Travel by Train with a Toddler: It’s a Toss Up

In our family, we’ve made it a bit of a tradition to travel South to Oregon during the month of April.  We’ve added other spots into the mix, but no matter what, Portland is always involved.  The birth of Bergen hasn’t gotten in the way of our tradition, though our itineraries may have slowed down some.

Seattle King Street Station | WildTalesof.com

Last year for our April Oregon trip, we left the car at home, and decided to give train travel with a baby a try.  We were big fans, and thought we’d give it another whirl; this time with a 20 month old.  I must admit, I had hesitations now that Bergen is a young toddler nearing the 2 year mark, however I was also comforted by all the “amenities” that attracted us to the train in the first place.

Travel by Train with a Toddler | WildTalesof.com

And you know what? After our recent experience, we really are undecided, and still given the choice again, we don’t know what we would choose for our  mode of transportation!  Here we give you our “pros & cons” of traveling by train vs. car:

Pros:

  • You don’t have to drive.  No worries of navigation.  No aggravating stop and go traffic to sit through.  The pressure is off. 
  • Little ones are not confined to car seats or seat belts.  Bergen is on the move, and that is exactly what he is allowed to do on the train.  Slaed and I took turns walking with him up and down the line of train cars. He could stop at a set of empty seats and climb around for a while, he could interact with other passengers, and check out the view from different vantage points.  You can bring the car seat aboard the train, and we did that with Bergen last year, which worked out really well for napping, but it’s not necessary.
  • You can be social.  It’s much easier to chat with your travel companions on the train, in fact some seating situations even allow you to sit across from each other.  You also have the chance to meet and socialize with fellow passengers, and I see them as one more distraction tool in my “keep Bergen occupied” tool kit.
  • The view.  The view is better on Amtrak Cascades than on I-5, and I’m guessing most train routes would be the same.  Also, you actually get to enjoy the view without being concerned of driving off the road.
  • You don’t have to stop to eat. Whether you pack your own meals and snacks or pick something up in the bistro car, you can enjoy your food without taking time away from getting to your destination.  The bistro car also just gave us something else to do with Bergen.  He happily sat on my lap, and devoured a bag of pretzels while I got to take in the scenery.

View of Tacoma Narrows Bridge: Amtrak Cascades | WildTalesof.com

Cons:

  • The train ride is longer than the car ride.  However, if you encounter traffic on the highway or stop for a long meal or rest, the duration may even out.  The duration may also even out if you need to stop frequently for a baby (nursing, diaper changes, etc.), as we would have had to do last year. 
  • More coordination.  Instead of just loading up in the car, you have to get yourself to the train station, worry about parking, check bags, and on and on.  This is by far more simple than traveling by plane, but still takes time.  Time that you could be logging in the car getting to your destination.
  • Work! It’s a lot of work to keep an active and busy toddler from disturbing everyone traveling with you on the train. Bergen did not want to sit still.  In the car, we time his nap to coincide with our departure time, which gives us at least an hour of solace. We didn’t even want to risk a failed napping attempt, so he napped before the train ride.
  • You could get stuck. Weather, slides, and other trains can all get in the way of your train arriving at your destination on-time.

Travel by Train with a Toddler: Amtrak Cascades | WildTalesof.com

Tips for Train Travel with a Toddler: 

  • Bring a partner! Slaed and I took turns.  One of us would run off with Bergen for awhile, and the other could kick back and relax for a bit. 
  • Do business class. It will cost you more per ticket, but with business class, you get an assigned seat ahead of time.  Non-business classers have to wait in line at the station to get their seat assignment, which can take up a lot of your precious time.
  • Take advantage of the bistro and dining cars. We can’t emphasize this enough.  On the return trip, we actually spent the majority of our time in the dining car.  If you end up with a less than ideal seating assignment, it’s a great alternative.
  • Just like we’d suggest on the airplane, don’t be in rush to board. We enjoy and wander around the train station for as long as possible before making our way to our train car.  There will be plenty of time to get settled and explore that space!
  • For even more general tips, see last year’s Travel by Train post.

Travel by Train with a Toddler | WildTalesof.com

What would you do? Train or car? We want to know what you think!

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This post is linked up with Travel Tips Tuesday on WalkingOn Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.  For tons more travel tips, check out their sites!

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11 thoughts on “Travel by Train with a Toddler: It’s a Toss Up

  1. Train travel is something that I have always wanted to try, but I think I might think of it very romantically rather than in reality. You definitely helped me to see it more realistically.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrea! I can’t wait to experience train travel in Europe–hope is someday soon…
      We love this route from Seattle to Portland. The train station in Portland is right downtown & an easy walk to our hotel.

  2. Pingback: Checking in for the Train and Checking out Seattle’s King Street Station | Wild Tales of...

    • It’s definitely a tough one, Kelly. I’m guessing that route is quite a long haul. The good thing is, they can get up and walk around as much as they want and you have the option of visiting other cars and areas. You have to weigh the price difference too…also how good of an on the go sleeper is your little one…So many things to consider!

      • She is a wonderful on the go sleeper. She sleeps in her car seat, stroller, planes, someones arms, a floor…..pretty much wherever she is when she is tired. She has been on a plane numerous times and is awesome, even with hours of layovers. It is about half the price for all of us than it is to fly.
        The train would be a 5 hr with a 7 hr stop in Chicago followed by another 10hrs on the train over night. I think we may go ahead and try. If it fails miserably then at least we will know to never do it again!

  3. Thank you for the tips! I have never been on a train. My 4yr old has been begging to ride one for about a year now. In 3 days we will embark together with my 18 month old and my mother in law on a 5hr train ride south to visit my girls’ parental great grandparents (a 3hr drive by car). I’m excited, and nervous for the girls. I will save your article for use in the upcoming days. Thanks again!

    • You’re welcome, Alison! What a fun adventure you have in store—have a great journey–I think you are all going to love it!

      Let me know if other questions come up–now you are making me really want to plan another train trip–such a great way to travel with kids.

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