My son is a seasoned flier (you can read my travel hacks for flying with kids here). He hasn’t however, had much occasion to travel on the British Rail Network. He has been on the big electric train once before when we went to London a couple of years ago. M was on hand then, which meant an extra pair of hands to help.
We travelled to Newcastle over this weekend to catch up with friends. It was just J and I, as M was at work. So we decided to take the train there and back rather than drive. J was up for a train adventure and I liked the idea of hassle-free travel where I could sit back and relax and not worry about motorway traffic.
Hassle-free travel with a child? Yes, that’s right. Train travel with kids can be a doddle with some careful planning and organisation.
Here are my top tips to ease the pressure when considering train travel with children.
You can book your tickets in advance and either print them out as e-tickets or arrange to collect them from the station on the day of travel. Either way, you don't have to worry about long queues at the ticket counter.
It also means you have the option to reserve your seats before you travel. Choose a table with a window in anything other than the quiet coach. The table is perfect to spread out food, games, toys, books. And windows are great to look out at the world as it passes by.
Pack sufficient quantities of food and drink to last the entire journey. It will save you money. If your journey spans meal times, pack a picnic that you can eat at your seats.
Err on the side of excess; kids tend to eat a lot more on train journeys that they would otherwise. It probably has something to do with being confined to a seat with nothing else to do.
This is one time when the concept of healthy eating can safely go out the window. The priority is hassle-free travel that only junk food can ensure. Crisps, biscuits, chocolate, juice and lots of wipes are a must on any train journey with kids. Do try and sneak in the occasional banana or apple.
J and I had quite the adventure, walking the first 20 minutes to the tram, changing trams a couple of times before actually arriving at the train station. There was an incessant barrage of questions along the way. There were pit stops for refreshments even before we boarded the train.
But that was the whole point of it. A train journey with children can only be fun if you consider it an adventure. Look at it from a child’s viewpoint. There are so many fascinating things to see, so much to comprehend, all they need is time to soak it all in. Let them have it.
Allow yourself ample time so you are not rushing, worrying about missing your train. Let your inner child take over and enjoy the journey.
Pack some activity and sticker books, a box of crayons and a couple of favourite family games that you can enjoy on the train. I am not one for mobile devices, but if that’s what it takes to keep your children entertained, then go for it. Don’t forget the headphones though, so you are not disturbing your fellow passengers.
A backpack is a lifesaver when travelling with children. It means you have both hands free for more important things like holding little hands that need you.
Each child can have their own if they are old enough to carry one. You can enlist their help with the packing as well. It means you are spreading the load and not carrying everything yourself. It is also a great way to instil a sense of responsibility.
There is no room for an umbrella when travelling with children. Wear an all-weather jacket with a hood. It will keep you warm and dry in the unpredictable British weather.
Mind The Gap
Train steps can be tricky to navigate for little feet. Sometimes the gap between the edge of the platform and the step can be dangerously wide. Always make sure you and the children are getting on and off the train safely. When boarding, let the children get in before you do. Reverse the sequence when you alight, so you can help the little ones out.
There you have it. Tips and tricks to make train journeys with kids safe, happy and fun. Do you have any tips to share? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.