One of the flip sides of escaping to live on the South Coast is that keeping in touch with friends and family involves a lot more travel. People come to see us too of course – and there’s something very special about getting to spend a whole weekend catching up with a backdrop of sea air and glorious views – but we need to do our bit too. So at least one weekend a month we seem to find ourselves juggling baby and travel cot and way too much luggage to head up to the big smoke.
We made sure we got Arthur in ‘train’ing early – when he was three months old we took a trip to Paris on the Eurostar, and over last summer we adventured further afield to visit friends and family in the US and Canada, travelling by rail from New York to Halifax via Toronto. All that was before he started crawling though, something which definitely adds another dimension to babies and trains.
I’d still way rather do a long journey by train than in the car. Quite aside from the slightly embarrassing fact that I have yet to learn to drive so Leigh has to be permanently on duty I like the fact that on the train we can move around and do cuddles: Arthur’s isolation in a car seat threshold is about two hours, and then he’s only really happy if he’s asleep.
Several hours sat mainly in one place definitely calls for a growing arsenal of equipment though, and that is the subject of this post. In no particular order, these are the things that no Arthur train journey can be without.
*Disclaimer: none of this is rocket science. It has, however, taken my baby-addled brain a good few months to work it all out, and I’d like to believe I’m not the only one who might benefit from a bit of stating the obvious from time to time.*
1) A Baby Carrier
Ok, so I lied when I said this was in no particular order. The rest might be, but anyone who knows me knows that a baby carrier is my number one piece of baby kit for pretty much any situation. On a train journey, it means no wrestling with a pram on top of all the other luggage; somewhere for the baby to sleep so that you don’t need to hold them and can have your hands free for other things (writing blog posts for example) or in fact catch up on some sleep yourself; and finally something to support them as you wander up and down the carriages to keep them entertained or sing and dance in the vestibule when things really get bad, all the while being able to hold on to the grab rails to stop yourself from going flying. My favourite baby carrier has to be the Connecta. Comfy enough to wear for long periods of time, yet small enough to throw into the change bag or easily slip on under a jacket. And gorgeous fabrics too, which is always nice.
2) An Upgrade
Now this is clearly a luxury rather than a necessity, but an upgrade to first class makes journeys with a baby so much smoother. We only do it on the weekends, when for our route from Totnes to London it costs £20, and offset it by booking as far in advance as we can for the cheapest ticket. When you bear in mind that the baby is otherwise travelling for free, and that the upgrade almost always guarantees you a couple of extra seats and a table, it really starts to make sense.
(For non-parent-first-class travellers reading this in uproar about a potential influx of babies to your sanctuary, we tend to choose the carriage with the fewest reservations, and never the quiet carriage so you can always escape there if you need to).
Since Arthur’s been eating solids, food has always been a great way to pass the time. Not so useful at home when you want to have a quick snack before heading out the door but pretty handy when you’ve got a couple of hours to kill. The key thing to remember here is nothing too messy, something I learnt the hard way after a particularly spectacular houmous explosion at a motorway service station on one of our rare car journeys. I say learnt, but I still found myself mashing banana on rice cakes for an in-transit breakfast on the way to London last weekend before taking one look at them and eating them myself. But dry rice cakes, hard cheese, fruit and veg sticks, raisins – all these things make for pretty good snacks and pass a bit of time in the process.
I might be cheating a bit with this one, as I know I’m very much in the minority to still be breastfeeding Arthur now he’s past a year, but a major reason for keeping going (there are lots, but that’s a different post) is how much easier it makes things on the move. If all else fails, stick him on the boob. He’s happy, and with any luck he’ll take the opportunity to have a nap.
Now this definitely falls into the stating the obvious territory, but it’s more the choice of toys that I feel is worth mentioning. Before I was a parent I always winced slightly when I saw children being kept ‘quiet’ by some device that was actually making more noise than they could’ve done if they tried. I may change my mind on this as Arthur gets older, but for now I’m definitely in the camp of not becoming massively anti-social in the pursuit of keeping my child entertained. See point 6 for reasons why this can definitely work to your advantage…
There are a few things that we’ve found particularly useful in keeping the journey fun for a wriggly baby:
– Small soft toys are great – initially I used to make them sing and dance for Arthur, and recently he’s started making them do that himself. His current favourite is a fox, but anything small enough to carry easily will do.
– Those toys with suction cups for sticking onto highchairs are also pretty handy. I bought this one to keep Arthur entertained on the flight to New York, and he’s still fascinated by it.
– And of course books – for reading, and in their board book format great for chewing, or stacking, or wearing. The potential’s endless.
I always have to remind myself to resist the temptation to get everything out the minute Arthur starts to get restless. One thing at a time, and then repeat until you arrive at your destination…
6) Other People
It can’t be denied that one or more travelling companions (besides the baby) is a pretty helpful addition to the journey. But if you play your cards right then other passengers can quickly become your best friends! I’m always extremely self-conscious about getting on a train with Arthur, inventing an internal monologue for everyone sat nearby which is chastising us for daring to leave the house with our baby, let alone bring him into the train carriage where they have to sit for the next few hours. It always gives me flashbacks of getting on packed tube trains for school trips, ready to defend the perfectly affable teenagers in my charge from accusations of loutishness levelled at them purely because of their age… But I digress.
When travelling on trains with Arthur, I have generally found him to be extremely good at making friends if I let him. On more than one occassion people who have raised their eyebrows when they first see us are proclaiming what a lovely baby he is by the end of the journey. And if people really don’t want to travel with a baby – well, they can always move to another carriage. Their loss I say.
With all of these things to support us, I have to say that travelling with Arthur is almost always a delight. Watching his excitement as the train begins to move, looking out of the window with him and pointing out all the things we see along the way, feeling him lean into me when we arrive at our destination and he gazes around taking in his new surroundings. It is these things and more that make me love travelling in general – not just to see friends and family, but to see the world – and I can’t wait for all the future adventures we have in store with our baby.