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How to Plan Train Travel with Small Children

by Susan Finch

Nov 27, 2017

© Alexander Shalamov | Dreamstime

Travel Tips

Train travel with children evokes nostalgic images from children’s storybooks and well-behaved kids in your favorite movies. Only your own kids are probably bickering and hanging off the back of the seats. Train travel with small children comes with its unique challenges, just like any mode of transportation. To make the most of your trip, here’s how to plan for train travel with small children in mind.


Play Follow the Leader

Kids and grown-ups of all ages are usually pretty excited by train travel, but it’s important to stress the need for safety on the rails. Whether you’re at the station or moving through the cars, remind your child it’s time to play follow the leader. Keep a parent in the front and back to make sure your child is safely away from any dangerous platform edges, rails or doors.


Pack a Picnic Lunch

There is bound to be a dazzling snack car on your train if you’re traveling a long distance, but you also need to bring along some real food. Otherwise you’re stuck with a big lunch bill and a picky eater who may not like the train food to begin with. Pack up favorites and indulgences like fried chicken, fruit salad, cheeses and non-perishables you can save for later like nuts and popcorn.


Family on train

Photo: Jaroslaw Grudzinski | Dreamstime


Bring Lots of Free Stuff to Do

You’ll have more than enough opportunities to splurge on toys, coloring books and fun while at the train station and your destination. The train ride is a good time to bring out the free stuff you’ve been gathering for the occasion. Bring along free coloring pages of your kids’ favorite cartoons you print at home, homemade Play Doh in Ziplock bags, playing cards and favorite toys.


Go Exploring

The train is a fun place to explore as long as you’re being respectful of your neighbors during your adventure. Some trains come with observation cars at the front or an upstairs to take in the views. Set some ground rules with your kids on what’s expected of their behavior while they explore and start wandering. You can also make a game of it and make it into a scavenger hunt. Give out points when your child finds someone in a red shirt, black shoes, a hat, asleep and snoring to make it more fun.


Research and Plan

If you’re on an overnight trip, it may be worth the splurge to indulge in a sleeper car. Despite the close quarters, a little private time and shut-eye can make a big difference in the quality of your train trip. Trains may also require advanced reservations for special cars or tables so you can spread out and eat or play games.


Be Ready for Plan B

Something is bound to go amiss on your train journey, no matter how prepared you are. Bring along lots of supplies for contingency plans including extra granola bars, kids’ Advil, change of clothes, extra cash on hand, a charged up smartphone and a go-to toy if all else fails. Breaking out the iPad for a cranky child who has trouble sleeping on the train is likely to keep the calm for your family (and the whole train).


Train travel with kids can be an exciting journey, but keep your expectations in check. Train rides are typically long ones and require some patience and creativity to keep everyone happy. Focus on the experience your children are getting, and not whether or not it was a smooth trip.


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