Train, Planes, and Automobiles – How Do you Travel with Kids?

Our family loooooves to travel!  (I mean… who doesn’t??)

My husband and I have been traveling since we first began dating at the beginning of time over 10 years ago.  I even flew across the country when I was 9 months pregnant! 

Having kids didn’t slow us down one bit…

  • We took our first baby on an international trip at 4 months old.
  • Our second was on a plane across the world at 6 months old.

I travel so much that MightyGoods asked me to participate in a travel post featuring “23 Traveling Families with Kids Share Their Best Packing List Tips“. 

Don’t let your kids be an excuse not to travel.

Let me reiterate that….

Kids can adapt better much better than we give them credit for.  Don’t project your own fears onto your children.  Kids should not be your excuse why you are not traveling.

Having extra money for vacations is one of the reasons why I work (and why I love being a working mom so much).

Traveling is wonderful for children for so many reasons!  Family bonding, learning about different cultures, exposing them to unique cuisines… I could go on and on… but I know you don’t want to listen to me ramble, so I won’t.

I’m here to help you achieve traveling success with your children.

This article is Part 1 (of 5!) of my “Step by Step: Traveling with Kids” series. 

Part 2 |  5 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids
Part 3 |  Essential Packing Tips for Family Vacations
Part 4 |  Surviving a Road Trip with Toddlers
Part 5 |  How to Make Your Vacation with Kids FUN and EASY

And no matter what stage of planning you’re in, be sure to check out my travel checklist.  This freebie gives you a great checklist for planning, preparation, and packing.

In Part 1 we’re going to be discussing the different methods of travel and weighing the pros/cons.  How are you actually going to GET to your desired destination?

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links.  See our disclosure policy for more details.

Car?  Plane?  Train?  Wildebeest?  A few notes on each.

 

Let’s talk about CARS

Road trips can be a really inexpensive way to travel, but I definitely have my limitations with how much time I can be in a car with a child.

We took a 16-hour road trip to Chicago when our kids were 8 months and 2 years old. 

And let me tell you how it went….

It went GREAT!

I’m not even kidding.  We drove overnight with my husband and I switching off driving every few hours.  Since that story is more about the actual “travel”, I’ll tell you more about it the upcoming weeks. 

Personally, I have some time rules for road trips with kids (at least with toddlers): 

  • For day driving, it’s got to be 6(ish) hours or less. For overnights, 16 hours max. 
  • If you’re dividing it up into two days… know that you probably won’t cover as much ground the second day. Also, be sure to plan multiple possible stopping destinations and be flexible.

Road trips are especially great ideas if…

  • You have to travel with a lot of luggage (like tons of Christmas gifts if you’re traveling for the holidays) or baby equipment like we discuss in Baby Sleeping Essentials
  • The location you are heading to isn’t convenient to an airport
  • You are on a tight budget and flying isn’t in your price range

A note on costs though…. Remember that there are a lot of “little” costs that add up with road trips (gas, awesome busy toys, lodging, food, etc).  Be sure to count all these in if you’re doing a price analysis. 

My husband LOVES road trips (and even took a 3-day road trip from Washington D.C. to New Orleans with my 3 year-old son).

Part of his road trip success is due to the fact that his own road trip excitement gets projected onto my son. 

For weeks leading up to the trip, he would talk about it at dinner telling him about all the places they’d stop along the way.  They listened to songs from The Princess and the Frog about New Orleans and read books about road trips.    

Breaking a road trip down into 2-3 hour “chunks” is a great balance between keeping your kids entertained and making good drive time. 

Generally if we don’t drive, we FLY!

Fly

 

Planning your flight with kids 

Flying is generally my preferred method of travel with kids.  Let’s first go over some of the reasons why. 

There are some major “pros” to flying with your kids:

  • Kids love airplanes! My son has often said the airport is his favorite part of the entire trip.
  • It’s a super-fast way to travel (and sometimes if you’re traveling internationally, it’s the ONLY way to get to your destination)
  • Due to the fact that you can check your luggage (and most airlines even let you check your stroller for free!), you don’t have to worry about carrying around a lot of items after the check-in desk

However, there are some “cons” to air travel as well:

  • $$$… The ticket prices for an entire family add up (not to mention the airport food, the checked bags, etc). I do always travel with some snack packs to keep the costs down some. 
  • You are limited both in how much you can “carry on” and how much luggage you can check (for example, flying with a pack n’ play isn’t really an option)
  • The “thrill” of flying on an airplane usually lasts no more than 30 minutes. It isn’t long before they realize they’re trapped in a tiny seat for hours. 

To keep things (relatively) simple, I have 2 rules for booking flights with kids:

Rule #1:  Book the cheapest flight that works for your trip, regardless your child’s schedule

Don’t even bother trying to find a flight at the “perfect time” to fit in with your kid’s routine, because that only exists in perfect Pinterest blog-worlds.

In the real world, if you book a flight during nap time… you will have an overtired who refuses to sleep.

If you book the flight during lunch time… they’ll refuse to eat.

If you book the flight during alert/play time… they’ll instantly conk out and ignore all of the busy activities you brought for them. 

So just book the cheapest flight, be flexible, and expect the unexpected. 

They might fall asleep in the stroller in the airport, your flight may be delayed 2 hours, or everything might line up perfectly and you’ll have an angelic sleeping child from take-off to landing. 

Rule #2:  Book a seat for your child (even if they are under 2)

There are MANY safety reasons to book a separate seat for your child (we discuss this in much more detail in our post Answering the Tough Questions About Car Seats on Airplanes).

But even putting safety aside, booking a seat for your child makes your life a whole lot easier.

First off, it gives them some space and allows for self-entertainment. 

So often, parents try to plan every single aspect of our kid’s lives. This is particularly true when they are in new circumstances. 

If you plan a new activity for every 15 minutes and keep shoving it in their face, you are doing a huge disservice to your children by not allowing them to be bored and entertain themselves.

My kids like to smile at strangers across the aisle, look out the window, or even play with their toe lint (a fact which makes me cringe, oh well). 

Occupying themselves is a win-win, you get a break and they’re learning how to control their own behavior.

Secondly, allowing children to have their own seat has a HUGE benefit on your comfort. 

I once flew with my 6 month-old baby as an infant on a 5 hour non-stop flight to Vegas.  He fell asleep on the boob and slept for the entire flight. 

I think three whole days passed before I regained full feeling in my butt.  My arms still twitch just thinking about how uncomfortable I was holding him for 5 hours straight.  I can’t even imagine trying to hold an older (and heavier) child for that amount of time.

The only exception I personally make to the buying-their-own-seat-rule is babies who are still primarily breastfed (like 8 months or less).  And that’s because nursing on take-off and landing is so essential to keeping them happy during the flight. 

In these situations, I carry on my Boppy to help hold and support them.  The Boppy is great for travel, but has so many other benefits as we discuss in our post on Breastfeeding Essentials

On the occasion where I did book a seat for a young infant, I mostly use it as a safe place for car seat storage. 

My babies preferred to be held for the duration of the flight at very young ages.  They expressed this very clearly by screaming their heads off if I tried to put them in their car seats. 

Boppy on the airplane

Finally, as I just alluded to, purchasing a child’s seat allows you to secure the car seat safely in their assigned space.

This is essential for the safety of the car seat as baggage handlers are notoriously careless with all luggage, and car seats are no exception.  Just because a seat “looks” fine after being checked doesn’t tell you if the inside is undamaged and working properly. 

If you want to read more about that, I recommend this article by the wonderful group Car Seats for the Littles. 

Bonus, having their car seat on board comforts that child and provides familiarity and comfort in a new space. 

Before bringing our car seat on an airplane, make sure it has the FAA sticker that says it’s approved for flight (you can look for it on the back of car seat). 

If you have a child who is in a booster seat (which are not allowed to be installed on airplane seats) and is less than 55 lbs, I highly recommend the CARES straps – the only FAA approved child flying safety device. 

Train travel

 

Choo Chooooooos

I also wanted to briefly mention trains because sometimes that can be the most convenient and cost-effective way to travel, depending on your chosen route. 

Sometimes you can even drive your CAR on the train (like this train from Virginia to Florida).  I’ve done this once and it was AWESOME. 

You load up your car with luggage, drive it up the train, and take an overnight bag with you on board (since you don’t have access to your car during the train ride).  When you get to your destination you have all your stuff and your car ready for you.

Europe, in particular, is often a good time to consider trains since they have routes in between most major (and even minor) cities. 

A few notes on train travel:

  • While the amount of luggage you bring on isn’t usually limited, you do have to carry it all on and store it by yourself 
  • Trains are nice because there is often a cafeteria car on board so you can grab a snack
  • The aisles are wider than airplanes so you can easily walk up and down with the kids to give them a bit of exercise
  • Trains aren’t something kids get to ride on that often so many times the novelty of  the “train ride” buys you at least an hour of excitement
  • Overnight trains can be fun and a great way to not waste “vacation” time traveling. However, if you’re traveling with kids you definitely want to spring the extra cash for the sleeping car with beds. 

Alternative Methods of Transportation

Finally, I do not recommend traveling via Wildebeest.  Just my personal preference. 

Now get ready for Part 25 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids

 

 

Travel part 1, method of travel Pin B

Plane? Train? Automobile? An AMAZING comparison of travel methods with kids.

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