Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Our family lived in France for just under two years and tried to take advantage of the location by traveling as much as we could. We visited several countries in Europe and multiple regions in France and traveled in a variety of ways. Below are some of my thoughts on the different modes of transportation.
Planes are definitely the fastest way to travel long distances and can be surprisingly affordable in Europe if you book early enough. Even on budget carriers, we usually had no problems bringing our stroller and travel crib free of charge. One problem though is how far away most airports are from the city centers (especially if you book with RyanAir- Google map the airport before buying tickets!) and you’ll need to think about transportation to and from the airport. You’ll also need to arrive early to check in and go through security. What you originally thought was only a 2 hour flight can quickly become a day of 5+ hours of travel. Also, children ages 2 and up must have their own seat and (at least in Europe) cost as much as an adult and while lap infants are discounted, they are by no means free. In my opinion, the plane is best for traveling large distances where there is no reasonable alternative. Otherwise, I would consider other travel options.
Europe is known for its train travel and high speed trains are definitely a fast and convenient way to travel from city center to city center. We loved being dropped off in the middle of London when we took the train from Paris last spring! We were able to get right onto the underground (After a stop at Platform 9 ¾ of course!) which then took us right to our hotel. Security at train stations are also a lot less stressful and you keep your luggage with you the entire trip. Toddlers (3 and younger) travel free as lap children or at a significant discount if you would like to book a seat for them. Seating on a train can also be much more comfortable than a plane, especially if you book seats facing each other across a table. Our girls loved looking out the windows whenever we rode the train as well (no pesky clouds to block their view). Of course, even high speed trains aren’t as fast as planes, so it can take longer to travel (although I’ve heard great things about sleeper trains, but have never personally tried them). It can also, unfortunately, be a bit more expensive as well. For our family though, over short to medium distances, the train beat flying in almost every way.
Our family is a big fan of driving on vacations when possible. It’s the best option for day trips outside of big cities (like visiting Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, about an hour’s drive from Paris) and you can have a flexible schedule (which is especially nice when driving with young children!). There’s also plenty of room for all of your luggage (or at least room for more than what’s allowed on public transit). Purchase or rent a navigation system and you really can’t get too lost. With the Schengen area in Europe there are usually no border controls making traveling from one country to the next very easy. And, at least in France, the rest stops are clean with excellent baby care centers (including toddler potties) and sell fantastic tasting food. However, be aware that it may take a moment to get accustomed to the local roads and signs. Toll roads are also very common and can add up depending on where you’re going and parking in a city center can be challenging. Obviously driving can also take a long time, but finding fun stops along the way can add to your trip. For safety reasons, I would advise that you avoid driving in big cities unless you’re already very comfortable with the area. If, however, you want to head off the beaten path, see beautiful countryside, and travel to lesser known sights, then driving can be an enjoyable and economical way to get around.
So there you have it. Transportation is a huge part of travel and can get a bit complicated when adding kids to the mix. Hopefully this can help you decide which mode of transportation is best for your next adventure!