Sunday, August 12, 2012

Travelling by Train to Chicago

Since becoming a parent, I've looked at vacations as a way to really see what we're made of as a family.  At home, we are surrounded by the stuff that makes us happy and the routines that keep us comfortable, but take us out of that environment and we are put to the test.  Can we get along in close quarters?  Can we survive on less sleep than normal and restaurant foods?  Are the kids going to be willing to try new experiences?  

Yet, the opportunity to take the kids to Chicago during one of The Mister's work trips really excited me.  Because his travel and hotel costs are expensed by his clients, it works out to be an economical decision for the rest of the family to tag along.  

We decided to take Amtrak from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago.  The kids are uncomfortable sitting in car seats for very long, and we wanted to avoid the panic an airplane ride might bring.  When I looked up train ticket prices, I couldn't believe how reasonable they were; kids travel for half price on the train, and we also got a discount for being AAA members.  For the family of four to take the train, it cost only about $100 more than one round-trip plane ticket for The Mister.  

Even though we had talked a lot about the train trip in the weeks leading up to it, I had been worried about how Boo would react when it was actually time to board.  So I couldn't have been more surprised when he seemed relaxed and happy the day of our trip.  

Train seats are huge, compared to airplane seats.  There are lots of ways to adjust them with footrests and a pull-out table.  Boo was thrilled to be able to move around and have so much control over his environment.

After the excitement of being on a moving train wore off, we pulled out some of the fun, new presents I had prepared for the trip.  Boo loved working on an "invisible pen" story book.

Punky spent a lot of time playing with a set of animal finger puppets I picked up at Ikea.

And looking out the window, especially when we neared Chicago, was entertaining as well.

Nevertheless, an eight-hour ride on the train is tiring.  We were lucky to have many empty seats in our car to be able to spread out.

The trip home, three days later, went just as well.  The kids kept busy with workbooks and watching movies on the iPad.

I ended up wrangling Punky.  She was bouncing around and chattering most of the time, while I was in dire need of a nap.

I applaud myself for being fully prepared for travelling on the train.  One nice thing is that Amtrak allows you to bring a ridiculous amount of carry-on luggage, in addition to baby gear like strollers, carseats, and diaper bags.  We had our Trader Joe's insulated grocery bag with our food, enough diapers and wipes and changes of clothing for the day, a portable DVD player, an iPad, a container of art supplies and stack of coloring books.  Every train seat is equipped with outlets, so we didn't even have to worry about our devices running out of battery power.  Watching the countryside change was entertaining in itself.  Punky liked seeing the train crossing arms down when we went through small towns.  She would yell, "stop cars!  The train is coming!"  Boo liked being able to follow our progress with GPS on our phones.

The Mister and I took a train trip to NYC several years ago and vowed never to do it again because it was such a horrible experience.  Now I realize that maybe there were other factors (holidays, being short-staffed) that may have played into that.  This trip, even with a huge delay in the beginning, went exceptionally well.  I don't know if we would attempt to travel further than Chicago by train, but for any trip that takes less than a day, I'd recommend it for a family with kids.


  1. Are you getting paid for this post? ;) You have certainly convinced me that train is the way to go if we ever travel. That seat space is ridiculous!!!

  2. Well, the glaring downside of taking the train is that it is almost always late. We were very lucky in that it was late before it got to MSP and we waited out that time (4 hours!) at home. If we had been stranded on a non-moving train for that long, I don't think we would've been too happy.