ve experienced with the BubbleBum. None of them are significant enough that I would recommend against purchasing it, but they are vital to be aware of in order to use the product safely and at the right age for your child.
- Many Kids Aren’t Really Ready for it at 4: Car seat experts regularly indicate that even though your child may be old enough for a booster, they may not be ready or mature enough for one. Low-back boosters only work well if your child can sit in them property. A lot of 4 year olds simply can’t be trusted to do that – especially for longer periods of use. While we felt comfortable using it for a quick airport transfer or Uber ride when our kids were 4 and 5, we often brought a regular booster or car seat for trips with longer drive time.
- Can Slip & Slide: The small size and the materials of the BubbleBum can make it a little slick. In certain car types on more slippery seats, the BubbleBum can slide around. Again, some of this can be caused by user error – a child slouching or squirming. So make sure your kiddo is ready to use it.
- Can Develop a Leak: The product is pretty darn sturdy but we did notice that one of the several BubbleBums we had quit staying fully inflated when sat on. It seems to have developed a slow leak over time and after repeated use. Check your booster carefully at home before you head out on a trip only to find it has worn out.
Ready to give BubbleBum a try with your traveling kid? Buy it here!
Frequently Asked Questions about the BubbleBum Booster
Still have more BubbleBum questions? These are the questions I’ve heard most over the years from fellow traveling parents considering a purchase.
Is the BubbleBum Safe?
While there are some child restraints you may find listed on Amazon that are counterfeits and do not keep your child safe, the BubbleBum Booster is absolutely legit. The BubbleBum is a fully legal booster that has passed all the applicable crash tests required by US and EU regulations covering booster seats.
That said, a recent 2022 computer model test found that inflatable boosters may present some extra risk of a child could slide under the lap best compared to a more rigid booster, particularly when not sitting up properly.
BubbleBum vs. miFold: Which one is Better?
A lot of parents looking for a compact travel booster also consider the miFold. Some in the CPST community have criticized miFold for positioning the lap belt on some kids in some cars in an incorrect position. So there are some potential safety questions surrounding it as well.
Personally my kids preferred the BubbleBum as the more comfortable option between the two. The miFold is a pretty hard seat compared to BubbleBums cushy inflatable seat. Additionally, the miFold doesn’t lift kids any higher like a traditional booster does, making it hard for kids to see out of the window of a car.
Disclosure: BubbleBum sponsored this post when it was originally published in 2017 and also provided me with free products for review purposes and to give away. We have purchased several other BubbleBum boosters over the years for our own use and as gifts. This post has been substantially updated since it was originally published. As always, all opinions are my own.
Tuesday 29th of June 2021
My daughter used a bubble bum as her full time carseat when she was 10,11, and 12. She was so small that legally she had to remain in booster seat but she was embarrassed to stay in one as she was the only one of her friends who still had to be in one. The bubble bum was a life saver as it not looking like a booster seat allowed for my daughter to feel comfortable to sit in a booster seat and if her friends ever saw it they wouldn't think much of it. It has other uses even if you don not plan on traveling that much.
Thursday 6th of December 2018
I don't think the shoulder tensioner is just for comfort. It holds the shoulder strap lower, away from the neck/face, making it safer.
Also, I think the shoulder strap is supposed to go through the lower tensioner as well, but am not sure.
Monday 21st of August 2017
We keep ours in the back of the car because you never know when you'll have to give another kiddo a ride somewhere!
Saturday 19th of August 2017
This looks so handy!!
Thursday 10th of August 2017
I like that it's super helpful for those with smaller cars! I think I would keep this for when I travel with my nephew, as it is compact!