How to keep kids happy on the train

  • Aug. 22, 2017 4:58 p.m.

Trains provide families with loads of flexibility almost anywhere in the world.

Traveling with kids by train is often much easier than going to the airport, especially if you are connecting between two destinations that are relatively close together.

A one-hour flight usually takes about four hours when you average airport arrivals, checking baggage, waiting for baggage at your destination, etc. And that doesn’t even account for possible flight delays, which are all too common these days.

Trains are less frequently delayed; in fact, trains in Europe, especially, run like clockwork.

Rail’s biggest advantage, however, is that families will waste no time checking in. Simply walk onboard at the appointed time.

Trains are also more flexible. If you miss one, there’s usually another coming soon and your tickets are often still valid or, at least, more easily and affordably changed.

Kids also find train journeys more enjoyable. They have a lot more freedom and less restriction onboard, and that’s one of the many ways to keep them happy during the trip. Here are a few more:

l Pick a Scenic Journey

Rails often go where cars do not, so when trying to decide whether or not the train is a good idea, try to pick the most scenic and interesting route.

For example, it’s pretty boring to speed through faceless cities for a whole ride or even alongside vacant countryside, but coasting along the California coastline is pretty spectacular for everyone involved.

l Get Up and Walk Around

The beauty of traveling by train is that you are free to explore. If you see that the kids are about to lose their minds with boredom, go for a stroll from one end of the train to another, say hello to the conductor or grab a snack in the dining car. Passengers are rarely if ever restricted to their seats.

l Make Meal Time an Adventure

On a European train trip with my two daughters, we had a picnic onboard. We brought some baguettes, fruit, cheese and other snacks with us, and my girls went to the dining car to purchase drinks on their own.

I used a scarf as a table cloth. We made a whole spread with all of our food and drinks, setting the table with plastic cutlery pilfered from the dining car (shhh, don’t tell).

Our “gourmet” meal was a lot of fun, and we were almost to our destination by the time we were done and had cleaned up. It was a great distraction from one of the more monotonous parts of the ride.

You don’t have to go to great lengths as we did, but many trains offer eat-in dining cars or snack cars; Getting up and walking around for a bite to eat or a drink breaks up the trip.

l Make It a Game Day

If you are lucky enough to grab a seat with pairs of chairs facing one another and a table in the middle — which are generally available to families—you can use the time on the train for a game night (or game day). Some train lines even allow you to reserve these seats in advance.

Pack a deck of cards or a small, magnetic version of your favorite board game and spend some quality family time; no devices needed.

l Sleep On the Train

If you are taking a long journey, make it fun and try to go overnight. Kids love sleeping in crazy places, and a train will likely top their lists.

Make sure you book a private sleeper or that you are comfortable sleeping in a couchette with strangers. It’s possible to sleep in the main cars in regular seats, but it’s not as much fun, nor is it anywhere near as comfortable.

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