Which Form of Transportation Works Best on your Family Trip?

Genie Davis September 18, 2011 No Comments


On our recent multi-generational family trip to the East Coast – combined with my daughters first East Coast Music tour – we took planes, trains, automobiles, cabs, subways, and our own feet all around the eastern seaboard. Which form of transportation will work best for you?

Train Travel

We loved train travel - kids and parents alike enjoyed views and room to roam the aisles.

Traveling with kids is often easiest by car – room for everyone’s toys and luggage, snacks and beverages; plus the ability to stop for bathroom and food breaks. However, cars are tough to park in the city, difficult on the wallet and trying on the patience; and of course you wouldn’t want to run out of patience struggling with a vehicle when you have tots in tow. Planes are expensive, airports often expensive to access as well, and of course, TSA regulations makes it hard on the diaper bag set, and annoying to older travelers, whether you’re seven or seventy. We found trains to be our favorite form of transport on this particular trip, but the lack of reserved seating on a busy weekend can still be problematic for the smallest travelers. Older kids will not mind, and will probably even relish, splitting up from their parental units and watching the scenery go by.

Here in short is a summary of our transportation hits and misses, and our do and don’t list for traveling parents.


Well, this trip marked the first time I’ve ever missed a plane, and that was due to airline snafus, not ours (you can read about our experience is Flying Lessons). Always arrive early to fly. Excrutiatingly early. Be prepared when bumped from a flight to be offered standby – and standby does not usually accommodate a large family group. Be equally prepared to argue that no, mom does not want to fly separately from the kids. If she did, she would’ve bought tickets like that in the first place. Naturally, with today’s limited meal selection on airplanes, bring plenty of snacks and actual meals on long flights. But remember, something like say a jar of jelly if you’re running late and considering making pb and j’s on board, won’t fly with TSA. Pay attention to in-flight entertainment options too. While some carriers have plenty of choices on a screen at the back of your seat, others have none, or a film that’s playing on a monitor far beyond visual ability of a child.


We loved them, plain and simple. We loved boarding without a hassle. We loved being able to walk the kids – holding their hands carefully of course – between cars, to reach the cafe car for bottled water and juice we didn’t have to carry on ourselves. Food items are available but are fairly limited, we saw no vegan or vegetarian choices or anything resembling organic on our short haul trips. Ham and cheese? Chips? There you go. The views from the train windows can be enjoyed by the entire family of course, because you’re leaving the driving to the engineer. And there’s something just friendly about train travel – I had not been on a train in many years and was thrilled to see that people still stop and pat small kids on the head, and conductors pause to point out sights along the way if they’re passing through your car at an appropriate moment. How great is it to see the New York skyline without navigating New York traffic? Pretty great.

That said, different train stations means different experiences. Boston was busy and efficient, but we had to ask where our train left from, markings were not clear. New York was chaotic, and Penn Station grubby, unlike the lovely Grand Central, this is all utiliarian. Philadelphia was calm, clean, and had decent food items available in the station – salads, fruit smoothies, and pizza from moderately upscale fast food vendors and local stands. Washington, DC was elegant, with sit down cafes and baroque architecture. All of them were picture worthy, and at none of them did we experience delays. Again, a caveat: weekend travel is busy. Be prepared for full cars and some family separation if you’re not starting from an originating station.


We were taking on a one way rental. This means a lot of creative thinking to find one that doesn’t cost as much as buying a used car. We found one not exactly close to our downtown hotel, and found public transportation to reach it quite onerous. A great middle ground: we saved hundreds of dollars renting from this remote car dealership, and gladly paid for a limo service to take us to it. We found one that was under a hundred dollars, carried our family and gear, and allowed the younger kids to experience “bottle service” – water bottles and gummy bears.


In Boston it was crowded and hot, but tourist friendly, once you figure out how to use the “Charley Card” system of buying fares in advance rather than as individual trips. Boston’s service does stop running at midnight for any of you night owls. In New York, it was fast and efficient but I’m not going to call anything about the system friendly. Washington’s ultra modern stations look a bit like Darth Vader designed them, and trains can run slow on the weekends, but its comfortable, comparitively uncrowded, and staff is very helpful across the board with ticket selection information.


Walking Beacon Hill in Boston

Our feet were made for walking - this Beacon Hill, Boston street and many others all up and down the eastern seaboard.

Each city has its own style of driver. New York’s involved a fender bender and a lot of cursing; Boston a lot of getting lost – um, I’m the tourist, do I really have to explain which street is one way? Washington and Philadelphia were competent, but all over the place in terms of what fares they charged, particularly in DC. When traveling with your small children, negotiate the fare and figure out where you’re going if the driver doesn’t know the way cold – before your kids start pointing out the city’s landmarks or looking through your bag for the animal crackers.


We love to walk and have the worn out sneakers to prove it.  Walking was not only good exercise, it meant everyone was more than ready to tumble into bed at a (semi) decent hour. Umbrella strollers are a must for the smallest travelers and don’t be in a rush with kid walkers of all ages. Let them take the time to stretch their legs and their imaginations while they explore whatever city or country park they’re navigating.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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