Vacations with children: a little planning can make all the difference A trip on the train
Last summer I gathered up two of my three preschool children and traveled 3, 653 miles by train - twice! Would I do it again? Definitely! Train travel has much to recommend it, especially if time is not a big factor. For our entire family to make the same trip this summer, train tickets would cost between $430 and $860 less than the lowest air fares available from three major airlines. Children are not confined to their seats as they would be on plane, bus, or car, and no one has the responsibility of being the driver. And travel by rail can provide an opportunity for special close family time.Skip to next paragraph
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Here are some practical tips the three of us discovered from our transcontinental journey.
* Luggage. Ordinarily each passenger may check two pieces of luggage (each a maximum of 75 pounds) and bring two carry-on pieces. The carry-ons are the vital ones, for they must hold all clothing, snacks, and activity items to be used en route.
* Clothing. Even during the summer the train tends to be cool, so the children were most comfortable dressed in long pants, short-sleeved shirts, and lightweight jackets or cardigans. We included sweat shirts as well, for mornings and evenings were chilly. One set of shorts each was invaluable when we were temporarily stranded without air conditioning in the 100-degree F. summer sunshine of Minot, N.D.
* Snacks. Food is available in both dining and snack cars, but eating out for three meals each day can be expensive. As passengers are permitted to carry on some food, we found we could plan one meal ''out'' each day and bring sufficient supplies for the two others and snacks.
Foods that traveled well were packaged sliced cheese, hard-boiled eggs, raisins, fruit leather, individual serving-size cans of fruit cocktail, breakfast cereal, and bagels. Peanut butter sandwiches and bagels split and spread with cream cheese were still fresh on the second day when we brought them on frozen.
* Activities. For toys, we brought along puppets, action figures, and miniature vehicles. These kept the children involved and happy in a small area and also acted as community playthings for the spontaneous play groups that formed with other children during various stages of our trip.
All of the trains on which we traveled were equipped with trays that folded down from the seats ahead of us, and this gave each child a small surface area for artwork. We packed colored pencils (they are fewer and cleaner than crayons, and don't break so easily), a small pencil sharpener, blank paper, and coloring books. On one of the trains we were provided with special train activity books which we enjoyed, although they were geared more to older children. Play Doh is another medium that travels well and is easily cleaned up.
On some occasions, more adult interaction was important, and for those times we brought out the stories. At bedtime it was nice to have a few best-loved books from home. Other times new stories were refreshing for all of us. Among the new books bought for the trip were three in which trains were the main characters, and these quickly became favorites. We did not need a great quantity of books, for other children aboard were often willing to share their books when they found an adult willing to read them aloud.