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)
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.
For some routes, you will have the choice of many different airlines at comparable prices.
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.
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 LeaseRelated Links in Our Traveling With Kids Blog