The Brave New World of Family Travel

Planes, Trains, or Automobiles?
By Nancy L. Prichard
Family Road Trip
Make Getting There Part of the Adventure (PhotoDisc)
Road Trips
Take a peak at the best road trips throughout the U.S. , each tailor-made for you and your brood.

These days, transportation options are overwhelming, limited only by imagination. Of the bunch, car travel is the most traditional—and the most convenient. The contemporary guise of 1950s-era "road trip" introduces you to more country and culture than any other mode of travel. Packing is easy. You can load up on food, clothes, sports equipment, DVDs, even the Harvard Classics. You can stop at funky road-side diners in the Appalachians or remote, rocky coves south of Gloucester. While you may have a target= destination, like Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, or Mount Rushmore, side trips are entertaining and educational—and possibly more memorable than the planned finale.

Rather than taking your own vehicle, consider renting a car for the duration (multi-day deals are always available, and most don't charge extra for mileage) or an RV. This approach will help save wear and tear on your own vehicle, and, for a few dollars more, come equipped with stress-reducing options like on-board GPS, informational computer systems, and DVD players for games and movies.

If camping sounds attractive, but pitching a tent doesn't, an RV is a good way to go. There are over 400 national chain outlets that rent RV's by the weekend, week, month, and year. Depending on the season, you can rent a motorhome for an average of $75 to $200 a day. To avoid hefty per-mile surcharges that sometimes apply, consider a close-to-home destination for hiking, canoeing, or fishing (

Even cheaper are tent trailers and truck campers. You don't need a special license (newer ones are amazingly easy to drive and maneuver) and your parking options range from near-primitive campsites by pristine lakes and endless hiking trails to luxury parks with tennis, golf, and activity programs designed just for kids. In a pinch, Wal-Marts allow for free, overnight RV parking.

If your ambitions have you taking to the air, remember that summer—the prime travel time for families across the States—is a busy time for air travel, especially for popular destinations. Book flights early to reserve seats close together, or consider off-peak destination discounts to traditional "winter" spots like Hawaii, Bermuda and Mexico. Pay attention to connection times, especially if you are flying late in the day. Missing a connection and spending the night on the airport floor counts as an "epic" in most vacation journals—but for all the wrong reasons. Bring along a portable DVD player and headphones for kids, or try to book your flight on an airline that has a "Personal Entertainment Systems." Jet Blue, some of Delta's airplanes, and new Air Canada planes are equipped with nifty seat-back screens that provide numerous TV stations, games, and movie options that can keep kids (and parents) entranced for hours. Remember to bring your own headphones.

To save money on flights, do some homework. Online ticket services can produce cheap seats, but if you're traveling with several people and have a complicated itinerary, a travel agent can coordinate connections and seats, and find promotions and discounts you might otherwise miss. Best bets are agencies with 24-hour emergency service.

Keep in mind that changing planes might be an opportunity for more adventure. Jeff Brown, executive VP of Colpitts Worldwide Travel (, notes, "If you're flying from the East Coast to Hawaii, or from the West Coast to Europe, a great option is to book a flight with a stop-over en route. For a minimal price, you can spend a night in Las Vegas, Denver, New York, or L.A. Breaking up a long flight is easier on kids and an opportunity to add a city to your sightseeing itinerary."

When it comes to family travel trains are often overlooked—which is all the more reason to consider it. On Amtrak, kids ages 15 and under ride for half the adult fare (children under age two are free). This summer, Via Rail Canada ( allows children age 11 or under to ride free (one per paying adult). You can disembark for sight-seeing trips, and spend a few hours or a couple of days in a single location, then get back on board. Explains Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman, "Instead of having to worry about taking care of kids and driving, we have a team of professionals in charge of getting you there safely. Rather than being strapped into tiny seats in a car or plane, kids can walk around—and have plenty of room to spread out in the dining car, lounge car, or private living compartment."

Though summer months generally see fewer promotions, regional deals are featured on the website year-round. While the seats on overnight trains recline and have pop-out foot rests, sleeper and family cars are fun. Bedroom suites are designed for four passengers, but can accommodate six in a pinch. They have a private shower and toilet, and all the amenities of a hotel room (with the bonus of an ever-changing view). Rail travel is popular in the summer, so it's a good idea to make reservations early.

Other family-friendly options to consider are all-inclusive resort or cruise—you can find some great bargains for both, especially if summer is the off-season for your destination. While some cruises are adults-only, many are designed for multi-generational fun, with organized events for kids, so parents get some play time of their own. Climbing walls, surf ponds, and swimming pools all keep kids busy, offering the exercise that kids (and parents) need. All-inclusive resorts are also a good option for parents who prefer a pre-determined budget, along with plenty of planned activities for kids.

Published: 22 May 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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