When I first did a long distance train journey with baby LO I googled ‘train travel with a baby’ and found some very helpful tips. Some of those I’ve adapted now that LO is a big toddler but thought I’d put them on here just in case anyone is googling ‘train travel with a toddler’!
First of all, because of my and OH’s working hours, I’m generally doing the long distance travel on my own with LO. It is a lot easier if you have another adult with you as you don’t need to figure out how on earth you’re going to go to the loo.
Second tip: do not even consider travelling at rush hour. Just no. Travelling with a baby/toddler is bad enough, but combined with a million more frazzled looking people = disaster.
Third tip came from Mumsnet and only works on certain train lines (unless you’re a millionaire) – book first class tickets! I use LNER for some of my long distance train journeys and they offer very cheap first class seats if you can book 2-3 months in advance. It’s worth weighing up the benefits too:
- Nice baby change in the first class lounge at Kings Cross (the baby change in the usual loos is hopeless if you’re travelling on your own as there’s no loo in it)
- First class lounge has space to feed and settle a baby, also let them stretch their legs on the carpet. There are plenty of complementary drinks and food so make sure you get your money’s worth before departure
- On board the train there is a LOT more luggage space than in standard class. If you’re travelling alone this is crucial because what you don’t want to do is be running up and down the train trying to find somewhere to put things whilst lugging a baby/toddler along with you. I’ve often found in standard there is simply nowhere at all to put luggage, let alone a folded up pushchair, giant rucksack etc etc.
- The food and drink gets brought to you on the train – much safer than trying to either board carrying piles of it, or staggering down to the buffet car with a baby or toddler
Then you need to decide what to do to occupy them whilst you’re on the train. Number four tip book tickets that coincide with nap time, that way you may be lucky and have a nice peaceful journey. On suburban trains it is easy as there is plenty of space to keep the pushchair next to you so they can sleep (another reason not to travel in rush hour). On long distance trains you have to fold the buggy up – the ways round this I found was to travel with a sling in addition to the pushchair when LO was a baby and transfer her to the sling to board the train. She could then sleep on me on the train. It’s worth asking the train crew if anyone has booked the accessible space as, if not, they are quite happy for you to set up the pushchair and sleeping child in the space (as long as you are prepared to move should someone else need the space – this has only happened to me once though). On long distance journeys that don’t have cheap first class tickets I generally pay for a second seat next to mine (paying for an adult and child seat using a Friends and Family railcard is cheaper than paying for one adult seat), rock LO to sleep in my arms and then plonk her on the spare seat to sleep. Admittedly this worked better when she was aged between 1 and 2 years, than now at 2+!
Should they not be napping though, they need something to do. Yes, you can look out the window and identify sheep and passing trains, but this isn’t enough to occupy a train journey of several hours…
Number five tip: have a little bag of things for them to do. LO likes having her own little rucksack to carry, with some things to do inside. I packed them inside little mesh pencil cases which I picked up very cheaply at a local market.
Inside the pencil cases/bags are:
- small colouring book and some little pencils (these were all lots of them for £1 at Poundland, so there are plenty for many many train journeys, even if some inevitably get lost on the train.
- Three mini tubs of Play-Doh (I bought a pack of ten of these when LO was about 18 months old, and keep them for use during long journeys).
- Snap cards, these are half the set of Animal Match made by Orchard Toys, which LO has had since she was about 18 months – initially she liked pairing up the animals, now she will actually play snap with them.
- The pink pencil case contains some finger puppets – these are four little animals, inside a little fabric “bus” so there is plenty of potential for play.
No toddler is going to tolerate sitting still for hours on the train, so I aim to break it up a bit and think of the journey in 15 minute chunks.
- First 15 minutes are getting settled in, having a look around at our seat and out of the window etc.
- Second 15 minutes – eat lunch! This will hopefully last longer than 15 minutes… Drag it out for as long as you can.
- Third 15 minutes – try to get them down for a nap. This hopefully means that you can then sit there peacefully reading/knitting for the next several hours whilst feeling smug. If this doesn’t work…
- Fourth 15 minutes – take first little activity pack out and get playing. If it lasts longer than 15 minutes, that’s good.
- Then work your way through two or three of the activity packs, interspersed with exciting things like a trip to the loo, or the buffet car if you’re not in first class. Once you get to the last activity pack, start again at the beginning (I usually put a book in too for us to read together). I try and get up and go somewhere about once an hour as it breaks it up a bit but doesn’t annoy your surrounding passengers too much.
- If you’ve done the activity packs several times, been to the loo several times, eaten ALL THE SNACKS etc then it’s also handy to have a couple of apps on your phone that are toddler suitable as a last resort, although you’ll need to turn the sound off otherwise all the other passengers will want to kill you.
If you’ve got any toddler train travel tips to add, I’d be very interested to hear them! Good luck on your travels.