Train travel in Europe – with kids!
A great way to slow your travel is to hop on a cross-country train and observe the different landscapes rushing by. In Europe one can easily get by without the need of a car, a combination of trains, buses, walking and the occasional hitchhiking will get you anywhere you desire to go.
As easy as it is for adults to get around, children have many of the same privileges when it comes to riding public transportation. In most European countries, kids aged 4 and under can ride for free when traveling with an adult, above that age children travel at a reduced price, but you will want to know before you go as each country has its own rules. If you are planning multiple routes on your trip, family passes can save money and increase schedule flexibility, especially advantageous when you are travelling as a larger family.
To make travel fun for the little ones, keep the following in mind – things to do and bites to eat are essential for smiles all around. Kids will have more freedom on the train than they do fastened in a car with a seat belt, so let them stand up, walk around and be themselves (so long as they don’t disturb other passengers).
Activities that they carry in their own backpacks (which encourages them to foster responsibility for their belongings), will not let them be able to fall for the excuse of boredom. When they are tired of staring out of the window, let them choose a simple card game, activity or coloring book or small toy that they have brought along.
Food and snacks are for when hunger calls, and when you sit for long hours a nibble here and there will keep tempers down and spirits up till you get to your destination. There will likely always be a food cart on the train with chips, candy bars and fizzy drinks, but if you have food sensitivities, know that it is best to bring your own meals.
Take the chance to spend quality time with your kids and refrain from using technology of any kind on the train trip. In these modern times when it is all too easy to pull out a tablet, pull the plug and just say no. Ultimately it is the screen time that distracts from the journey and of being together, a long train ride is a remedy for all those moments you miss when attached to devices of your own.
Choose a train for the nostalgia of traveling with and getting to know other passengers, take a train because it goes where you want to go or for reasons of wanting to experience a meaningfull, slow life together with your family.
Some tips to keep in mind, when planning a long train trip:
- Buy tickets well ahead of time and try to get facing seats with a table between them. It will make snack time and game playing much easier, while providing the family with more leg room.
- Travel light and pack just as much as you need, as it is not just the train ride to consider, but the entire journey – if you need to transfer to a bus station, or if the next leg of your journey starts from a train station across the city, you need to decide whether to splurge on a taxi, or navigate the public bus or metro system in an unknown place.
- Bring enough water and drinks for everyone. You can buy them on board, but they will come with a price.
- If you are getting off before the final stop, keep your ears attuned for travel cues, if there are any. Most times there won’t be, so don’t be shy to ask others around you or stop a ticket inspector if you are unsure of where you are. With children, it does take time to get everyone, and their gear, off the train, be prepared for your stop!
- Print out a travel map with the route your train is taking, so that you can count down the stops and practice speaking unfamiliar words, names – this also provides a geography lesson for older kids.
- If you are taking an overnight train and want your privacy (there are 6-berth sleeping cabins commonly available too!) you may need to book an entire cabin for your family.
One of the greatest things about train travel, is the unhurried speed, something much appreciated by a slow traveller who understands the importance of his/her ecological footprint as it relates to transportation as well as food miles.
Slow travel is less stressful for all involved, so get your kids on board and let them have a ride of a lifetime, even if it does take 15 hrs for the train to get from Budapest to Paris!