Thursday, 12 December 2013

Long train journeys with little ones

I was going to blog here about our recent train journey from Scotland to Devon (and back).  

Unfortunately, Thursday morning blew in some stormy weather here in the UK.  

Waking up as the wind howled around the house and turning on the TV news to see the bedlam, we realised that we might have some problems.  Checking the rail websites we found that all the trains in Scotland before 7am were cancelled, and that after that time there was only a limited service.  Our train was from Edinburgh at 9.08am and we were planning to catch the train from Inverkeithing (on our side of the River Forth) into Edinburgh.  We left at about 7.30am for the 20 minute drive to Inverkeithing.  On a normal day, any train before 8.30 would be enough to get to Edinburgh with at least ten minutes to spare.  The M90 motorway was already queuing for the Forth Road Bridge before our exit to Inverkeithing, so we knew immediately that there was absolutely no way we could drive into Edinburgh in time.  The train was going to be our only hope.  At Inverkeithing we wrapped the children in waterproof coats and headed through the gusting winds and freezing rain across to the platform - which was absolutely packed with hopeful commuters.  Normally there are about ten trains into Edinburgh between 8 and 9.  Today there were two.  The children started to get cold very quickly, but there was no space under the shelter or in the waiting room, so we stayed on the platform, as close to the edge as possible, knowing that getting on the train was going to be a challenge.  As the first train came in, I began to despair.  It was already packed in, with commuters standing like sardines before it even got to Inverkeithing - nobody could get on.  Certainly not me with two small children and a big bag.  We decided to wait for the next train and hope for the best.  Same story.  Luckily Hubby had waited with us to see us onto the train (making himself late both for a Doctor's appointment and work), and he was able to take us home again.  C was wailing in misery and Bug was howling with disappointment.  Both had been looking forward both to the train journey and to seeing grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins on a long-awaited trip home for me.  We got them home, stripped off their wet clothes and gave them cuddles and hot chocolate before I headed out into the garden to try to put the greenhouse back together and return the garden furniture to its rightful place.  As it turns out, even if we had made it to Edinburgh, our train to Devon was having problems of its own.  I did think about driving down... but it's a nine hour drive, and I was already tired.  Plus I'd already spent out on train tickets, and the expense of diesel... plus the weather was really bad and driving would have been very tough!  However much I wanted to see my family this weekend, driving down for an entire day, spending two days there and then driving back for an entire day just seemed silly in those conditions.

Here are some of the things I was planning for the journey:

  • Try to get a table seat for you and the children - you can do much more.
  • Take plenty of snacks and drinks.  I aim to get some food out every hour.  Eating it provides a distraction, a change, and takes ten minutes.
  • Make sure that you have a change of clothes accessible for the children, just in case.
  • If your train journey is about 8 hours, then aim to have about 16 activities up your sleeve.  Allowing half an hour for any new activity, it means you always have something to do with your children.  My ideas included: colouring sheets, dry-wipe cards with drawing and mazes, a couple of story books, drawing books, a set of cards, a magazine to look at, an 'out the window' scavenger hunt, a catalogue to look through, a train timetable and map to examine, baby doll and clothes, handwriting practice, I-spy etc.
  • Aim to keep the children sitting down at the table as much as possible so as not to irritate fellow passengers by your offspring running up and down.  At appropriate intervals (every couple of hours?) take a wander down to the toilets, and at some point, head an expedition to the on-board shop.  This will satisfy their curiosity and allow them to stretch their legs a bit.
  • While its okay for your children to chat if somebody talks to them, and to peer between the seats and smile at the passengers around them, you don't want them to become annoying, so if your child is constantly playing peek-a-boo with the person behind you, then gently distract them and give them something else to do.
  • If you have little tots who aren't walking yet, then firstly, encourage them to sleep as much as possible (breastfeeding on the train is absolutely fine).  Secondly, don't be afraid to ask kindly looking fellow passengers if they will hold the baby while you take the older children to the toilet.  The alternative is placing them on the lovely clean toilet floor!  Equally, it's okay to ask other passengers to watch the children for you while you go to the toilet, or while you change the baby's nappy.
  • One thing I was worried about was if the train was busy.  Because children under 5 are free, you don't get a seat reservation for them.  I was planning to keep my seat reservation in hand, and go and find a free table.  If there wasn't one because the train was busy, I would have ended up with two small children on my knee - fun!  You can simply buy the tickets so that you do have enough seats.  It's much more expensive, but if you are on a long journey and you know the train is likely to be busy then it may be worth it.
  • When travelling with older children, do get a "Family and Friends Railcard".  It will most likely pay for itself on that first long journey (1/3 off adult fares and 60% off children's fares, for £30 per year), and then you have it to use, saving you money on any further train travel during the next 12 months.

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