Our family loves travelling by train; we’ve been doing long distance train trips since our baby was a newborn and in his short 5 years we’ve travelled up and down the UK, taken the train from London to Lisbon and Copenhagen. We also spent a month travelling with our son in Japan, during which we became train-experts! If you’re worried about how to plan your train holiday, have a read of our top tips for travelling by train with children.
Some train companies will offer a luggage delivery service, which is quite honestly a godsend if you’re travelling with small children, especially if you’re going solo. Eurostar has a luggage delivery service, as does the Gatwick Express.
Train travel with babies
As with my guide to flying with kids I recommend bringing extra wipes and at least one change of clothes depending on the length of the journey. Many UK train stations have dedicated changing facilities so if you can give baby a clean nappy just before you go then it will hopefully minimise the time you need to spend in the cramped, smelly on-board toilet.
If you’re breastfeeding then you just need a large muslin cloth and you’re good to go, but as with plane journeys, you can re-jig your feeding pattern in the days before so that you can give baby a good feed as soon as you board and hopefully he or she will sleep happily for most of the way.
Arrive early, so you can take it easy, stop for a snack, and have plenty of time to pick up any essentials you may have forgotten to pack. In my experience train travel is a lot, lot less stressful than flying which is why we try to go by rail as often as we can.
Train travel with toddlers
The great thing about travelling on trains with toddlers is that you can easily indulge their wandering tendencies. We quite often go from Brighton to York by train, and when my son had just started walking it was standard for us to walk a couple of miles up and down the length of the train during the journey, just so he could stare at people! Just remember to keep a tight grip on them at all times in case the train lurches.
Lots of snacks that take them a while to eat, such as raisins or packs of dried fruit, can give you a welcome break, as well as any kinds of books or activities that take them a while to plough through – anything related to train travel is a bonus as it can make the journey into more of an adventure. With my son, it always helped to bring along a small blanket and his favourite teddy when we travelled long distance by train, when I wanted him to nap. I love the Trunki SnooziHedz Travel Pillow and Blanket as does my son!
Train travel with young children
If you’re travelling through King’s Cross then leave time to see Platform 9 ¾ – ok so you can’t actually catch the Hogwarts Express like Harry Potter, but kids love having their photo taken with the luggage trolley that’s embedded in the wall.
When we spent a month in Japan we loved taking the bullet trains, and especially the way that everyone would buy their own pack of sushi on the platform for lunch. The promise of treats en-route can help train travel with kids run a lot more smoothly so pack their favourites – although high-energy snacks and drinks aren’t often a good mix with confined spaces! Some trains also have dining cars which can make for a change of scenery.
Bring plenty of entertainment with you – games such as I-Spy and noughts and crosses will last you so long, but after a while you need something a little more challenging to keep them occupied. We love Uno in our house, but games like Top Trumps, or Battleships, or a small box of lego take up very little space, and will keep them quiet for hours.
Tip: If you book far enough ahead can often reserve a table which is great for spreading out.
Be considerate to other passengers. The vast majority of people will be very understanding if you have a crying baby or an upset toddler that takes time to calm down. They’re probably not going to be as accommodating if you have a full-grown child that keeps acting up, so plan entertainment that isn’t intrusive or likely to spark arguments. We have a kids’ tablet that we use for long journeys, and that with a pair of headphones is our emergency backup. A pack of chocolate buttons is a handy technique to reward good behaviour.
Travelling overnight? Always try to book a compartment on a sleeper train. We love taking overnight trains, and usually sleep soundly, rocked gently by the motion of the train. It’s so exciting going to sleep and waking up in another country. Sleeping compartments vary by country but if you are only three and don’t want a stranger sharing with you then you’ll probably need to budget to buy an extra bed to keep your sleeping compartment private.
Allow yourselves plenty of time when getting off, Most trains will only stop for a couple of minutes maximum at each station, so around five minutes before you arrive you should be packing things up, rousing sleeping kids, putting on coats and bringing bags off the overhead shelf. This level of organisation gives a lot of peace of mind especially if you have a lot of kids or a lot of baggage. If the platform is busy, ensure your bags go off first out of the way of the doors, then bring the kids down afterwards to prevent anyone getting lost.