Thursday, May 21, 2009

Road Trip advice -- Driving vs Flying; Traveling with Young Kids


Hey Jamie,

I've been fantasizing about a cross-country trip for many years and am thinking about setting out this summer or perhaps early fall. I'm currently on hiatus from work, so now might be the perfect time for me.

I'd be traveling with my three-year-old son and either our babysitter or a friend from DC (or both). I live in the Boston area, but would probably set out from either DC (if the friend joins me) or NY (where I have family). And I'd like to travel a northern route (to visit friends in Chicago, Madison, and St. Louis) out to Seattle (more

First question: Do you recommend driving west and then flying home? Or flying to the west and driving back east?

Second: Do you know of fun places to hit with a toddler? I think that will be the biggest planning challenge.

I look forward to any advice you might have. Thanks!

K & C


Hello K & C --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA about your upcoming great adventure!

About the driving vs flying debate, there are benefits and costs to either side.

(That's helpful, isn't it?)

I personally find it is easier (though less "glamorous"!) to drive from home and then fly back. This way you can pack up the (rental?) car more carefully, and really get ready to hit the road. Then again, this way you need to re-pack everything at the end of the trip, being late for a plane without enough room in your suitcase etc. Not much fun. Because I pick up so much stuff -- postcards, pamphlets, brochures, baseball cards, books, Corn Nuts wrappers -- after even a few days on the road, any cars I've driven start to look like battle zones. (Kindof like what having a 3-year-old around can do...!)

On the other hand, hopping a plane makes for a more exciting beginning to the trip, and you will be more limited to what you can take -- which may be even more of a challenge when you factor in all the gear your young traveling companion needs and wants. But you won't have the same limits at the end of your trip -- assuming you can stop at home and unload before returning the rental car.

But the bigger question lurks in the background -- what can you do to make sure you, your friend, and your 3-year-old boy, ALL have a great trip !?

The more I think about your situation, the more I think -- why not make this into a pair of trips? Maybe start by doing a "shakedown" road trip from home (from Boston via DC or NYC -- there are a lot a variables here! -- out to Chicago and St Louis -- Route 66 country!)??

But don't over-reach by trying to make it all the way across the country, enticing though that prospect may seem.

You can always do a separate trip, flying out to Seattle and getting a car there?

No offense to North Dakota et al, but many of the attractions of the wild Western US, even Mount Rushmore or the National Parks, are not always appreciated (at least not yet!..) by the 3-year-old mind.

Though my Road Trip USA book lays out cross-country adventures -- east and west, north and south -- most of my real-life travel is done in loop trips (this has a lot to do with my earlier point, about how much stuff I collect on my "research" trips...).

Loop trips are way more flexible, and though there isn't the sense of achievement (crossing the country is a truly memorable feat!), at the same time there isn't the sense of "white line fever" that sometimes urges X-C drivers to keep moving toward the other coast, often missing out on great experiences because of the powerful urge to get to the "end of the road".

Does that make sense??

Now, on to travel with toddlers. You ask about fun places to hit -- and I agree keeping Jr smiling will be the biggest challenge. That said, the challenge is not so much finding things he will like, but keeping -yourself- happy and sane. In my experience -- and I've been road trip traveling with my twin boys since they were 4-months old -- your son will be happy as long as you are happy doing something, whether it's touring an art museum, a petting zoo, or just walking around some small-town Main Street.

All of these are great "attractions" for kids, even if they are not always marketed that way.

And, BTW, traveling with small children is a great way to meet local people in the places you pass thru -- like at home, you get talking to other parents in playgrounds, and they will generally be happy to share advice on what nearby places might suit your child. Meanwhile your kid gets to play with other kids, which in my experience is the best entertainment anywhere.

(Plus waitresses seem to insist on scoops of ice cream to go with slices of fresh-baked fruit pies...)

So, before I go completely off-topic, I'll send this back. Please let me know what you think, and keep in touch as your plans take shape.

w/ best wishes,

Jamie Jensen

Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways
** new edition May 2009 **



Blogger Kolika C. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Kolika C. said...

Although I don't have kids I have been planning a cross country from NY to WA for a while now and been in the flying-driving dilemma! Thanks. that was a lot of help.
Happy cruising!


2:17 PM  
Anonymous james said...

Road safety first. This should be the priority of all the drivers to avoid accidents. I have found best gadgets to keep you safe in terms of road safety. First is No Nap . If you are feeling drowsy but needed to keep yourself on the road and just want to make it to your destination as soon as possible without causing a major accident. And you have tried all the un-effective strategies to keep you awake just like drinking 10 cups of coffee, blasting some punk music, or drinking some old stuff like energy drink this is the best gadget for you. The No Nap is a small, easy to use, device that will keep you and others safe during a long, drowsy drive. All you need to do is turn the device on, adjust the wake up angle switch, and place it behind your ear. Then when your head slumps forward as you begin to doze off behind the wheel, the No Nap produces a loud, powerful beeping noise that will snap you out of your snooze. It runs on low battery consumption, and its ergonomic design fits comfortably behind your ear. This gadget has been popular with truckers who spend long hours on the road and it could be useful for keeping many others safe on the highway as well. So why take a risk in driving you might not just save your life but start caring for others too.

6:59 AM  

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