Transportation - Flights, Trains and Rental Cars

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Choosing a mode of transportation

First, you need to decide how you will get where you are going. In general, we avoid air travel when it’s convenient and the travel time for train or car is similar. For example, we would take the Chunnel from London to Paris rather than a plane. Why? Airports are usually far out of town meaning a long ride to get to them (train stations are more central), the extra security means that you spend a lot of time in the airport, and they are more subject to delays. Similarly, car rides afford kids more opportunities to stretch their legs (though you’ll need to decide how comfortable you are driving a strange car in a strange place)

Best time of day

The best time of day to travel is different with different kids. Our children are good sleepers and used to sleeping on the road, so we generally try to travel around their regular bedtime. They’re already primed for sleep, and we can usually wear them out in the airport or train station. With more active kids who are likely to have a difficult time falling asleep on a plane or train, you might try travelling in the morning when they’re in a good mood and most likely to be cooperative.

Air Travel Booking Tips
  • The fewer connections the better. If you do have to make a connecting flight, allow plenty of time to make that connection. It’s hard to make a mad dash through the airport with kids in tow, and you can use the extra time in the airport to get the kids moving and tired in time for their next flight.
  • Call ahead and find out what special meals the airline offers for children. If you do book a special meal, call the day before to reconfirm.
  • When choosing between two airports, consider how you will get to and from the airport and how long it will take
  • Avoid flights that connect through airports likely to have weather delays (e.g. Chicago & San Francisco). If you are concerned about weather delays, consider a morning flight. Morning flights are less likely to be delayed by weather.

Selecting an Airline

For some routes, you will have the choice of many different airlines at comparable prices.

  • Look at what accommodations the airlines offer for children. Some airlines offer bassinets for lap infants, children’s meals, headsets, and activity sets.
  • Look at the airline’s on time records
  • Look at seating plans on and determine which airline will allow you the most space.

Booking your seat
  • International flights may require you to pay a small fee (e.g. 10% of the adult fare) for a lap infant. Check your airline’s policy. You don’t want to find out about this at the gate when fares will be at their highest
  • International flights may provide a baby cot for lap infants. You’ll need to call the airline to reserve this
  • Choose a bulkhead to give yourself a little more room & avoid the whole “don’t kick the back of someone’s seat” issue.
  • Two adults travelling with a lap infant should book the window and aisle with the middle seat empty between them. Book towards the back of the plane (planes fill from front to back). If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with an empty seat in between you and your partner & use that space for the baby. If someone does end up seated there, it will be easy to convince them to take the aisle or window so that you can all sit together.
  • Two adults travelling with two children should book the window and aisle seats in two rows, one behind the other. You’ll be able to keep the kids separated on the flight (and therefore keep them from riling each other up) and it’s easy to pass things back and forth as needed, even during takeoff. If you’re lucky, that middle seat won’t fill up and you’ll end up with a little extra space. If someone does end up seated there, it will be easy to convince them to take the aisle or window so that you can all sit together.
  • If you are travelling alone, try to get an aisle seat so that you won’t have to climb over other passengers to use the restroom or walk in the aisle.

Air tickets for Children Under Two

If you’re travelling with a child under two, you’ll need to decide whether to have them ticketed as a lap infant or purchase a seat for them. The government and airlines agree that the safest place for a child is buckled in to their own seat, but it can be hard to justify spending that money when it is not required.

We try to fly on dates and at flight times when the flight is not likely to be fully booked and do our upmost to arrange an empty seat for our infant. When she was in the infant carrier seat, we kept the seat with us until we had determined that there would not be a seat for her (sometimes gate checking it well after we had boarded our flight). Now that our kids are older, we travel with a CARES seatbelt system for each. CARES is lightweight, and if we do get a seat for the youngest, we are able to strap her in. That said, both of our kids are happy to sleep in our arms, and sleep well on flights in general. A more active child might do best in his or her own seat, and many airlines offer a discount for children under two traveling in their own seat.

On international trips, the airline can often provide a bassinet (follow link for picture) for the baby to sleep in after takeoff, but you will have to remove the baby if there is turbulence. We’ve used these several times, and our kids slept great… and without the head slump that car seats are notorious for.

Train Travel Booking Tips
  • It’s usually possible to book in advance online. Search for name of country and “train tickets”
  • For very short trips with frequent train service, (e.g. a 2 hour train ride with trains departing every hour) it might be better to wait and buy tickets at the train station. This enables you to accommodate your child’s schedule on the day of travel. Caveat: don’t do this if it will be a holiday at your destination or on summer weekends.
  • Look on the train booking website for discounts and make sure you have the necessary documentation (e.g. age, club membership)
  • If you will be doing a lot of travel by train, passes may be cheaper. Passes often must be purchased before leaving home

Renting a Car

We’ve had great experiences with renting a car at our destination and using it for day trips or to travel between cities. Before you do, though, make sure you’ll be comfortable driving at your destination. It can be difficult to navigate a new city (we prefer to use rental cars only when we’re out of the city center) and to learn different driving rules as you travel.

You can bring along your own car seat (recommended by safety experts) or rent one at your destination (either from the rental car company or a baby gear rental agency). If you do rent the car seat, expect that you will be responsible for inspecting the car seat for damage or wear and installing it yourself. Be sure to double check any car seat that has been installed by someone else.

You'll also want to look carefully at pictures or descriptions of the cars available and confirm that there will be enough luggage space for you

In Europe, if you will need a car for 17 days or more, it can be substantially better to lease a car to rent. To learn more, read European Car Lease

Related Links in Our Traveling With Kids Blog
Safety Tips for Renting a Car Seat


  1. Aunt on February 24, 2008 at 9:08 a.m.

    Which airline(s) offers a seat discount for children 2 and older?

  2. Debbie on February 26, 2008 at 12:17 p.m.

    I am not aware of any airlines that offer a discount for children over the age of two. (Readers, if you know of any, please add your comment!) Some airlines do offer discounted seats for children under age 2, but many have been phasing out those discounts as well.

  3. alicia togno on May 27, 2008 at 8:51 a.m.

    we are debating whether to get a car, or to travel by train in italy with our daughter, who will be 6 months old when we go. at 11 weeks, she is already a veteran to the sling, and i am thinking as long as we have the sling (or other carrier) and a light stroller, the train might be great.

    cost is one factor (train will be cheaper), and if convenience is not much more, we might as well go with the cheaper option. safety is another. we will use florence as our home base, can stay close to the station, and there are plenty of towns to reach by train (or bus/pullman).

    any thoughts would be appreciated! alicia

  4. Debbie on May 27, 2008 at 3:18 p.m.

    We've rented a car in Italy, and we've also taken the train. Unless you want to go to off-the-beaten-path destinations (like a particular farm or winery) I think it is much easier to take the train than to drive. You won't have to worry about lugging along or renting a car seat, and if your daughter is asleep when it is time to go, you won't be worried about waking her in a transition from the stroller to the car. Add to that the fact that you won't have to worry about directions, maps, street signs, parking and other drivers and I think you'll find the train much easier!

    Have a wonderful time in Florence.

  5. HC on June 5, 2008 at 9:04 p.m.

    *NO* airline offers a discout for kids over 2. As far as the airlines are concerned, a butt in the seat is a but in the seat regarless of age! *SOME* airlines (Delta, Southwest....Frontier is no longer one of them) will offer a 50% discount for kids under 2. Note that most times you have to call the ressie line to book the discounted ticket (Expedia and Orbitz will process the discount on some arilines). The airlines that do not offer the discount do so from a purely business standpoint: why discount the seat just because it's a baby when they can just as easily sell the same seat for full price to an adult?

    BTW we also use the CARES straps but you have to be prepared to stand your ground as some air crew have not seen or been trained about the straps. The straps ARE FAA approved for use on DOMESTIC flight. Don't expect a non-US airline to allow its use on international flights.

  6. Debbie on June 7, 2008 at 10:24 a.m.

    I have researched the issue about discounts further, and some airlines do offer discounts for children over the age of two. Sometimes you need to contact the airline to arrange the discounted fare. For example, here is a link to information about discounts on British Airways:


  7. acer004ever on November 19, 2010 at 2:23 a.m.

    Nice Tips, I agree that you should look carefully at the descriptions of the cars before booking to make sure that it has enough space for you.

  8. vic on November 6, 2011 at 7:05 a.m. & my husband are planning to take a trip to Dallas from India with my 3yr old son and a 5month old infant.Its a pretty long flight and so was wondering how to let my baby cope with that.....kindly suggest some tips...especially since she will be lap held.

  9. Debbie on November 7, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.


    Here are some tips for flying with babies:

  10. SaraB on April 19, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.

    Debbie, We are traveling twice this year once domestic (8month old) and once internationally (14 month old). We aren't planning on renting a car in our destinations since everything is within walking distance but I need to get us and baby from the airport to the hotel and then possible to the zoo/aquarium. I feels crazy to bring her car seat for 3-4 car rides but I don't think I have another option. Any suggestions?

  11. Maija on May 12, 2012 at 6:53 a.m.

    Hi Debbie,

    Do you ever use a travel agent for booking flights? I'm considering flying to several different cities in a 3 week period with my 3 kids and am trying to find the best price. Suggestions?


  12. Debbie on May 12, 2012 at 1:27 p.m.

    @SaraB The SitnStroll might be a good choice for you -

    It's a car seat that converts into a stroller and works well for hopping into and out of taxis.

    @Maija I don't generally use an agent - though a good one can help with tricky itineraries. Usually, to find good prices on airfares, I search on Kayak and use Bing's Farecast to decide whether to buy now or wait. Good luck!

  13. Wedding car packages on September 2, 2014 at 11:56 p.m.

    Great blog. Choose your mode of transportation for your trip based on your destinations.