Every mode of travel brings with it good and bad. The worst thing is finding out about the negatives the hard way, by suffering the consequences. Have you been late to the airport? Been hit with a last minute fee that you weren’t aware of? Did you over commit your time only to find out that the transportation you were taking isn’t reliably on schedule? Has your vacation or travel experience gone over budget because you didn’t really consider the fact that your accommodations didn’t have a kitchen and you’d be eating out regularly? Making an informed decision minimizes your “surprises” along the way. When they do occur, try to roll with them and make them into part of the educational process. Teach your children what can go wrong as well as how to deal with adversity. But hey, if you can avoid adversity, even better!!
Pros – Traveling by plane is great! Someone else is driving. You can go long distances very fast. You are catered to while you travel. It’s exciting, especially for kids and it’s an amazing view of the areas you’re leaving and arriving to.
Cons – It’s very expensive unless you spend a lot of time searching and find some incredible deals. There are many options, but they are inflexible. You must fit into their schedule and not the other way around. You have to get to and from the airport and arrange parking if you bring a vehicle. You have to abide by all the rules of luggage shapes, sizes, and weights. You must arrive 2 hours early to go through their processes of paperwork checking in, then survive the security lines and screening only to lose your favorite toothpaste because it was concerning. The seating is getting smaller and can be very uncomfortable for longer trips unless you pay top dollar for business class.
Pros – Someone else is driving and you can travel to some amazingly gorgeous countryside that you really can’t see any other way. You can get overnight cars and combine the cost of both accommodations and travel and arrive refreshed at your new destination, ready to take it all in. Trains are typically less expensive than planes, but of course you don’t get as far. Because you’re not driving and navigating, you have time to bond, play games together, or plan your next stop. There is no wait to board, so you don’t have a 2 hour lag between arriving at the station and departing on your journey. It often has power outlets and you’re allowed to use internet while underway, so it’s a good time to catch up on things.
Cons – When you arrive, you don’t have your own transportation (compared to driving a vehicle). You are dependent on their scheduled departures and their timeliness. This is not a big issue in the European system, but the U.S. system tends to suffer trying to keep a schedule and the South American and island systems are on a VERY casual “schedule.” Know your system. The European system is made up of a collection of smaller companies working together, so what you have on one leg of your journey may not be present on the next leg. Sometimes you’ll have power outlets, other times not. Sometimes you’ll have a snack cart, others not. If you’re not familiar with the locations and the schedules, you can spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering a cryptic chart or timetable, “figuring” the most efficient path, the best use of your ticket and what connections to make where. When you arrive, you must take all your luggage with you as you explore your latest destination.
Automobile (your own or a rental)
Pros – This is the best option for going exactly where you want, when you want and how you want without lugging a pile of suitcases with you every time you arrive at a destination. Leave them in the trunk and lock the vehicle and you’re good to go. If you look around, rental vehicles are quite nicely kept, relatively new, and affordable. Especially for a weekly or monthly rate. When you compare airfare or train tickets for, say, a family of 5, you’re going to find the rental car as being the most cost effective. You can go directly door to door so you have a way to get out to dinner or an easy way to pick up groceries if you’re cooking at home (so it’s actually a cost savings ;)). You can go to the museum in the morning, home for lunch, then to the park after lunch without having to wait each time you want to go somewhere, so it saves time and allows you to do more in a day without wiping yourself out or wasting time. You can also go camping in remote areas. Who wants to go camping right along the train tracks or near an airport? And you can bring toys with you – surfboards, bikes, kayaks, skis, etc. which is hard on public transportation, especially if you’re a relatively large group or the children require assistance with their gear.
Cons – YOU have to navigate. This can be difficult, especially in foreign countries with foreign signs. You have to be paying attention to the road, so you aren’t able to sightsee or interact with the family while you’re underway. It is a more stressful way to travel than someone else driving for you. You are liable for any damages, so you’re taking a risk of a crash or even someone else dinging your vehicle. You also have account for fuel and insurances in the cost. Consider also, some places require significant cost to pay for parking.
Pros– You are always home. You can sleep in the same bed, prepare your own meals, and have snacks always at the ready. Do your little ones still nap? You can do this right at home mid-day WHILE out exploring. One investment covers both your transportation AND your accommodations. Children can even sleep through the journey from place to place, therefore avoiding all of the “how do I entertain children while traveling?” issues. It’s easier to eat healthy on the road (for less) when you have your own kitchen anywhere you go. Instead of grabbing fast food, you can grab a bowl of oatmeal to start your day.
Cons – It is a very slow method of travel and as with a car, you have to have someone driving and navigating while underway. They are big and bulky, so especially on smaller, windy roads or steep hills, they are quite difficult to maneuver. Also in a big city, they are hard to navigate and park. They don’t fit into parking structures or do well with tight curbside parking. They use a fair amount of fuel and you have to consider insurance and liability also. If you take a rental RV camping, children can be hard on the interior, so you have to have some attention to their cleanliness before they enter. While cheaper than a hotel room for the same number of people, parking in an RV park with electricity, water, and sewer is NOT exactly cheap. You DO have to pump your own sewage and manage all the things you have to manage in a house. Often you are limited with power and water while out rural camping. You either need to travel with a “toad” (towed vehicle) or take the entire RV to the grocery store and other outings.
Pros – You can find some incredible deals on unfilled cruises!!! Once onboard, you have nothing to worry about!! You have transportation, accommodations, and food all prepared for you! No one is navigating, no one is grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning, no one is even making the beds! There are usually pools, nightly shows, games throughout the day and multiple interesting stops along the way. They even have a medical clinic onboard should anything go wrong. They usually offer a kids club so you can have a date night! Your visas are all taken care of, so no paperwork bog down.
Cons – If you get seasick, this may not be the best plan for you (ProTip – get a cabin near the center of the boat rather then either side, there’s less motion here). You are “stuck” with their scheduled activities (which are usually great) but you can’t take other stops along the way that may interest you. You travel pretty quickly with usually a single day at any given port, so it’s always new but there’s no time to find and re-visit favorite spots. You sort of have to read ahead and just “pick” an activity that sounds best to you. When you arrive in port, the locals are expecting an entourage of tourists and have their sales booths out and ready. You are not likely to get a “local experience” traveling with 2,000 of your newest friends. Often older people have taken to the cruises, so pick a family friendly one if you don’t want to be on edge about kids splashing in the pool, making noise, and playing in the elevator. There’s a little (not so little) surprise at the end of the cruise!! You are asked to “tip” your friendly wait staff. And they ARE wonderful and do such a nice job, but it’s a significant chunk of change if you follow the suggested guidelines for tipping so don’t overlook that in your “cost” of booking.
Pros – Similar to the RV, you are always home, which is a GREAT way to travel with a family. You can prepare healthy and less expensive meals and snacks, take naps in your own bed, and not be always adjusting to your accommodations. You have both accommodations and transportation worked out and if you sail, the cost of transportation can be ZERO (of course you still have to pay for the vehicle and maintenance, but moving it from place to place may not cost you anything). The journey can be as much adventure as the destination!! Sailing with dolphins on the bow or breeching whales is simply magical!! You can go places that literally NO ONE on Earth is able to go. Have you heard of Minerva reef? There are no commercial options for visiting this rare gem of the South Pacific where the reefs are untouched and lobsters abound! When you arrive, you have all your favorite toys – kayaks, paddle board, SCUBA and snorkel gear, etc. so you can engage in all the options without signing up for 100 tours or dragging over-sized items around the world with you. You are living a very green life, off the grid, generating your own power (usually solar and wind), collecting rainwater, transporting under wind power, and sustainably eating from the sea.
Cons – Again, if you get seasick, you’re going to have to think about this one. But there are a LOT of people out cruising that have some level of seasickness, so don’t let it be your only deciding factor. There’s also some significant cost either in the purchase or rental of a boat (deals can be found if you’re willing to compromise) and the investment is a depreciating asset, so you’re not likely to come out financially ahead of the deal. But do remember that you’re traveling and saving accommodation and transportation costs, as well as food prepared at home, so there IS a cost savings too. Someone has to navigate and manage not just the motor, but the sails. There are more hazards to be aware of – cyclones, tsumanis, or just big storms. Most of these are seasonal and avoidable with planning, but someone needs to learn and be responsible for this aspect of the journey (great teaching for the kids though!). One must avoid reefs and other boats. You cannot simply pull over at night on a passage, so someone has to be up keeping watch, which can be a push if you have kids up seeking your attention all day long. This can be mitigated by taking only shorter trips that you can do in a single day, but this limits your island hopping if you hope to see the South Pacific (sometimes day hops just can’t be done, the distance is too far.) It’s a very slow way to travel! Even the fastest of boats only go about 20 knots (think similar to miles per hour), so you HAVE to slow down and set your goals of destinations much lower. You have to negotiate each country’s customs and immigration laws, sometimes prior to arrival (taken care of when you travel by plane or cruise ship). When you get to land, you have to negotiate transportation to get groceries or see the inland sights. Often people travel with folding bikes, we are particularly spoiled to have a 100 HP motorcycle onboard to help address this problem.
Pros – This is a super green way to travel! And healthy too! The initial investment isn’t big and the adventure is HUGE! There are not the usual distractions and chaos, so attention is on the family unit that is traveling. No one has to be strongly focused on navigation, so everyone can sight-see while traveling. The liability is lower – no insurances and fuel costs for the vehicle. The cost of transportation can be covered with about $100 investment and accommodations can also be VERY affordable. WarmShowers.com is a cycling network similar to couch surfing where members share their accommodations with each other. You can also master the art of free camping, so the only real cost of living is food (fuel for your vehicle). You can get to remote places that public transportation does not service.
Cons – Once you go, you are committed. This can be a difficult way to travel with smaller children and you can only go as fast as your slowest member. You cannot bring much gear. Traveling mountainous or cold areas may not be appealing (nor deserts) as you are exposed to the elements more often than not. After riding for hours and arriving at a museum, you may feel sweaty and sticky and not want to interact with the public in tight quarters until you’ve arranged for a shower and change of clothes. If you are taking advantage of WarmShowers or CouchSurfing, you are constantly being hosted, so you may want to go lay down and get some rest or put your feet up and instead you feel obligated to meet your host and share stories. Also, you need to pre-arrange the accommodations if you go this way, so sometimes it limits or strains your day’s passage to make your arrangements. It’s harder to arrange a place if someone becomes sick and needs a rest or a child is having a meltdown from exhaustion. If you choose not to use the guest housing options, you are either camping or renting hotel rooms (unless you have an evenly distributed network of friends and family). If you are steadily going, you cannot make arrangements for long term accommodations where you get your best rates, so nightly rates can add up quickly.
There is not right or wrong way to travel!! Maybe a combination of the above is appealing to you? Travel by boat to islands, then by bike for inland experiences? Maybe you fly somewhere, rent a house, then take a train to see the continent. Then rent a car for a week to get to places you were unable to reach. There is an infinite number of ways to combine travel options to make them fit your group’s needs. Consider the pros and cons, realizing that nothing is perfect and you will have to compromise as you go. Use these pros and cons to make a more educated decision on what is right for you. Check out the Travel Directory for ideas on where to go and what to do!