We love traveling by train, especially long distance. If we had to pick our favorite mode of getting around, we’d pick train travel in a heartbeat. We find it to be far more comfortable than plane, bus, or even car rides; there’s more space to get up and walk around, and no turbulence you have to deal with! Most trains get you where you need to go pretty fast, yet there’s also ample opportunity to look out your window and take in the scenery.
Trains are also easier than planes; you don’t have to show up hours in advance, you don’t have to go through rigorous security procedures, and the train station itself is typically easy to navigate. What’s more, we’ve found that train stations usually have great local food and shopping options, either inside or right around them.
One more perk: Most train stations are right in the heart of the city—so they tend to be more accessible than airports.
And it’s not just that trains are great in general; they are wonderful for families, in particular. Take the seating arrangements. Sometimes you can get a whole cabin just for you and your loved ones—a great way to travel with both privacy and comfort. And even if you don’t get a cabin, you can get seats that face one another, often clustered around a table.
Let’s not forget that most kids really love trains—it’s easier for them to walk around, and they don’t have to be buckled in, as they would in a plane or an automobile. And because trains are a little louder, you can feel alright bringing some noisier toys on board. Trains will have a lot more options for you to get your child food and drinks, too—including on-train restaurants you can access as needed.
To get the most out of your long-distance train travel—especially when you have a toddler in tow—we have a few simple tips.
Tips for Taking Your Child on a Train
Now, with all that said, traveling by train does invite some strategic considerations, especially for parents of younger kids.
First, some booking advice: Make sure you actually get a seat for your child. Some trains will offer you a free ticket for your child, but not an actual seat. Trust us: You’ll want the seat, as it gives your child some space of their own, and it allows the entire family to be more comfortable. (In some countries—particularly India—you actually can’t book a seat for kids under five; what we did was, ah, fudge his birthday a bit. We paid for the seat, so it seems like a victimless crime.)
Some trains have entire cars that are designated as “quiet” cars. You probably want to avoid these, as kids are not known for being reliably quiet.
A lot of trains offer first- and economy-class seating, and the price difference is usually significantly less than it is on planes. You may end up paying 30 percent more for your first-class upgrade, and we think it’s totally worth it. For one thing, first-class tends to have way fewer people—so there’s more room for your child to run around. And in second-class, you can’t always reserve seats; to make sure you have a good arrangement for you and your family, first-class is the safer choice.
As for keeping your child engaged, we’d recommend the same types of toys that we recommended for car travel—tablets/apps, books, coloring books and crayons, and whatever else your child likes to do. Also, you can often request coloring books or toys from the train employees; we found that many trains were highly child-friendly in this regard.
You can also get up and walk around the train with your child—something your child will really love! It eats up some time and keeps your child from going stir-crazy. Of course, you can also enjoy just looking out the window together as the train passes through different types of terrain. And don’t forget that many trains have lunch cars—not just a good place to mingle and stretch your legs, but perhaps also to have a quick drink or two!
We think, with the right preparations, that you’ll have fun riding the train—you and your toddler.