Trains + Toddlers (Or Babies)
We first took Milo on a train when he was three weeks old. In to London from Milton Keynes in the cold November air; headed off to celebrate Greg’s birthday at Hawksmoor and act like parenthood hadn’t changed us. We’re still being spontaneous! We’re not fussed by longish journeys with a newborn! We’re so tired!
At eight weeks old, Milo came with me in the pram from Milton Keynes to Dover and then back again. I dragged a suitcase behind my Stokke Crusi and wore a rucksack. I was only going for a few days while Greg was off training somewhere but bloody nora, you need a LOT of things for babies. And I had to remove at least three pairs of spare shoes. I also had his car seat wedged underneath the carry cot, in the tray.
I felt quite a lot like strangers I strode past suspected I’d just left a bad relationship.
Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is despite the fact it may feel as though travelling with a child is a daunting task, it’s totally, utterly do-able. I’m a real flapper (Greg fondly nicknames me Flustered Susie these days; it doesn’t make me want to sex him) and I still manage it without breaking in to a sweat. I haven’t even got a grey hair yet. I KNOW!
At the moment, Milo’s 21 months and we’ve probably racked up close to about 100 train journeys. The MK to Dover and back, up to Manchester, to Birmingham, to the Lake District, to numerous Kent seaside resorts; you name it, we’ve done it. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do unless you want to feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown while in charge of a small human. And I’m living to tell the tale. It’s really lovely that I get so many kind comments and emails applauding my efforts at trekking nationwide but genuinely, any mama can do it. So here’s some tips and tricks just in case you’re a bit nervous about getting started (apologies if some of these seem patronising/obvious; consider this a total novice’s guide).
- Start them young if you can – the more accustomed they get to being chucked on public the transport, the better in my opinion. If you know they’ll be OK with it by the time they start noticing their surroundings, you’ll be OK with it.
- If you struggle with anxiety and worry you might not do so great trapped on a whizzy can with a baby, try some small trips first – train journeys with lots of stops means plenty of opportunities to get off. If you’re not doing very well; take a breather, suck in the fresh air and zip back home.
- Keep an eye out for deals which make your travel easier – for instance, Virgin Trains allow First Class ticket upgrades for only £15 on the weekends which means HELLO COFFEE, TEA AND COMFY SEATS.
- Don’t try to be a hero – if someone’s offering to help you on to the train, say yes. And the same goes for getting off the bloody thing. It is literally impossible to mount a Virgin train without assistance and trying to flag down one of their representatives is about as easy teaching a sea lion to conduct an orchestra; they’re often busy or not around or quite simply peeping their ruddy whistle. Take that offer from a kind stranger. Recently I just straight up asked a bloke to give me a hand and I’ll do the same if I’m stuck on the train and don’t think I can get off. The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no, but seriously… who’s likely to do that? (If someone does say that, I can suggest nothing other than poo straight in or around their eye).
- If you don’t want to chance it with any old Tom, Dick or Harry; ask station staff – they might be a bit eye rolly but literally they can get to f***. And I mean that in the nicest, kindest, politest way.
- Not getting a seat isn’t the worst thing – remember when you used to take the train and having to stand was hands down the most infuriating thing in life? Particularly if you were commuting and knackered? It’s different when you’ve got a child. I never try to look for a seat, ever. I park myself outside the loos or just in the redundant space near the slidey doors, keep Milo in his pram and enjoy knowing I haven’t got a wriggly child on my lap. If someone nice offers you their seat or a conductor suggests you might like to head further down the carriage; just explain it saves everyone a heap of hassle by keeping well out the way.
- Take lots of snacks. Because you can munch some too.
- I personally wouldn’t ever bother using the changing facilities in a train toilet unless you really, really have to. I’ve done it on the floor of a carriage once, when it was very empty and I made sure Milo was shielded away from prying eyes which may be offended. If you can hang on and wait ’til you get to the station/the place you’re headed then do so. Trying to change a nappy in a cramped train loo is like wrestling with a mud covered piglet in a hairdryer.
- Toddlers love responsibility and with that comes tickets. Milo now understands he has to show them to the ‘lady or man’. He waves them wildly and they look at me a bit surprised I’m putting such a grubby, small thing in charge of our travel. I of course give him the old ones I’ve saved from previous journeys and flash them today’s one myself.
- Books, toys, downloaded videos, shoes, purses, wires, anything. Anything can be a distraction. Including what’s out the window, what’s on the train, etc etc etc.
- Once they get to toddlerdom, they may actually really become quite excited about being on a train. Milo loves anything enginey/vehicley so train rides for him = me remembering I’ve got large chocolate buttons in the cupboard.
- Let other passengers in – don’t panic that everyone’s annoyed you’re in their space with a child. Lots of other people own mini humans too and have no doubt had to drag them on public transport. If they look like they might want to be part of the ‘lets make sure this child doesn’t kick up a fuss!’ brigade then welcome them in with open arms. Last week, a lovely woman chatted and played with Milo almost the whole 35 minute journey and he was so well behaved because it was a new person to interact with. It probably also helped she kept handing him pens.
- If it’s a short trip, your baby’s small enough, your back’s strong enough and you have to ride the tube – take a sling.
- I advise the above point because a TONNE of underground stations do not have lifts and trying to squeeze a buggy on to the escalator isn’t that easy. It’s also terrifying if you cock it at the wrong angle and don’t have anyone to prop you up while you feel as though you might fall backwards with your freshly alive baby. The GoBaby app is worth downloading (tells you where to avoid/which stations don’t house 638363 stairs)
- If you can help it – don’t travel in rush/commuter hours. It means you won’t have people pushing past, rolling their eyes, huffing and genuinely being pissy you’re travelling in their god damn time. I get it; I used to commute and hearing a child squealing while I was tired, hot and wanting to be sat at home drove me crazy. I also bellowed at a French lady once to ‘KEEP TO THE BLOODY RIGHT HAND SIDE LIKE THE SIGN SAYS’ because well, she had her pram balanced on the left. My mean editor never let me leave the office on time meaning I had to run from a shuttle bus, through Waterloo station to Waterloo East in 6 minutes but ANYWAY, French ladies with prams don’t know that, I look back and feel awful. Save yourself shouty suited people and go when a glacial pace isn’t infuriating.
- If you’re breastfeeding and want some privacy, I’d advise not grabbing one of the four-seater-with-table areas seat you clap eyes on. If you see a standard two seater, opt for that instead, they feel much more enclosed.
- I’ve started taking train related books on the journey with us so I can make it in to a bit of a project as we ride. The bell dings in the book, we listen out for the real life train bell. Just things like that. No, you’ll not be able to enjoy just sitting quietly and enjoying the view but if a mini brain work out means you get there without feeling like a failure plus your little one’s learned something then yay!
- I’d say the very most you can carry without dropping things/getting in the way/being unable to manoeuvre is your pram, one large bag in your tray, one rucksack on your back, an across the body handbag and if you think you really, really need it… you can drag a suitcase on wheels behind you (I advise a small one). I once passed another mum carrying all of this while I too was laden like a pack horse; we both laughed at one another and she shouted ‘keep going!’.
In all honesty, no, it’s not crazy easy. Now on the rare occasions I travel alone I find myself hunting for things out the window to comment on before fully sitting back and unwinding. Like with most things you took for granted pre-baby, you really can’t underestimate how EASY it is travelling alone. You don’t have to do anything! But then last week, Milo fell asleep on the train in to London, remained snoozing on my walk from Euston to St Pancras then didn’t wake up four minutes prior to me arriving in Canterbury. It can be done mamas, this whole travelling alone thing. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes you’ll get sweaty, sometimes you’ll want to cry, sometimes you’ll feel I am woman hear me roar. It’s like any other part to parenthood, you take the rough with the smooth. Don’t let the fear stop you, you got this.