12 tips for travelling by train with children
We may be biased, but when it comes to travelling with children, we think that taking the train is the most civilised option. Going by rail is safe, comfortable, and affordable when planned in advance. And there are lots of ways to make travelling by train with children fun too.
Holidaying with kids can be a bit like herding cats, but when the journey itself is part of the part of the adventure, it can be an enriching experience. Thanks to games, picnics, family-friendly seating, and so many things to see from the window, choosing to travel by train can get your holiday off to the best possible start. We enrolled the help of top travel bloggers and asked them to share their hard-won wisdom on going by rail with the kids!
At the station
1. Encourage your child’s natural curiosity
Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby suggests allowing additional time before your train departs to give children a chance to savour the sense of adventure:
“Kids can be very curious about trains, so it helps to arrive at the station early and allow some time to explore. Look at the “big board” that lists train departures and arrivals, check out the tracks, and take a seat on a bench to watch a train pulling out of the station. Depending on how interested your child is in trains, you can choose to allow anywhere between thirty minutes to an hour.”
2. Practice the ‘sandwich rule’
Heather Greenwood Davis of Globetrotting Mama suggests the ‘sandwich rule’ as a fun way of reminding your kids to stay close:
“In the station we practice the sandwich rule. Mum and Dad are the bread and the kids get to pick which filling they are (peanut butter and jam, cheese and ham). The filling always stays between the bread. No one wants their peanut butter on the outside of a sandwich!”
3. Do some research
Loco2’s tip: Many stations have interesting features (like these works of art) so do a quick search online before you go to know what to look out for at the station. If you’re travelling from London, your first port of call will be London St Pancras International, a grand Victorian station filled with interesting things for adults and kids alike. Adults should check out the station’s fascinating curios, and kids will no doubt appreciate a stop-off at Platform 9¾ from where the Hogwarts Express departs.
Onboard the train
4. Plan entertainment for the ride
Talon Wandwalker of 1 Dad 1 Kid advises packing games to last the length of your journey:
“For entertainment, why not bring along card games like Uno or a regular deck of cards? We also travel with a small puzzle in a zip-loc bag. They’re super light and so easy to pack, and since there are usually tables on longer distance trains, you’ll have room to spread out a little.”
5. Plan fun that is considerate to other passengers
Globetrotting Mama, Heather Greenwood Davis advises picking the things you bring with you for a train trip with care, and packing a simple daypack:
“We limit the amount of things we travel with generally. On the train, while we want the kids to be entertained we also want them to respect the fact that they are in a shared space: headphones (over the head are better than in-ear for really little kids) are a must, and you’ll need to remind the little ones that they may need to play it with no sound at certain times. The best approach? If it could annoy you or fellow passengers, or create the possibility of a tantrum, leave it at home!”
“We pack one of the kids daypacks for time spent on the train. We stick to small toys like matchbox cars, playing cards and such like. Things with small pieces are just asking for trouble and expensive gaming systems will likely cause more worry than fun. A small jack that allows two headphones to plug into the laptop or small DVD player is also a lifesaver [search for headphone splitter online].”
6. Prepare free activities
Loco2’s tip: Entertainment onboard the train needn’t be costly. Encourage kids to watch out for interesting landmarks or animals from their train window, or download some free train games to play en route.
Eating and drinking
7. Pack a picnic to savour onboard
While there if often food available to buy on board there are no rules against bringing your own snacks. If you’re travelling as a family you’ll certainly save money by taking a packed lunch, and you can also avoid the risk of “I don’t like this” sandwich disasters. Amy Whitler, of Go Green Travel Green says:
“Bringing your own food is always cheaper than purchasing on-board. What’s more, your luggage and carry-on allowance isn’t as strict as when taking a plane, so packing a meal is a straightforward affair”.
8. Book ahead to secure a table
Loco2’s tip: Buying your tickets well in advance will not only save you money, but will maximise your chances of being allocated a table for groups of 4. If you’re early enough to get a shared table you can dine as a family, but most European trains have at-seat tables so either way you can plan to eat on board.
9. Consider a sleeper train
Amy Whitley of Go Green Travel Green suggests you familiarise yourself with the different levels of accommodation and pick one that suits you best. She says:
“Overnight trains are a great way to save daylight for sightseeing, and are a great adventure for kids. However, it’s helpful to know what to expect. In second class, you usually have the choice between sleeping compartments (small compartments of bunks that are gender specific unless booked outright) or couchettes, which are cabins with 4-6 beds that are non-gender specific (perfect for families with older children).”
10. Book sole occupancy of sleeper compartments
Loco2’s tip: If you’re travelling as a family on an overnight sleeper, we often recommend booking an extra “phantom child” ticket to secure sole occupancy of the entire cabin. This bypasses the single-gender rule for sleeper compartments and means more room, more privacy, and less disturbance for fellow travellers.
At your destination
11. Be ready for when you need to alight your train
The stop for your destination might not be the final destination of your train, so Globetrotting Mama suggests you to prepare well so you don’t miss your stop:
“Listen out for arrival cues and be ready to go. Little ones should stay seated until the train is at a complete stop but, if possible, have at least one adult get up earlier to make sure all bags are quickly accessible and easy to go. The tricky thing about a train is that unless yours is the final stop, you won’t have the luxury of taking your time to get everyone organised. Have a plan – “you get the bags, I get the kids!”- and clean up and put away all toys and munchies at least 5 minutes ahead of arrival. If by the time you pull into the station the kids have their backpacks and jackets on and your hand in theirs, you’re golden”.
12. Count down to your destination
Loco2’s tip: Take a map or print out an itinerary and use it to count down the stations to your destination, pointing out fun things along the way. Then when you approach your final stop it won’t be a chaotic rush to disembark the train.