A calm and memorable journey. Those are the two words that most parents want to hear when thinking about travelling with children. Here are our top tips on how to do just that.
We may be biased, but we believe that train travel promises both of these, particularly when embarking on a long journey with children. There is just something about trains that calms children in a way that air or car travel do not. Same goes for adults of course. Family tables, passing landscapes, room to walk around, cafe facilities, time to chat and catch up and, joy of joys, no luggage restrictions. Going by rail is safe, comfortable and affordable when planned in advance. Teach your children the joys of train travel from an early age and they will be lifetime converts.
Our top twelve tips on travelling by train with children:
1. If you are travelling in the UK, always ensure you have a Family and Friends’ railway card if your children are under 16 years old. Read more in our Railcards blog. If your children are over 16, they can get a 16-25 Railcard, and once one of the young people in your family or group turns eighteen, he/she can be the designated adult on a Friends and Family Railcard, if travelling with younger children. Trust us, on many occasions your journey will be a lot cheaper than going by car in the UK when using these railcards.
2. Buying train tickets in advance will not only save you money, but also maximise your chances of being allocated a table, if that’s what you need for your family travel. If tickets have not been released for purchase yet, you can always set a booking alert, so that we can email you when booking has opened. It's not always possible to specify exact seats, but you do have some control over choosing a seating preference. Read our Choosing seats on trains blog.
3. Even if your children are young enough to travel free of charge, this usually means that they are expected to sit on your lap. Consider buying child tickets for under fives if you are going a long distance, as this reserves extra seats and much needed space for wriggling or resting. You won’t pay as much as for adults fares and it might be worth it for the extra space and relative privacy.
4. If you aren’t going to be in a rush when you get off the train, you can always put your buggies and larger luggage in the bike carriage. There is usually a bike sign on the carriage so keep an eye out for that one. Read our blog on European train travel with families, which gives more details about family-friendly facilities in terms of storage or, in the case of some countries, family carriages.
5. Bring a map. Train travel is a great opportunity to learn about the geography of a region, discuss the stations you are going through and point out how much faster you are going than the cars on the motorway alongside you. The Rail Map Europe, published by our friends at European Rail Timetable, is cartography that is too cool for school. We highly recommend the The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book for quizzes along the way.
6. Travelling by sleeper train not only saves you a night’s accommodation but really does turn the whole trip into an adventure. Take your time to research it as they all vary in terms of sleeping compartment sizes. In standard class, you usually have the choice between gender or non-gender specific if not booked out completely. However, it is always worth considering buying an extra child’s ticket if necessary, in order to book out the whole carriage. Your children will never forget that moment they unfold their beds from the wall for the first time, to reveal a ready-made bed. It’s like den heaven. See our blog on Sleeper Trains to get some ideas on where to sleep and where to wake up. One of the best must be taking your children to Paris for a few days, getting on a night train and waking up in Venice.
7. Pack a blanket or a travel pillow for those snoozy moments. And wear layers on train journeys. Trains can get surprisingly hot in all seasons. We hope for a chilled journey for you and your family, not one where you get hot around the collar. Don’t forget to pack water bottles too, the good news being that Network Rail in UK, and other international stations, have worked to install water fountains at all major stations to combat the battle against single use plastic. water fountains
8. If your children are very young, they may find large stations a little overwhelming. So try and arrive in good time to show them around the station a little, explore the range of platforms, meet the inspectors, explain the arrivals and departures board and so on. All things that we take for granted as adults but may still be very new to young children. When you book your tickets, you can build extra time between trains to explore the station by adding a ‘via station’ on your booking and specifying how long you'd like between trains.
9. 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. If you're travelling from London to mainland Europe, for example, your first port of call will be London St Pancras International, an impressive Victorian station filled with fascinating curios. Also, take extra time to visit nearby Granary Square, food markets and fountains to run around in. Also, Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss a stop-off at Platform 9¾ from where the Hogwarts Express departs.
10. Plan train activities for kids, but do remember to make sure they are relatively quiet ones so as not to disturb other passengers. Card games, jigsaws, and games like Rush Hour are always favourites. This is also a great opportunity to catch up on reading a book out loud to your little ones. Dust off that Kindle and download a few books for the journey to save some space.
11. If you want to avoid screen time, then download some audio books for the journey. Invest in a jack that allows two headphones to plug into the device so that two of you people can listen and laugh to David Walliams or Roald Dahl en route.
12. With no luggage restrictions on train travel, you can pack as big a picnic as you like for your train trip. Although egg sandwiches will never go down well with fellow passengers. Bringing your own food is always cheaper than purchasing on-board. However, on some trains, visiting the dining car is great fun, such as on board a a TGV Duplex train where the restaurant is on the upper deck.
Image credits top to bottom: Header images of girl with bear ©Loco2, Young family in train ©dimarik, Boy on train ©FamVeld, Boy asleep on sleeper train iStock ©Leo_Kostik, Girl and boy on bench iStock ©Oleksii Spesyvtsev, girl on train with teddy bear ©Loco2
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