Train Travel with Baby

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Wearing baby to board

The small town I live in happens to have an Amtrak depot and for trips to Chicago (where my parents live), nothing beats the train. My son just turned one and has been taking the train with me since he was a couple months old – about half a dozen trips – and we just got back from our most recent. It’s a 3 hour ride each way, and usually just the two of us.

What We Bring
The most important thing I bring on any trip is a baby carrier. I don’t think I could manage getting a stroller on and off the train by myself so I always wear my son. It also helps for moving around the train too, as I can strap him in and still have my hands free to steady myself if the train gets jerky. On one trip when he was little, I stood in the back and bounced him to sleep in a Moby wrap (and still had hands free to catch myself when the train jerked). Plus, yep, I wear him when I use the restroom.

I usually take a carry-on sized suitcase and one backpack. I stow the suitcase and keep the backpack which I’ve stocked with changing supplies (except the awful time I forgot to pack diapers), nursing cover or scarf, entertainment for baby, and water and snacks for me.

The "random things" I brought on our train trip: old wallet with plastic-y cards, small kitchen funnel, plastic lidded container (old bullion cube jar) with colored contact lens case, stickers, and a long strip of cloth.
The “random things” I brought along on our most recent trip: old wallet, small silicone kitchen funnel, plastic lidded container with more random things inside, stickers, and a strip of cloth.

I take a mix of toys, books, and random things I think my son will be interested in. Now that he’s eating solids, I also bring snacks for him and I put some baby apps on my devices *just in case.* I try to set aside the toys and books a week in advance so they’re fresh on travel day. The “random things” probably entertain him more than anything. He’s really into containers with lids now and stickers are always a good diversion. (Stick them on baby’s hands, clothes, or the container itself.)

Keeping Bud entertained was simpler when he was younger and slept most of the trip, but now as long as I can keep him busy he’s content. As he’s gotten older he’s also gotten more social and making friends on the trip passes some time too. He likes looking out the window when we’re going through towns and we can move to the lounge car or dining car (outside of meal times) when he needs a change of scenery or if the train is packed and we don’t have double seats to ourselves.

Where to Change Baby’s Diaper
In the bathrooms there is some counter-like space next to the toilet that’s almost even with the top of the lid, so when he was smaller I put my changing pad on that and hoped he didn’t touch too much! I have also placed a large garbage bag under my changing pad on the toilet area, and even on the floor when the toilet area looked too gross. Some cars have a “dressing room,” which isn’t roomy enough for an adult to actually dress in, but has counter space that’s just the right size to change a small baby on.

Now that my baby is getting older I hate to use the bathroom because he tries to touch everything. There is a lot of open space in the front and back of certain cars and on this most recent trip I just put our changing pad on the carpeted floor. On the long-haul routes there is also enough room on the floor between seats if you have a set to yourself. I also did the world’s quickest change right on the seat once when he woke up from a nap just as we were approaching Chicago.

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Looking out the train car window

Tips
Even if your car looks crowded, don’t be afraid to ask if other cars have more space. On this most recent trip, we were in a packed car (next to someone taking up more than their half of the seat and floor space too, the nerve!) and I assumed the whole train was full, only to find out an hour later on our walk to the lounge car that there were a ton of double seats open in other passenger cars.

Nursing while sitting right next to a stranger stinks, but if you’re breastfeeding you gotta do what you gotta do. Ask to switch to the aisle if you think it’ll help. Or, if baby can hold out until after an employee scans your ticket, just move to the lounge or dining car. If there’s no room anywhere, you can always nurse in the bathroom.

Pack diapers! (And wipes and a change of clothes.) This seems so obvious, but on our first trip I, the then-rookie-traveler, somehow managed not to put any diapers in our bag for our return trip, and of course baby had a blow-out. I did have plenty of wipes and also happened to have a pad and some disposable nursing pads so I got creative. It was as horrible as you’re imagining it to be, but we made it.

Don’t worry if baby gets fussy. While my kiddo usually does well, he gets fussy if he’s hungry or too over-stimulated to fall asleep for a nap. It’s only recently that I’ve started to take my own advice, but try to not to worry about what other passengers think. I’ve heard people talk on their phones or play video games louder than my baby fusses, plus, the train itself is pretty loud and drowns out some baby noise.

For us, train travel definitely beats car travel with an infant. If you get tickets in advance, the prices beat gas costs and children under 2 ride free with an adult. Except for just a few instances, I usually see Amtrak employees go out of their way to be accommodating to families, seating them together and giving extra extra space when it’s available. At Union Station there is a separate boarding area for people traveling with young kids and I’ve loved the perk of not having to wait in ridiculously long boarding lines.

Do you want to travel by train with your baby, but are afraid go it alone? Have you done any long-distance train traveling with younger children? I’d love to hear from you. Happy travels!

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