picture of a family on a train

Top Tips for Stress-Free Train Travel with Kids

October half-term is fast approaching and many parents will be getting ready to gather the troops and embark on an epic family adventure.

Whilst the half-term break offers a fantastic opportunity to step away from your desk and spend some quality time as a family, travelling with children can be chaotic.

Sometimes, just getting to the destination can be a challenge in itself. We all know the frustration of being packed into a stuffy car and hitting standstill traffic for hours on end with kids complaining of needing to pee or requesting yet another snack, or dashing to a boarding gate with only minutes to spare, trying to skirt around the giant Toblerone, or mega packs of Haribo and MnM’s, which to some of the party appear far more exciting than passport control…

So, this October, why not skip all the stress? Before booking the flight or loading the car, consider catching a train instead.

Rail Online’s Head of Travel and mother of two, Kirsty Blows, says, “Hopping on board a train unlocks a world of convenience. Gone are the stresses of traffic and long security queues at airports. In Europe, nearly every city has a train station, so it’s never been easier to jump on a train without worrying about the faff of travelling out of town to an airport.

“Travelling by train means the holiday can start as soon as you find your seats, and when juggling work and parenting in your every day, it’s crucial that the travel part of a holiday is as stress-free as possible. Travelling on the tracks can offer breathtaking landscapes, cosy compartments, and quality downtime with family – the world seriously needs to wake up to the joys of journeying by train.”

To help make train travel as enjoyable as possible, Kirsty has shared her essential tips for stress-free half-term train travel for the whole family.

Plan Ahead 

To ensure a smooth ride, make sure to plan and book e-tickets in advance. When balancing snacks, suitcases and over-excited children, the last thing you need to worry about is locating physical tickets or even turning up to a sold-out train.

By booking tickets ahead of time, you can secure seats together, avoid stressful last-minute rushes, and even save money. And who doesn't love saving some pennies for extra hot chocolate treats once at your destination?

What’s more, requesting a table seat or a spot with a power source can be a game changer. Whilst tablets and phones aren’t essential, they can be extremely useful, so having access to a plug socket could make the whole experience a lot smoother.

And if you do book early enough to secure a table, make the most of it. Bring card games like Uno or Dobble, that can be spread out on the table and enjoyed together as a whole family. Playing games will make the experience feel like part of the fun, rather than just a way to get from A to B.

Arrive Early

Arriving at the station a little early can make a world of difference, especially when travelling with children. It gives you ample time to navigate through the station, find your platform, and get settled comfortably in your seats. Arriving late and rushing to a platform will only cause tension among all family members before the break has even begun. 

If you arrive early enough, you may even have time to explore the station's hidden gems like the magical platform 9¾ at King’s Cross, the Versailles ballroom-style ticket hall at Norwich station, or even pop in and say hello to the statue of Huddersfield’s son, Harold Wilson – you’ll find him outside Huddersfield station standing among the fountains looking anxious as if worrying about catching his train on-time!

Using the time in the station to really start the ‘holiday experience’ will not only get the kids excited, but it is also a good way for you to decompress and settle into ‘holiday mode’. Remember, this is a holiday for you as much as them, so make time for the things you want to do, like popping into the station shops and picking yourself up a new holiday accessory or magazine. Perhaps also treat yourself to a pre-journey coffee or pastry, making it feel like the holiday has truly begun. 

Snack Time! 

Snacks are the ultimate secret weapon for keeping kids content during train journeys. Pack a variety of nutritious snacks to fuel their energy levels, such as fruit – fresh or dried - nuts and sandwiches, while also indulging them with a few treats along the way. Giving everyone something to look forward to at the ‘halfway point’ or once you’ve reached a certain destination will keep spirits high.

A well-timed snack can work wonders in turning any frown upside down! Let's face it, from toddlers to teenagers or even grumpy dads, snacks are the secret to keeping everyone happy on a long journey.

And the best thing about snacks, you can wash them all down with endless Capri-suns or Fruit Shoots without having to worry about the dreaded toilet stop. Almost all trains will have a bathroom on board, meaning the classic case of being bursting for a loo-stop the minute you pass a service station can be happily avoided!

Make the most of the route

Trains in the UK and beyond traverse some of the most picturesque regions, meaning train rides can be a captivating experience for children and adults alike. From winding through the Shropshire hills to cruising along Devon’s south coast, a beautiful train journey can turn travelling into an experience in itself.

Encourage your children to look out of the window and appreciate the landscapes, towns, and countryside that unfold before their eyes. It's an opportunity for them to learn about different regions, geography, and the diverse cultures of our country. Doing a quick Google search can bring up a whole host of interesting nuggets of history about each town you pass through, and the stunning views and stops along the way can make the journey feel like one big adventure!

If you're embarking on a longer train journey, consider breaking it up with short stops to visit some of the places you pass through. Explore charming towns, local attractions, or enjoy a stroll through a scenic park along the way. These mini-adventures will make the trip feel like a series of exciting expeditions, keeping everyone excited and engaged.

Move around

Take advantage of having no seatbelts and take the kids on walks to let off some steam. Visit the coffee cart, set them different seat numbers to find, or even make it an adventure in itself to ‘trek’ from the front of the train all the way to the back.

The joy of moving around is not lost on both parents and adults alike, so make the most of it. Stretch their legs and yours – it will also probably help everyone have a better night’s sleep once you arrive at your holiday destination.

Just make sure they are supervised so they don’t disturb other passengers. While many will love to engage with an over-excited toddler as he tumbles down the aisle, others won’t, and that has to be respected. Make a note of where the ‘quiet’ carriage is located and be sure to avoid ‘adventuring’ through that one.

Pack Smartly

When it comes to travelling with children, packing efficiently is key. Bring along a backpack with all the essentials: snacks, wet wipes, a lightweight hooded raincoat or even a change of clothes for those unexpected downpours, toys, books, pens, games and activities - but don’t overpack! Swapping umbrellas for fold-up waterproof jackets and clunky flasks for collapsable water bottles will keep your hands free and bags lighter - making travelling that bit more inconvenient. 

Think about the things that are crucial for the journey and make sure you have those to hand. Whilst engaging the whole family in classic travel games such as I-spy, twenty questions, or even a friendly round of charades may keep everyone entertained for a while, it’s always good to have a few physical distractions up your sleeve – particularly for the longer journeys.

And if you do find you’re doing the bulk of the packing, find ways to share the load. Encouraging your children to pack and carry their own backpacks with their favourite games, stickers, snacks and extra lightweight fleeces can give them a sense of autonomy. It’s more than likely they’ll enjoy feeling responsible for bringing their own backpack along with them.

The bottom line is, make the most of being on the train. You don’t have to spend hours on the motorway or panic about passport control, so settle in and enjoy the ride. Trains take the hassle out of travel and when made the most of can help you switch off and start enjoying the holiday the minute you hop on board.


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