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The dos and don’ts of train travel with children

train travel

We recently travelled to Edinburgh from London, by train. For our weekend trip, train travel was a much better option than driving in the car. Just four and a half hours from St Pancras international to Edinburgh Waverley; and a fast, clean train with stunning coastal views once you head north of Newcastle -Upon-Tyne.

We’ve taken a few long train journeys with the children. Here are my top dos and don’ts, to make the journey more fun.

Do

  • book ahead, book table seats. Train travel is so much easier if you have space to spread out, and a table for doodling, drawing and stickering.

train travel

  • take along some good books. Our current favourite books for travel are the updated versions of the classic I-Spy books. Titles include On a train journey, which encourages kids to look out of the window and see if they can spot other trains, castles, cathedrals, cows etc, and gain points for each spot.  For those children who are old enough to get lost in a good volume, you could take along railway-themed titles, like E. Nesbitt’s The Railway Children or The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg.
  • build a sense of anticipation into the return journey, as well as on the way out. On our trip, we were travelling to see family in Edinburgh, and the outward journey flew past. Everyone was excited; the kids were looking forward to seeing their cousins. On the way back, however, we were all tired and miserable about having to say goodbye. We ended up quarreling and getting cross with each other. If we’d had something to look forward at home – a new film to watch, or perhaps even a special family dinner in a local restaurant – we could have focused on that, rather than on how long and dreary the return journey seemed.
  • make sure you all wear comfortable clothes. And yes, that can include some (disposable) fancy dress items. I know, I know…. it’s fun, though, eh?

train travel

 

Don’t

  • give the children all their snacks in one go. For any journey longer than an hour, having ‘snack breaks’ at regular intervals is a way to break up the time. We like to hold the less healthy snacks back in case of frayed tempers or meltdowns. Nothing cheers up a grumpy child more than a chocolate finger. And we always travel with a packet of emergency Haribo.
  • sit in the quiet carriage. In the UK, a quiet carriage is a space where people aren’t allowed to shout, or use electronic equipment. Sounds tempting? But you have kids with you. They will screech and howl at some point. ‘Nuff said.
  • rely on the buffet coach for meals. Most UK trains stock only a relatively limited range of food, so if you’re blessed with picky eaters then it’s worth taking along a picnic of their favourite sandwiches or pasta salads. Having said that, trains are renowned for their wicked line in bacon sarnies and microwaved cheeseburgers, so if you don’t mind them having a greasy treat or two you could offer those to your kids as special ‘party’ fodder.

What are your top tips for train travel with children?

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29 Comments

  • Verena
    August 9, 2016 at 8:10 am

    It is true, St Pancras to Edinburgh is such an enjoyable ride and I will keep your tips in mind for when my daughter is a little older. I have actually found that sitting in the back of the carriage where there is a little more space for disabled passengers with a baby can be helpful – of course any disabled passengers do take absolute precendent!

    I have just written a post about my learning points travelling on a plane for the first time with my three month old, I am glad I read your post before travelling with my older baby! I love the fancy dress idea, that is such a good one!

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 9, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      Ooh, I’ll have to check out your post. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  • Erin Gustafson
    August 9, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Great tips – I love traveling on the train with my kids – so much more relaxing and much “he’s in my space!” than in a car. Especially when you can get up and walk around! I absolutely agree on booking the table and stay away from the quiet car! Cheers from Copenhagen! #CityTripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 9, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      A big cheers back to you! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  • Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    August 9, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Some great tips here, Nell. I particularly like the one about building a sense of anticipation into the return journey. We always pack foodie treats and books with us. I’ll often read a few chapters of our current reading aloud book to our two when we’re on a train.

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 9, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      That’s a good idea. Enjoyable for us adults too!

      Reply
  • Elizabeth (Wander Mum)
    August 9, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Great tips! Very good idea to have something to look forward to after the return journey..those are always more subdued. Fish & chips or going out for pizza is always a winner with us. Your little ones look so adorable with those hats on ! #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 9, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks! I’ll have to promise fish & chips next time – that would be popular.

      Reply
  • Catherine's Cultural Wednesdays
    August 9, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Great tips, especially not sitting in the quiet coach. Your pair look gorgeous in those hats!
    #CityTripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 9, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks. I think they’re cute in this pic too!

      Reply
  • Cathy (MummyTravels)
    August 9, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Great tips, especially planning for coming home – I always make such an effort for the outward journey and holiday itself but slightly forget about the return. Love the hats too! #citytripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 11, 2016 at 7:25 am

      We’re the same – and the return journey’s always horrid! I made a mental note to change it…

      Reply
  • Christine
    August 10, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Ha, wait until they’re 11 and 13 – you can just give them free reign with their phones 🙂 Although yesterday we had a train journey from hell – a 2 carriage train to the beach packed with holidaymakers. Hardly room to breathe let alone sit down!

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 11, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Oh dear, that does sound difficult!

      Reply
  • Sarah Ebner
    August 10, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Love that picture – it’s terrific!
    I love the train, but when it’s very long journeys with children, it can get tricky. I totally agree about not giving out all the snacks at once, and it’s vital to bring books and also easy to pack games (card games like Happy Families are always good). Electronic devices are also very useful on such occasion…..

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 11, 2016 at 7:33 am

      Yes, we made full use of our portable DVD player on the journey!

      Reply
  • Bumble Bee Mum
    August 10, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Never knew about quiet carriages. That seems like a pretty clever way of imposing “Kids Not Allowed” but being politcially correct about it. I’ll be sure to keep book my seats in the carriage furthest from the quiet carriages because my boys are anything but quiet. >_< #CityTripping

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 11, 2016 at 7:34 am

      Yes, I think we’d be banned from trains for life if we tried to sit in one!

      Reply
  • Ting at My Travel Monkey
    August 16, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Great tips – especially about the snacks and the quiet carriage! The kids look like they’re having such a good time! #citytripping

    Reply
  • Sam | North East Family Fun
    August 30, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I definitely agree with making sure you book seats. My tip would be to buy a friends and family railcard and book a seat for children if they are aged 2-5 rather than them sitting on your knee – the extra space is worth it x

    Reply
    • Nell
      September 5, 2016 at 9:16 pm

      That’s exactly what we did this time around! Our daughter’s 4 but definitely too big and heavy to go on our laps all the way to Edinburgh….

      Reply
  • Notmyyearoff
    September 19, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    These are really good tips but I’m still absolutely terrified of taking two on the train. I wish they had the 5 point seat belts. Especially for my one year old 😀 then I think I’d be a lot calmer. These tips would work on my 5 year old though 🙂

    Reply
    • Nell
      September 21, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      It’s soooo much easier when the children are bigger….

      Reply
  • tots2travel
    September 30, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I hadn’t thought of building anticipation into the return journey yet it’s so obvious really. Great advice.

    Reply
    • Nell
      October 7, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • Jenny (The Little Adventurer)
    May 26, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Yes, that return leg can be the killer, can’t it? That’s great advice about building anticipation into that part too. As my little girl hates cars, I now massively favour train travel – and yes snacks, books, stickers and a tablet have been our key ingredients so far.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 26, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      I think it’s so much easier when they can get up and walk around (from one end of the train to the other, at least!). Less tiring for mum and dad, too….

      Reply
  • Sarah
    May 27, 2017 at 3:20 am

    Great tip about the train related books! We’re heading to the UK in July with our then 10 month old and almost all our travel will be via train. We’ve opted for 2nd/standard class given we’ve heard mostly business people go 1st and expect it to be quiter! Crossing fingers that bub will find it easy to nap on some of the longer trips (once she’s bored of people watching haha!). Might also get some aeroplane books for her… First we need to survive two 12 ish hour flights!! Eek I’m excited and scared all in one!

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 6, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Good luck! I hope you have an amazing time. We did find that ours both napped on train journeye when they were very little. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Reply

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