We’re living in an era where reducing your carbon footprint is no longer a choice but now viewed as a necessity. If you are a family who love to travel and you live somewhere with a decent train network, one way to balance your need to explore with a commitment to your eco-conscious kids is to take to the rails for longer journeys.

While it can seem easier to chuck everything in the car and drive off, there are way more benefits to letting the train take the strain. On trains you can move around and there’s plenty to look at, the buffet car provides a great distraction, and you don’t have to factor in emergency toilet stops. Here are ten tips to make sure you and your kids are not in for a smooth ride:

girl with binoculars looking out the window on train.jpg
Train travel can be an conscious way to satisfy your wanderlust © Bonita Cooke / Getty Images

1. Plan your route

You might know what point A, B, and even C might be, but have you looked at the connections? Consider whether they are too close for comfort when you factor in hauling small people, suitcases, and buggies over to different platforms. Likewise, five hours on a train can seem like an eternity with a toddler who won’t nap so consider carefully what you are committing yourselves to, especially if your family is new to train travel.

We all know this usually gets you a better price, but when you travel with kids it also means you can secure yourselves a table, hopefully in a carriage not too far away from the buffet car. A little leg stretch is good but navigating a hot cup of tea, moving train and enthusiastic toddler for ten carriages can be a challenge you regret. Advance booking might also give you the option of a relatively cheap upgrade to first class (think of all that space for the kids, as well as the complimentary drinks). 

Sometimes it’s unavoidable to travel with the commuters, but if you can give them a wide berth then do so. Not only will the tickets usually be cheaper but there will be more space for your kids to spread out and less chance of them annoying someone as they prepare for an all-important meeting. This in turn, of course, makes it less stressful for you. It’s also worth remembering that some routes really empty out past a certain stop, so you might be able to handle a crowded hour knowing your kids will get more space for most of the journey.

Boy looks out the window of a train towards the Matterhorn
Plan ahead so you know what major attractions you might be able to see out the window © Jekaterina Nikitina © Getty Images

4. Do your research

The internet is of course an amazing resource. Google your route, the train operator you are using and anything else you can think of. You might find that your train has a child-friendly carriage (some European trains have a soft play centre on board – yes, really!) or that you pass some really interesting landmarks. At the very least you will learn about any railcards or discounts you can use to book.

You might also enjoy: Best night train journeys to enjoy in 2020

The golden rule of travelling with kids when it comes to trains is being ready for delays or rerouting, prepared for sudden spikes or dips in carriage temperatures, and being able to handle it if there’s no buffet car or trolley service. As always, travel with a change of clothes, a basic medical pack, a few snacks, and a spare charger. The train is no different to a plane or car here.

6. Prep your kids – and yourself

If your family is new to rail travel, it’s important to remember the small person’s perspective: stations can fascinating, but also overwhelming – especially for some neuro-diverse children. Looking out of the window is only really interesting for about, oh, two minutes and even the most train-obsessed toddler gets bored of the choo-choo sound after a while. Whatever age your kids are, talk through what to expect and be ready with distractions, games and your attention.

Family playing games together on a train
Be prepared to play those games you brought to distract your kids © Nilsson Huett / Getty Images

7. Travel light

With the exception of all the things we’ve already said you should bring, travel as light as you can. Trying to get your kids, yourselves and a million suitcases, rucksacks and bags of essential snacks off a train in a rush is not an easy task. Plus it’s good to teach your kids they can survive with less than they think they need. If you can, ditch the stroller and use a carrier or their own legs. If you can’t, make sure you bring one which folds down easily as you will be collapsing it frequently.

You might also enjoy: All aboard the slumber express: family travel by night train

8. Get ready to game

One of the great things about travelling on a train is that the whole family can get involved in ways to pass the time. Card games or travel versions of popular favourites such as chess, scrabble or even Monopoly can keep everyone entertained. For smaller children puzzles or I-Spy can work well and teens will welcome the wi-fi available on most trains. It might even be chance to play with them and learn a bit about their world.

father and son pull a big yellow suitcase on a train platform
Relax the rules, have some fun and enjoy your trip and your kids will love it © SbytovaMN / Getty Images

9. Relax your rules

Like other forms of long-distance travel, this is not the time to stick too closely to your food or screen rules. While it’s never a good idea to let kids consume millions of sweets, a treat or two helps the journey pass – plus trips to the buffet car are a great way to break things up. Likewise the iNanny can be a godsend when you are into the third hour and everyone needs a break from each other. 

10. Have some fun

Whether it’s reading companionably, having a go at a crossword or creating some silly drawings together or playing a quiet game of cards, travelling on a long-distance train as a family is a great chance to just relax and have some fun in each other’s company. You can even turn it into a real adventure by taking a sleeper train (a sleepover! On a train!). But whatever you do remember the cliche: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

You might also enjoy: 10 of the world's most amazing train journeys

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Explore related stories

autumnal sunset over Venice city
1405164902

Family Travel

The night train from Venice to Rome was a time and money saver

Jul 5, 2023 • 5 min read