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