“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett
Just recently I had the exquisite pleasure of traveling with my 2 year old son. Most people might think I am being sarcastic when I say that, but it was a blast. We took a two day train trip from Fresno, California to Albuquerque New Mexico. I have been a mother for 13 years. I have four kids. I know intimately the anguish and horror that traveling with children can be and I will get to that later. But having said how hard travel with kids can be, this particular journey was just me and my 28 month old. It was magical. I now want to make it my goal to do this kind of one-on-one journey with each of my children.
I loved the wonder in his eyes as the train lurched forward. “WOW!” he said. He pressed his face against the window and pointed at everything we passed. “Wassthat?”
I was so impressed with how long he sat still for. He sat and pointed at things out the window asking me “Wassthat?“, over and over again for 45 minutes after we pulled away from the station. Trains, houses, trees and train stations seem so much more fascinating from the window of a train. I loved how amazed he was by the doors that opened when you pressed them with your hands or feet.
We were blessed because my mother sprung for a sleeper car for Jack and I. PEOPLE LISTEN TO ME! A sleeper car will make all the difference when traveling with a little one. Sure Jack looked out the window for 45 minutes but but we are talking about a two day trip! Thats 2,880 minutes, thats a lot of WHASSTHATS, and since I want to keep crowds of people from attacking me and my progeny, I relished the privacy of our lil teeny tiny space.
I have travelled without a sleeper with three children, and I swore I would never do that again. I still swear I never will. Kids don’t care too much for sleeping in train seats (I don’t care too much for it either). And to be honest I felt bad for our fellow passengers who had to listen to the constant complaining that went on all night. As my sweet children took turns waking up, and depending on their age, either cried or whined about not being in their own beds, I cringed knowing everyone around us was wishing for something terrible to befall all of us. I could almost hear the adults around us wondering how many years they might get for throwing an entire family off a moving train. Lucky for us, folks just thought about it.
With three it was SO difficult to wrangle all of them, especially when they wanted to go in every direction at once. The sleeper car is great for sleeping but also serves as a great home base. A great place for naps and if you just can’t bring your self to venture out with your kids then you all can stay in your room and your meals will be brought to you. I kid you not. In the morning someone will come by and ask you what time you would like to eat in the dining car. If you don’t want to venture out they ask you what you want to eat and freaking bring it to your car. I know that sounds amazing right? Well it is. If you do get a sleeper car be sure to bring some cash to tip the folks assigned to your room. They make your life amazing they deserve a tip.
I think the VERY best thing about the sleeper car is that there’s a SHOWER! Yes a shower. No, not in your room, but it’s in the car your room is in. When you are traveling with a child in diapers, access to a shower is HEAVEN. Jack had an accident one hour into our two day trip. ONE FREAKING HOUR!
I took off his diaper and it was wet and got wet runny poo on my pant leg, shoe and arm. THANKS JACK! Lucky for us we walked right to the shower. We were all cleaned up and ready for dinner in under an hour.
Had we been in coach I would be desperately cleaning myself with wipes and crying, I know, I’ve done it. So in front of everyone who will read this, THANK YOU MOM. I totally mean this, because sleeper cars aren’t cheap, but I am not joking if you CAN then do it.
Like I said, we were lucky, the sleeper car afforded Jack the ability to take a nap, which means I got to as well. Um, this NEVER happens at home, so that was delicious. We had lots of quiet time while he watched a movie and I read a book, also another thing that NEVER happens at home. The sleeper cars have places to plug in and what I would call intermittent wifi. But by gosh they have it! The room also has air so you control the temperature in the room. At night they come and turn your seats into a bed.
Train travel is so great, I don’t have to drive, we don’t have to stop at random convenient stores or gas stations to pee, or worse, eat. The meals on the train are tastier than you might imagine. I had an excellent steak with perfectly baked potatoes one night. I was in shock at how much I enjoyed my meal! The best part about meals on the train is that it allows for you to meet people you may not have met otherwise.
This is Ms. Vera and her grandson Elijah. We had breakfast together, and chatted about how awesome traveling with loved ones can be on the train. The interactions are more mindful. “You can be so much more present when you are not busy driving” she wisely shared. She had been visiting loved ones in Los Angeles and was heading back to Chicago. Elijah was a sweet boy and let Jack play “Angry Birds” on his phone during breakfast.
Needless to say Jack ate very little, so we took a to-go-box back to our little room. The night before, Jack and I shared a table with a young man named Anthony, who had just come back from a European train tour. He shared stories about traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I was riveted of course, and after a while of exchanging traveling stories we realized though, that Jack was fast asleep sitting up. I was so caught up in the story telling that it skipped my mind to get a selfie or a photo of sweet Jack fast asleep, sitting up, head resting on the window.
It’s been my experience, that when you travel you make friends quickly, in my personal life you keep those friends. Recently I was going through Amtrak’s Instagram page and ran across the following:
I thought this summed up how quickly travel helps us to meet new people and befriend them.
On a trip years ago, I went home for Christmas with 3 of my girls ages 6, 3 and 16 months old respectively. I was a hot mess and must have looked it, because these two young men offered to help me. They told me me they were on an epic bike ride across the US. I asked why they were on a train, they explained that, “Texas was big.” I agreed. They offered to help me with my girls in exchange for any meals I could provide. Amtrak Au pairs? You bet I said yes. These young men were so fun, they read books to my girls, sang and even juggled to entertain us on our 3 day trip. These photo’s are all I have of the trip, this was 5 years ago, back before instant posting to Facebook.
The boys took a ton of photos, but sadly their camera was stolen before they uploaded any to anywhere. I only took a few. The good news is I am still friends with these two young men and I will get to see them when I go to Ontario this month to speak at the Birth and Beyond Conference. For months and months after the trip my oldest asked about them and to see them on facebook.
THIS is the magic of travel. It makes your world smaller. Three years after meeting these young men, I received a message from them one night asking if we could house a traveling friend of theirs in our home on Thanksgiving. She was passing through and needed a place to crash. We gladly picked her up and she and my girls hit it off right away. It turns out she’s a musician and a photographer. She played music for the girls and cracked us up.
My husband and I were thrilled to make a new friend and we were all sad when she left. We also continue to keep in touch with Emma and I am hoping to see her when I am in Toronto as well (fingers crossed). Three new lasting friendships all because of one train ride.
Traveling with your kids can seem daunting, and at times it can be stressful, but the pay off is immense. Travel changes everyone.
“It is always sad to leave a place to which one knows one will never return. Such are the melancolies du voyage: perhaps they are one of the most rewarding things about traveling.”