Toddlers and Trains


Earlier in the trip, we used trains (and one ferry) to travel from Ireland to Croatia, with numerous stops along the way.

Trains in Europe seem much quieter than trains in the USA. When I’ve traveled alone in the past, I’ve loved this! However, now that I’m accompanied by toddler, I often wish for more boisterous travelers to mask our son’s constant questions.

Still, we’ve found train travel to be significantly simpler than airplane travel overall (plus it’s easier on the earth) so we try to train instead of fly when possible. Here is what has worked well for us and our toddler.

Night Trains for Long Distances

Keeping Theo reasonably quiet for twelve hours on a train would be a serious challenge. However, he sleeps pretty much anywhere, so we made sure that all of our long trips were via overnight train. For three separate trips, we booked all of the beds in three-bed compartments and put him on the bottom bunk. He woke up confused once on the first trip, but then quickly settled into the idea that sometimes his bed would be rocky and a little loud and was great for the rest of the time.

Lunch and Naps for Daytime Trains

Whenever possible, we scheduled our shorter (2-4 hour) train trips to span lunch and nap time so that we’d have some activities that already involved staying in one place. The lunch part always worked well, but sometimes Theo would refuse to nap on the train, leaving us with a somewhat grumpy toddler for the rest of the day. Oh well.

Online Bookings

I was a bit more spontaneous of a traveler pre-toddler, but for this trip, I booked all of our tickets at least several weeks (often months) in advance. I really wish there was a Google flights for trains, but there isn’t, so I spent a lot of time searching for routes and options between different web sites. My favorite site was Capitaine Train, which aggregates tickets from a number of rail operators in an intuitive interface. Their prices are also the same as the rail operators themselves, which does not seem to be true of Rail Europe, one of the other popular way to book tickets online.

After several hours of struggles, I realized that it’s really not possible to book certain Deutshe Bahn overnight trains online: for us, Rome to Munich and Munich to Zagreb. EurAide helped me make these bookings.

In Ireland, we booked our trains using Irish Rail and our ferry to France using  Irish Ferries. We booked an overnight train from Paris to Venice using Thello.