Tips for train journeys with two

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I’ve recently done several long-distance journeys on trains and ferries, on my own with my 2 boys (Little Baby, 5 months and Finn, 2yrs 5months).

For me, public transport is much better than being in the car, not just for environmental reasons (and um, because I’m terrified of driving…). Until recently Little B put up an incredible fight every time he was confined to a car seat, and screamed throughout the journey, seemingly whatever I did to calm him.

Anyway, 4 hours in a train carriage could still have gone badly wrong, especially for the poor innocent passengers who were not responsible for my children. So I tried to prepare as much as I could…

Here’s what worked for us: please add your suggestions in the comments!

1. Take a quilt or mat so baby has somewhere clean and soft to wriggle around. When there was enough space, I put the mat down for Little B (on a train seat, train table or the ferry carpet) and let him kick around next to me.
2. Several suggestions from this post about flying with toddlers were helpful (though not the sweets!). The best was to plan the journey in 15-minute slots with a new activity for each one.

Our activities included: several books (new from the library, plus old favourites); crayons and mini notebook; picnic lunch and entertaining snacks (yes, eating counts as an activity!); several toy cars; mini station and toy trains; stickers; magic-wipe drawing board; looking out the window and talking about what we could see; children’s TV downloaded to my phone; bus lotto. The latter is a good toddler game but a stupid thing to bring on a train as all the counters quickly joined the toy cars on the floor.

3. I kept the watching-something-on-the-phone activity for emergencies, which mostly meant towards the end of the journey when tempers were frayed and quiet time was needed for Finn.
4. Wrap some of the activities as gifts (also an idea from this post). I wrapped up some of Finn’s toys in tissue paper e.g. a cast of 6 duplo characters for imaginative play, who took ages to separately unwrap, plus some cheap new things like a little packet of new crayons, some stickers and one of those magic-wipe drawing boards.

5. A good buggy and baby carrier combination was essential for getting to our seats and to the train loo. Also for feeling confident I could pick up both children and the bags and carry them if I really needed to. So I had a front carrier for Little B, plus a tiny folding buggy I got in a charity shop that I knew would fit down the aisle of the train, and a backpack for the luggage. A double buggy would have been a liability for all the above.
6. Use left luggage/bag checking facilities whenever possible. If you’re also carrying two kids, any way you can give yourself a break from lugging inanimate objects is amazing. Irish Ferries let us check our backpack for the crossing, and a left luggage at Holyhead station made it much easier to go an explore the high street while we waited for the train connection.
7. The kindness of strangers.. I realise this isn’t a tip, I just wanted to say it. Maybe I have been lucky so far, but I like to believe that other travelers on the whole really are kind. I know you can’t plan for this, but I just want to share that on average, people DO help carry buggies down stairs, DO smile and coo at babies, DO tolerate crumbs and toy cars raining down on their feet under the train table, DO give up their seat for your toddler when you could only reserve one seat for the three of you and all the seats in the carriage are reserved.
Finn is now into audio books so I think my next journey will involve trying headphones and an old-school CD walkman on him…
And if anyone has found a solution to the fact that you can’t reserve train seats for young children because they don’t pay for rail tickets, please share!
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