There are many advantages to train travel over other methods of transportation. The scenery is often incredible, there's no waiting in traffic or worrying about driving in a foreign country. There's more room to move around, and on overnight trains, you can book cabins with beds. The best part is that trains are often much less expensive than airplanes, and train stations are less of a hassle than airports.
I really like traveling by train, and my kids love it too. Still, anytime children are stuck in one place for a long period of time there's the potential for boredom and meltdowns. Over the years my husband and I have come up with a few tricks for making long-haul travel with our kids more fun for them, and now I'm sharing them with you!
8 Tips for Better Train Travel with Kids
1- Choose your Seats Wisely
Most train line allow you to choose your seats if booking in first or second class at no extra charge, and I recommend it. Take a few minutes to scout out the seating arrangement. Are the seats all facing forward? Are they arranged in groups of four, with two forward and two backward? Does the train have two levels? Both my sons get sick if they ride backwards, so we always book them forward facing seats. We put them next to the window as well, both to keep them contained and also to give them something to look at. And if there's an upper level, that always earns us brownie points!
2- Pack Activity Bags with a Surprise
Unlike airplanes, most trains don't have in-seat entertainment systems, so be sure to bring along activities to keep children occupied. Older children can pack their own activity bags, while parents should pack ones for younger children. One thing we always do is to pack something new in each child's activity bag as a surprise. A new toy can capture a child's attention for a long period of time.
3- Spend Some Time in the Dining Car
A change of scenery is always a good thing to help pass the time, and the dining car is a great distraction. It can be tough to eat a complete meal in dining cars if your child is gluten free or has other food allergies, but that doesn't mean you can't order a drink or purchase a snack that's safe. Choose a table and spend a half hour or so just enjoying each others company. Older children can head off to the dining cart alone, but younger children should always be accompanied by an adult.
4- Play Games
Create a bingo sheet of sorts where children must check off items they see out the window of the train. This works best with children who have at least rudimentary reading skills, and can be played for treats or just for bragging rights. Have a list of items on a sheet, such as cow, river, mountain, etc. and have children compete to see who can complete their sheet first. Keeps children focused and helps pass the time. If you don't want to have winners and losers, perhaps just have a small treat available for each child who completes their sheet.
5- Wear Comfortable Clothing
Comfort is important to children, particularly the longer the train ride. Kids want to move around, stretch out, and maybe even fall asleep if the ride lasts into the night. A fancy outfit may look nice, but is unlikely to help children get comfortable. Breathable and soft fabrics are important, and layering will allow children to take off or put on items if they get too hot or cold. Perhaps consider a pair of pajamas for overnight travel.
6- Map out Your Journey
Older children may be interested in following along. We have our oldest keep a travel journal where he glues in souvenirs like tickets and brochures, draws pictures, and traces our route along maps that he then pastes inside. Children can use markers or stickers to mark off each station or town that you travel through, and you can provide them with a bit of information about each place along the way.
7- Pack Snacks
I know I mentioned dining cars earlier, and they do come in handy, but having food readily available is never a bad idea. Thermal lunch bags with gel ice packs can help keep food fresh and cold. We use reusable plastic containers to pack fresh fruit, veggie sticks, sandwiches, and any other food we think will hold our kids over. We also try to stick to things that are less messy, so pureed fruit in those squeeze packs are preferable to pureed fruit cups that require a spoon. Grapes, cheese strings, gluten free pretzels, vegetable sticks, fruit gummies, or even sandwiches or tortilla chips and always along for the ride on our family trips. Water bottles are also a must.
8- Move Around Every Hour
Children like to move, so unless they're asleep I recommend taking them on a bit of a walk at least once an hour. It can help keep restlessness at bay and gives them a bit of a change of scenery. Take a bathroom trip, check out the dining car, go up or down a level. Five or ten minutes of walking every hour can help keep kids calmer and happier over the course of a long trip.
Did you find these tips useful? Have some of your own to add? Let me know in the comments!