It might be surprising to you to think my husband would willingly want to take the train recreationally. I know its surprising to me. Sometimes, the last thing you want to do in your spare time is to do the something you do for work. But, here we are a family of 4, with two young babies taking the Via Rail from Prince George to Jasper (and back again).
We’ve had this dream to take the Via Rail to Jasper for many years, even before we had kids. However, the Via only runs to Jasper three times a week and returns just as infrequently. This makes it challenging with my husbands sporadic time off and limited holidays. In November, he made his miles (maxed out on the number of miles he can work in a month) and got a few days off just in time to catch the Monday morning Via train to Jasper and make it back before the start of a new month.
I’m not sure what we were expecting taking the train to Jasper with a toddler (aged 27 months) and a baby (aged nine months), but we’ve known to do some stupid things and just test our patience in our want to get out and explore. This train ride was just that experience. Because Train Travel with Toddlers is going to be easy, said no one ever
Because of a train travel with Toddlers, isn’t just any old train ride. Parenting expectations don’t stop when you travel with young kids, and being out of the house and in public makes things just that more challenging.
Lucky for us, we choose to take the Via from Prince George to Jasper in offseason. There’s not a lot of travellers connecting on a rail in Western Canada during most of the year let alone mid-week at the end of November. On the way to Jasper, we were 4 of 6 passengers. On the way home, another couple joined us from Jasper to McBride before catching a tour bus back to Jasper. Traveling in the off season is perfect and meant we had the whole train to ourselves.
From the sounds of this, this train stretch in Northern BC isn’t frequently occupied. During busier times of the year such as Christmas, and the summer, it does spruce up, but not much. For the most part, rail travel in Canada is unreliable. An example would be, CN Rail hogging up the mainline in Prince George resulting in a three-hour delay leaving the station. We could have driven to Jasper in that time (not really, but almost). Additionally, out on the line, it’s not unusual to get held up by freight trains as passenger trains don’t hold priority. This means it can take a long time to get where you want to go.
I figured after enduring the trip, I’d share with you just a couple of tips for traveling with a toddler in tow. Train travel with toddlers is just as challenging as a road trip, and offers it’s own perspectives.
Feel free to ask any questions below.
By far the hardest part about train travel with toddlers is all the waiting around. Waiting at the station, waiting on board, waiting for other trains, waiting for your On Boards person – Guys, I was less than impressed with the first guy because well I’ve already filed a complaint with Via Rail.
Pack the entire fridge.
The food options on the Via Rail from Prince George to Jasper were sparse, and trying to get a hold of the On Board person was sometimes a little challenging. Bring snacks, enough for the duration of your trip, plus any potential chance of being delayed 2-5 hours. I would recommend two full meals.
I thought I packed enough snacks for the trip; however, I opened up my container of salad only to find it covered in slime and rotting. There went one meal down. I then proceeded to live of baby-friendly granola bars and coffee for the rest of our trip.
Just like a car ride, long travel times lead to the munchies. Come prepared because there’s no gas station stops onboard the Via Rail. Yes, you can get a few snacks at the store, but choices are limited.
Be Prepared to Entertain.
Babies are easy travel companions. For the most part, they are curious and fascinated with everything they’ve never seen before. Toss them your water bottle, or an empty wrapped, and you have solid 20 minutes of curiosity to keep them busy.
Toddlers, on the other hand, are no longer readily occupied by simple tricks. They insist on all the focused attention. I bought cool gel crayons from the dollar store for colouring, alongside a variety of other artsy things. That’s what he’s into right now. I bought toys, but he couldn’t care less.
- Dance Party in the Bubble Car
- Play Simon Says
- A Little “I Spy”
- Make Friends with other Passengers
- Build a cardboard train to play with.
We also watched a lot of movies. We’d also watch a lot of movies in the car too, but sometimes, a cranky, tired, hungry child just needs some movie time.
Did you forget your child would need to nap on the train? The baby was easy, I strapped her into the carrier, and my warmth against her as the train swayed, and she was out cold. Toddlers, not so easy. He usually napped 1-2-3 hours later than he normally did, and we only managed it by taking over the dining car. My husband laid him down on the benches and patiently convinced him to sleep while watching a little Lego movie to calm down and a blanket from his coat.
My Recommendation: bring a blanket or stuffed animal from home for a little extra comfort for little one. This really could have helped us. While we don’t normally do that at home, I think even the familiarity
Pack a Separate Day Bag.
Every single time we have a trip, I make this mistake and I’m not sure why I don’t learn from it. But make sure you have everything you need in one bag and everything you don’t need in a different container. Leave that second back in the baggage hold of the train, and just take what you need to your seat. Sorting thru a million separate bags is just stressful, and it creates a big freaking mess.
I get it; it’s hard with kids because you never know when they might fill their pants, destroy their clothing, or maybe need the thirteenth diaper today. But you can always get the extras and keep the important stuff with you. I didn’t need to my tripod on the train. I didn’t need all those diapers either. Just enough for the trip.
Will we take the train again?
Probably because we’re kind of like that. It’s frustrating to travel by train in Canada because of the potential for delay and that it just takes so much longer than travelling by car. But, all, in all it was relaxing. It was nice just to admire a part of the country you can’t see from the highway, and the kids enjoyed not being confined to car seats.
- For even more on the matter check out this blog post on travelling in Oregon by train with toddlers.
I wonder where our next rail journey will take us?
Some other real challenges about rail travel: When you get where you’re going you don’t have car seats. Therefore you’re trapped to travelling by foot. Make sure you book accessible accommodation or have provisions available.