Drive vs Fly with Three Sub-5 year olds


Jul 29, 2018
We have been on multiple flights and road trips with our 4yo and we'll be driving for our next trip. We flew for our trip in Nov and while I enjoyed the shorter travel time, I hated stressing about what I was bringing and how much my suitcase weighed. I like to bring a lot of stuff to make our hotel room comfortable (fan, nightlight, pillows, blankets etc) and its so convenient having the car if we need to run to the store for something. Plus, if we're driving we can be more flexible about when we leave. I've even conned DH into adding extra days onto our vacations...if I can score a good priceline express deal while we're there I'm going to try and do it again in September!
Our drive is about 16 hours and we're splitting up 9 hours and 7 hours. I don't book a hotel until we're on the road so if we think we can go longer we will. Having a shorter drive on arrival day is nice. I will download a bunch of stuff on the ipad (movies and new games), plus we have this travel tray that attaches to the car seat if she wants to draw or play with toys. Snacks are also hug! I'll get her favorites and some that she doesn't get very often like fruit snacks. I've also tried to find playgrounds along the way to help burn some energy. One time, we even stopped at a zoo for a couple of hours!


I was a click-clack champ!!
May 16, 2006
If the money can be found, I think my vote is to fly.

a) You said they don't do well in hotels, so at the very least you don't want a lot of different hotels. (And you definitely don't want to start off at Disney already exhausted.)

b) I hate "wasting" a big part of the trip on the road. (At their ages, I still see it as a waste, even though I do think there's probably a sweet spot later on for family road trips.)


DIS Veteran
Aug 14, 2009
Hi I flew with my DD from 18 months up until just two years ago she was (15). She has always had trouble with motion sickness whether it is car or plane. We would deal with that no matter what, however I found the motion sickness on the plane was a little worse than the car to deal with it. At 2.5 hours flying that is not bad.

The last couple of years my DD was starting to have problems with her ears and flying. I had tried everything and nothing was working. Two years ago on our flights to Florida the pain was so bad in her ears she literally cried for 2.5 hours like she was being stabbed in the ears. It was the worse time I ever spent. I was helpless and couldn't do anything. From then on we have driven to Florida and are not flying unless there is somewhere we are going that we cant' drive too. I wouldn't put her through that again or myself.

We live 18 hours away. We drive 12 hours stop for the night. The next morning we get up and have a six hour drive. I have always dreaded driving long distance, it is not my thing. However, the drive wasn't as bad as I thought. I had two teenagers, which in itself can be a problem sometimes. They are not as easily distracted as little ones. We are driving again this June.

Here is the thought if you fly. If one of your children has problems that are so bad that they can't or won't get on a plane you will have to rent a car and drive home. That is the worse case and if you are okay with that then go for flying if you can afford it. Unfortunately you won't know till you try if you opt too.

We were willing to rent a car to come home if we needed too.
  • MainMom

    DIS Veteran
    Sep 25, 2011
    Is it 2.5 days each way? 5 days driving total? If this is the case then flying is my vote.

    We are self-employeed. Days gone mean less money. I’m not spending my precious days off driving when I can be there in 1 3hour flight. I think I would feel this way if I was also using paid vacation days. How can I maximize my time off? Not driving!

    I have flown with my young kids (now teens) and nieces and nephews on many trips and many first flights. They were all amazing and totally fascinated with the experience. Get them a window seat, bring snacks, iPads, coloring books, anything to keep them occupied. I bet they do fine.

    Betty Rohrer

    DIS Veteran
    May 19, 2010
    Thanks for all the replies. The concerns raised regarding cranky kids on a long drive are valid no doubt. I guess it all boils down - like most things - to personal preference. I'm truly undecided and I don't even think my wife is convinced about flying (she's not fond of flying herself, let alone with three kids who've never flown before). Lots of pros and cons on both sides. Hope to see some more comments from others. Thanks!
    if you plan to use carseats on plane remember that the seats where there are 2 in the row carseats have to be closest to window you will most likely not be allowed to have an adult sit between the 2. also booster seats are not allowed to be used on plane. granted the flights I took with kids that age were longer but when my kids had had enough of sitting that last hour or 2 seemed to be forever where driving you could stop, get them out and let them run. you say your wife is not fond of flying how is she going to do if you are seated between 2 and she is in middle of another row because child will not sit next to a stranger


    DIS Veteran
    Aug 21, 2011
    We've done the long drive from Ohio to Florida. Leave at night around 5 pm and drive straight through until we hit Florida in the morning. It's not ideal and the driver is pretty tired the next day or two. The kids do fine, generally sleeping in the car or playing or doing something we packed for them. I like to have a wide range of activities for these types of trips to keep them occupied.

    Our last trip we flew. It was also fine. We took an early moring (5:30 am) flight out. It was nice because the plane wasn't full so my two kids had a row together and my husband and I had a row together. Even with the flight attendant putting my daughters activity backpack in the overhead compartment she did fine(her first flight she was 3, this flight she was 4) she took a short nap and then my husband spent a good amount of the flight handing her his phone to keep her mildly entertained the rest of the flight. Overall no issues. The flight back she restled with being tired and not wanting to leave Disney so we had a few quiet tears from her but nothing extreme.


    driving the monorail in my dreams
    Oct 28, 2001
    If cost is not a factor, fly. I have driven the 18 hr drive many times, sometimes straight thru, sometimes over 2 days. A three hour flight is much more manageable, and everyone is not as tired (overwhelmed, stressed out, cranky!) so some of your other concerns will not be a factor. The kids were fascinated on the plane, and viewed it as part of the adventure. Small rewards for good behavior, perhaps? As for your sleep issues, they will be in the hotel either way, but again, make that part of the adventure. Do they sleep better with a snack before bed? If so, stay with the routine they are comfortable with as much as possible. Have a safe and happy trip!!!
  • FallsChurchDad

    Aug 13, 2014
    I am surprised that the consensus definitely seems to be to fly.

    We have driven to WDW from Virginia three times, with three young boys. It's about 12.5 hours for us. On our other 'big' vacations (all within the US, going West), we have flown. I always liked driving better.

    Our kids have always been good on flights and at airports when they are at least 3 years old, or when they were small babies. But from 6 months to 2 years, I think they were rough on every flight.

    On our last two flights to California (Christmas break this past year, and summer 2017), the kids ALL got sick from the flights/airports, which made the first few days of our trip really difficult.

    Lugging around a ton of stuff through the airports, dealing with car seats, getting rental cars, etc., is a huge pain with three kids. But it's the reduced risk of sickness and the ability to bring a lot of extra stuff that makes us lean towards driving when we can.

    On our last WDW trip (boys were 6, 3 and 6 months, in January 2018), we actually loaded the minivan with three strollers - a double jogging stroller, a City mini single stroller, and a snap-and-go for the baby car seat. We also had a big cooler and small cooler, with lots of groceries, and we had clothes for all weather. We would have brought so much less stuff if we had flown, and it would have been okay -- but with kids at that age, weather uncertainties, and the differences between the parks at WDW (a double stroller is essential for a full day at AK and Epcot with 3 young kids, while annoying in MK and not needed in HS or DS), it was so nice to have lots of choices and have the stuff to help make things easier.

    Once we are out of the stroller/car seat stage, I think flying will be much better, but airports/planes are rough on young children and their parents!!


    DIS Veteran
    May 24, 2005
    We are about 18 hours away and we drive straight through but we only have 1 that is bad at road trips. I totally vote for flying. If the travel part is going to be questionable either way, I'd rather have it be over in a few hours than a few days. And then on the way home, we are always soooo exhausted. No way would I want to do a 2+ day car ride with 3 kids that are probably ready to get back to regular routines. With enough planning (and some electronics) the airport and the plane ride should go rather smoothly.


    DIS Veteran
    Jul 26, 2012
    Dad of triplets here. I don't like flying and avoid discount airlines for that (and other) reasons, so to fly five of us down from NYC is anywhere from 2000-3000. That's money I'd rather spend elsewhere. We started driving down in 2015 when the kids were 6 and I'm glad we did. Your situation is more challenging because they are younger so you'll require more frequent stops...but for it wasn't worth pouring that much money into airfare.

    It's a 16 hour drive. We stop overnight on the way down and usually drive return straight through. It has worked well for us but I think every family dynamic is different.
  • tinkerjo

    Crazy Disney nut
    Nov 25, 2005
    I am in the minority here. DH and I both hate to fly so we have always done road trips. We live in Ohio so we always take 2 days to drive down and drive all the way back. (14 hour drive) We refuse to drive all night but will get up at 4-5am and the kids slept for the first few hours. We started them practically at birth it seems. It teaches them to be good travelers. While early trips may be challenging it prepares them for subsequent driving trips. My kids are older now but they look forward to road trips as much as the destination. We drove to California a few years ago and marveled at what we would have missed had we been on a plane. Just take lots of snacks and activities. As far as a hotel goes, you kinda have to deal with that either way since you are vacationing. Not saying it isnt challenging but we always had fun with it


    DIS Veteran
    Mar 29, 2017
    My parents raised me to drive everywhere, I’ve done Florida to Nova Scotia so I can see driving. And most of my vacations with children I drive simply because of cost. That said if I could afford to fly and rent at my destination I’d choose that over driving (for drives significantly longer then 6 hours, that is the mark where getting to the airport, getting through security, boarding, flying, getting the rental, etc. takes about that long in general to do)... again, if it is affordable to fly the family and in my budget. If not that’s why I have a nice minivan with entertainment, etc.


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