Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Toddler and a Train

The ever wonderful Antique Mommy is hosting Terrific Travel Tips. Seeing as Miss Emi and I just returned from a trip, I thought I'd play along!

EMi, 20 month's, and I traveled by Amtrak from the State of Washington to Michigan (changing trains in Chicago). 45 hours of train time, 50 hours of travel time. Oh my.

Here are some things I learned along the way:

When traveling by Amtrak I always (always always always) sit in the lower level cars. I make sure of this when booking and if there are no seats available, I travel a different day. That's how strongly I feel about this.
  1. There are only 10-12 seats in there (you'd think I could remember exactly how many, as many hours I spent in there).
  2. There is no way to get out of the car except the way you get in, no 'back door'. I feel this is important on a number of levels. First of all, it's safer if traveling with children. The door opens and closes, so they are contained. Very few people come into the car unless they have tickets for that car, or get turned around (usually they leave as soon as they realize their mistake). It's quieter, but you have to be willing to go along with this too. If you are traveling with rambunctious kids, this car will not work for you. The majority of folks traveling this car are the elderly and/or persons needing assistance (wheelchairs, caregivers, walkers, etc). I was very careful to watch Emi and make sure her attentions to our travelers was reciprocated. Most of the time, she found new grandma's and grandpa's who were delighted with her. That was not always the case, so I needed to keep a firm grip on her at times.
  3. It's quieter, much. The train is constantly loading and unloading passengers. This makes for noise, no matter what time of day it is. With only having 10-12 seats in the lower compartment the noise is lessened, a lot.
There are things I packed that I felt really worked for us. That I would take again in a heartbeat (remember that I was traveling with a toddler, your needs may vary as to the size of your travel group/age of travelers):
  1. A very small cooler for the first day (that's all my fake ice packs kept the food cold) with a small Rubbermaid container of milk, a couple of yogurts, some cheese slices and a couple of PBJ's. That first day we ate out of the cooler and a small duffel of food.
  2. Speaking of the small duffel of food, I packed the following into it for meals and snacking: snack sized baggies of Cheerios (for above mentioned toddler), dried apple slices, graham cracker sticks, crackers, gorp (for me), meal bars and makings for four bottles (but only one actual bottle that I washed out in the restroom - not great but she's old enough that I don't need to boil nipples or anything). I also tossed in a sippy cup and my water bottle was in there.
  3. Water. Yes, I did pack water. Not a ton, as I knew I could get more on the train ($2.00/16.9 oz bottle, ouch). But Emi drinks a ton of water all day long (we don't do juice at all, so she only gets water and milk right now). I started with her traveling 16.9 oz water bottle (that we refill at home usually), plus my 20 oz water bottle and an additional 20 oz water bottle. That got us through the first night, and (I think) that first day. I don't think I had to buy water until the morning of the second day. There are water spigots and cups along the train but Emi is still on filtered water so I felt better doing this, even though it added to the weight of the duffel.
  4. Harness/leash.This was incredibly useful when we would go up to the Observation car, dining car (rarely), snack car (almost as rarely). I did not use it when we were in the lower level of the train, just when we would leave our safe haven. Also, there are smoke/fresh air breaks from time to time. It was so nice to be able to pop this on her and go outside. We both enjoyed the short walks off the train. That said, for whatever reason, Emi loves this thing. She knows when she sees it we are going for a walk. If she finds it, she will bring it to Jeff or I and demand a walk. We tend to keep it hidden when not in use. :) {Here is a pic of Miss Emi in her harness from our visit to the fair earlier this fall. She actually was happier than the photo shows, just very busy and didn't want to be bothered with photos!}
  5. Clothes. I packed pj's and clean clothes for both of us for each day of train travel. While I couldn't shower or do my hair, I could freshen both of us up (there is a smallish dressing room on the lower level, used by everyone in the car both upper and lower levels). It was nice to be able to feel at least a little presentable.
  6. Blankets. It gets COLD as the night wears on. I brought Emi's thermal blanket from her bed that rolls up pretty darned tiny and then a lap/sofa type throw that is down-filled. I rolled that thing extremely tight and held it in place with bungee cords. Worth the trouble, seriously. I could cover both of us with that, plus Emi's little blanket on her. We were snug as bugs in a rug! Many others in the car were cold, but my sweet baby never was. Important to this mama.
  7. Toys. For both of us! For Emi I brought 2 puzzles that are fav's right now and that she will sit and do over and over and over. Her one small stuffed penguin that goes everywhere with us these days, a travel DVD player and sleeve of dvd's, socket extender and extension cord (usually there is only one outlet in this car, this way I was able to get the power I needed for Emi's dvd's and still be able to share with others ... made me a very popular traveler and many said they'd use this trick themselves when traveling). I also packed little goodie bags (one for each day) with junk in them that I didn't care if made it home or not: plastic bracelets and necklaces, tiny packs of playing cards that she just put into piles or back into the bag, a light stick (huge hit, go figure), etc. Not a lot as she's pretty young but by the end of the trip she knew those bags and would get so excited. My toys: Palm Pilot (seven books on that baby, it holds more but that's all I thought I'd need), MP3 player with both books and music.
  8. Diapers and wipes. Oh my! For 50 hours of travel time I should have brought 50 diapers. HA! That was so not going to happen. I did however bring 35, which ended up being overkill but had the train been seriously delayed I would have needed them. That was the one thing (well, and wipes) that I couldn't get in a pinch.
So, bags I took on board: small cooler, small duffel for food, backpack that held our blankets, clothes and basic toiletries (oh, remember a toothbrush/paste, deodorant and even some of those face washing cloths you can find in the travel/trial sizes area at Target - they were a godsend). Toy bag, and a smaller duffel that I use for a combo diaper bag/purse. Oh, and the stroller.

Something I wish I had taken that I didn't, a small camera. I had our larger one, but it was so bulky I never took it out of the place I stashed it. Which means I didn't get even one photo of our train adventure. Never again.

I did have to check luggage, a medium sized rolling suitcase and the car seat (for the Michigan portion of our trip).

It was a great adventure and one I would suggest, but only if your kid(s) are good travelers. Emi, even while only a toddler, is a great traveler and loves new adventures. I do wonder if, as she gets older I would try this. At 20 months she is still pretty much under my control. At 2 or 3, probably not so much. :)

BTW, I am still in the writing process about our trip but wanted to join in on AM's list. Look for my report on our adventure later this week!


Beverly Lewis said...

I have never done an Amtrak trip. Now that's on my list too. I came over from Antique Mommy's. Nice to meet you!

Gina (Caleeo) said...

Great tips! It sounds like it was a success - looking forward to hearing more.

Barbara said...

Sorry I wish I would have thought of this before you left instead of now that you've come back. But it might be helpful for the future...

I wrote a post before you started reading my blog of free resources for kids stories and music. A lot of it is for older kids, but there are songs and picture stories as well... Online Books and Stories for Children

Barbara said...

And here is another with a few more resources...

Great Free Fun Sites for Kids

www.antiquemommy.com said...

My mom and I took a train trip from California to Illinois when I was five. She probably could have used these great tips!

Mrs. Who said...

I have really considered taking a train trip sometime after we retire this spring. But we would want a room with bed and shower, etc. Have you ever traveled that way?

Tracy said...

So thorough! If I ever take another Amtrak trip (I have not done that since I was 8), I will definitely consult this post first! Yes, I traveled with Charlotte at 20 months (in a plane), which was much easier than it would be now that she is 2!


JanMary said...

50 hours om a train - eeeek!

Glad you both survived.

Great tips too.

Maddys Mom said...

Great post, we are actually thinking about taking the Amtrak from Chicago to Dc for the RQ Nov LID reunion so this is good info.

Dh & I took the train from St Paul to Whitefish, MT to ski a few years back & loved it. Now we'll just have to figure out how it will be w/ 2 1/2 YO if we decide to do it next June.

Jenny 865-53oh9 said...

I. cannot. imagine. I've wanted to take my boys to India (where I grew up)but can't fathom how they would handle flying for 23 hours. You ARE the travel queen!