Is Driving vs Flying Better When You Are Traveling with Kids?

One of the earliest travel decisions you have to make is how to get to your destination. And that begs the question… what’s the difference between driving vs flying?

Plane? Train? Automobile? An AMAZING comparison of driving vs flying with kids.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.

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.

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.

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.

Today we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of driving vs flying vs train and other methods of transportation.  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?  A few notes on each.

driving vs flying

Let’s Talk About Driving (vs Flying)

Road trips can be really fun and an 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. 

Read  Surviving a Road Trip with Babies and Toddlers

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. 

When considering the cost of driving vs flying, check out BeFrugal.com‘s handy cost to drive calculator. It’s a great resource when you’re budgeting for your trip!

My husband particularly 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

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

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). 

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

Boppy on the airplane

Finally, 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. 

**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.  Some people get so caught up in deciding driving vs flying they neglect to consider other available options!

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.

We hope this answers some of the debate on deciding between driving vs flying.

Give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve made this traveling decision. However, get ready because we’re still got planning to do. It’s time to check out 5 Easy Strategies to Plan the Perfect Trips with Your Kids.

 

 

 

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About Author

Jo

Hi, I’m Jo!

I have two small children, Ry and Lily, only 19 months apart. It’s usually crazy around my house, but thankfully my wonderful husband is around a ton and helps keep the peace.

I also own my own business and work full-time. I’d love to list all these amazing hobbies I have, but honestly I can barely handle keeping the kids entertained, the house clean, and food on the table. Although on days I’m too tired to do housework, I love to pour a glass of wine and watch Supernatural or Murdoch Mysteries on Netflix.

My husband and I like to stay very busy and drag our kids everywhere with us. Weekends often include relaxing at wineries, festivals, exploring Washington D.C. and other short getaway trips.