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10 Reasons to Travel by Train at Half Term

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With half-term coming up, it’s no surprise if you’re looking to whisk the kids on a day trip or staycation. We asked Debbie O’Connor – a mum and the brains behind two popular parenting blogs: Motivating Mum and Mum’s the Boss – to give us her view on half-term travelling and tips on where to take the kids.

So keep on reading and get some ideas for your family…

For many parents (especially those with toddlers or those with more than one child) the default mode of transport is the car. Wherever you are going, it just seems so much easier to pack up the car with the buggy and everything you need, program the satnav and head off merrily to your destination.

But there are times when it might be just as easy, or even easier to take the train.

Many parents will throw up their hands in horror at this and say that train travel is far too much hassle (and far too expensive), but after more than eight years of experience travelling with two children less than two years apart in age,

I can honestly say that it can be hassle-free — or even fun.

These are the main advantages that we have found from taking the train, rather than driving with children:

1. The journey starts right from the moment you arrive at the station. My son in particular gets as much enjoyment out of being on the train as he does from the destinations that we go to.

2. Because you are not driving, you can interact more with your children all the way. You can all look out the windows and play I Spy or whatever takes your fancy.

3. Now that mine are a bit older, they like to take their Nintendos, iPods or a book on the train. They can’t do this in the car as they both get sick. We give ours a small bag each with some entertainment and a snack and they love it.

4. Wriggly children can move about a bit more and even stand up now and again. They are less constrained than in a car.

5. Most trains have toilets on them – any mum who has heard the toilet whine just seconds after passing a service station will recognise that this is a really big bonus.

6. Most stations are well connected with public transport. It is easy to plan timings of transport – you know exactly how long things are going to take and when you will arrive.

7. Some trains will allow you to take bicycles on. If you enjoy cycling it can be easier to transport your bikes on a train than strapping them to the back of a car.

8. Finding parking spaces isn’t an issue (and neither is the associated expense)

9. If you use a Family & Friends Railcard, or some of the other family friendly tickets offered by the rail companies, it is not as expensive as you might think. And you may also get discounts on your favourite attractions thrown in with your ticket

10. The first time you travel with young children on the train, you might want to pick a reasonably short journey – 30 minutes to one hour is ideal. It’s long enough to be exciting and fun for the children but hopefully not so long that they will get bored.

Favourite holidays by train

We love to go up to London – for us this is well within the one hour limit. I can’t imagine why anyone who doesn’t live in London would ever choose to drive up there as the train is so convenient. Considering that children aged up to 10 can travel free on the London Underground (up to four children per adult), it can be a very cheap way to get about.

Our trains come into Waterloo – so sometimes we just walk straight out of there onto the South Bank, for attractions like the IMAX cinema, the London Aquarium or Tate Modern. Sometimes we walk across Hungerford Bridge towards Charing Cross, Trafalgar square and Theatreland, and sometimes we just hang out on the South Bank.

In the other direction on our line is Windsor. We all love visiting Windsor Castle and also enjoy the boutique shops and cafes in this lovely town.

Of course once your children are used to travelling by train, you can start to plan longer journeys. This is where the fact that nobody is driving really comes into its own – you can all relax on the journey leaving everybody refreshed when you get to your destination.

We like to head down to the seaside when we get the chance. We have relatives in Bournemouth, so given half a chance we pack our things and get down to the beach. I grew up by the seaside, and I like nothing better than going to the beach, even on a windswept February half term. It may be chilly, damp or bracing, but if you wrap up well you can still enjoy an exhilarating walk, run or cycle, and according to my daughter, paddling in wellies is ‘the most fun ever’.

Our particular favourite beach is Hengistbury Head, near Bournemouth (less than two miles from Christchurch station). There is a nature walk, land train ferry trips and some lovely beach huts and cafes. Another spot, not too far away on the South Coast, is Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island.

Once you have had your bracing walk along the coast and played on the beach ’til the children are exhausted and you are freezing, the only thing to do is to retire to a local hostelry for something hot and welcoming and a few glasses of the local beer or wine for the grown-ups. And there of course is advantage number 10: no designated drivers. Everybody can eat, drink and be merry as they please.

Debbie O’Connor runs Motivating Mum and Mum’s the Boss , two websites which provide support and advice to mums who work from home or run small businesses. She is married with two children and a puppy.

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