Travelling by train with children needn't be a hassle. We go in search of advice on how to make the most of your rail holiday with the kids.
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. Plus, 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 travelling by train with kids - plus added a few of our own!
At the station
1. Encourage your child's natural curiosity
Debbie Dubrow of DeliciousBaby - Making Travel with Kids Fun 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."
You can build extra time between trains to explore the station by adding a via station and specifying how long you'd like between trains when you search.
2. Practice the 'sandwich rule'
Heather Greenwood Davis of Globetrotting Mamasuggests 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. Research fun facts about transfer stations
Many railway stations have interesting features (like these stations that are works of art in their own right) so do a quick search online before you go to find things 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.
How to entertain kids on the train
4. Plan entertainment for the ride
Talon Wandwalker of 1Dad1Kid advises taking games to last the length of your journey:
"For entertainment, bring along card games like Uno or a regular deck of cards. We also travel with a small puzzle in a zip-lock bag. They’re super light and 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 advises selecting 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."
Loco2's tip: If you have any digital entertainment that requires headphones, invest in a jack that allows two headphones to plug into the laptop or small DVD player so you can entertain two children with one device. Search for headphone splitter online.
6. Prepare free activities
Loco2's tip: A quick search online will reveal lots of printable games for travelling with kids, including dot-to-dot, guessing games and eye-spy out of the window. Print a selection and bring along pens and paper to play.
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".
Loco2's tip: On some trains, visiting the dining car is a fun activity - for example on TGV Duplex, you get fantastic view from the top deck cafe - so even if you go to grab a carton of juice, or nothing at all, it can be a fun diversion and opportunity to stretch your legs.
8. Book ahead to secure a table
Loco2's tip: Buying train tickets in advance will not only save you money, but will maximise your chances of being allocated a table. It's not always possible to specify exact seats, but you do have some control for seating preference and choosing a seat.
If you're not early enough to get a shared table don't worry - most European trains have at-seat tables so you can still 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 standard 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 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.
You can check the intermediate stations of almost every train on Loco2 in advance of travel. This means that you'll not only be able to point out destinations as you pass through them, but you'll know (without listening to announcements) when your stop is approaching.