Traveling with Kids on Public Transit

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Ziploc bag entertainment

Kids who grow up in cities might not feel as excited about taking a bus, train or tram as kids for whom it’s a total rarity. And it can be a real challenge to combine both: the need for transportation, and enjoyment of the little one’s experience.

As many other families, we live in a town that has no public transport. Therefore we are forced to use cars as our main form of transport for many of our everyday needs. So when we do go for a trip or visit grandparents in a big city for a few weeks a year, a simple bus ride can be an adventure for a child and parents as well.

This year, we also chose a vacation that involved a city and lots of local train rides in the surrounding sites.What have we learned and what tricks worked for our toddler, and our sanity?

1. Bus rides: our little one became so obsessed with buses-he called them “school buses” as that was the only bus he knew back home-that he started insisting on taking a bus almost every day, although there was no need or desire for it. There were times he would have a fit on the street or in a store (I should mention that we were in a country where a different language was spoken so people often wondered what the whole theater was about). We tried a few tricks to see what would work:

  • we brought his favorite toy with us for a walk and sometimes went just to look at the buses at the station so his buddy could count the passing buses with our little bus obsessed child. Even though he often spent an hour on this activity, he was happy that we shared his interest and even brought his best buddy. This usually got him tired of buses for a ‘while’ (read until the next day or so);
  • sometimes when he absolutely insisted on getting on a bus while we observed them at a station, we told him we needed money for the bus. Of course, we had intentionally left it back at the hotel. Therefore we’d convince him to go back to our room first, and that there we’d have a yummy snack and after that we could go back to the bus. He usually got distracted  with other things at back at the hotel and forgot about buses completely.
kids and travel, travelling with toddler

Photo courtesy of Christopher Elliott via Flickr

2. Train rides or longer airplane trips: We covered some tips and ideas for air travel with baby or toddler already, but in general, a trial-error method helps to identify what can keep your child occupied, as every child is different. Some of the tricks that worked for us on our recent super long trip:

  • Kid interaction: Long trips are a perfect opportunity for a one-on-one, or sometimes one-on-two, time with your child. Ask about what he sees out of the window, or talk about the clouds, the wings of the planes, the screeches of the train, or whether he can see the hotel from the sky. Your kid will be aware of it all, a ripe moment for bonding. Songs are also favorites for toddlers.
  • Toys: Don’t leave home without a selection of toys. They must be among the favorite for the kid yet also be practical to have in an enclosed area. Any kind of ball or heavy toy is usually a bad idea. But small cars, stuffed animals and figurines are a go. Just make sure that the best toys are not left behind, which can put the youngster in a bad mood. Keeping a new surprise toy reserved for the trip that you know the little one will like is also a good idea.
  • Ziploc bag entertainment: this “game” happened by an accident (as many great things do sometimes). Our bored toddler asked for his juice in a travel sippy cup, which I had packed in a Ziplock to prevent any leaks to my bag. When he saw me opening the seal, he got excited and wanted to do it himself. So I left him to play, and then gave him another bag that actually had 3 seals. Opening and losing those seals got his brain going and kept him occupied for an entire hour during our train ride. You can also try to bring multiple bags with different small items in them, such as Lego pieces, puzzles, even dry nuts, and make a game out of moving them from one bag to another and closing them tight so nothing falls out.
  • Drawing pad: a basic drawing pad and a pen is a cheap entertainment and can get kids busy with a variety of activities. Our kid was inspired by the things he saw outside the window of a moving train. He tried to draw them on the paper and then made us guess what it was. This simple and fun interactive game was also educational for us parents, since it made us look up some of the passing buildings, towns and objects and learn what they really were.
  • Transportation tickets: kids who don’t use public transportation are also unaware that there are tickets needed for the rides. We saved all used tickets and turned them into a game of pretend. Sometimes we let him use the tickets at the subway and later asked him to hold on to the ticket for future use.
  • Making friends: If other kids are close by, leave the door open for them to interact. They can play, talk, and might even exchange toys.
  • Take a hike: Be willing to take a walk around the train or plane. The preschooler will be excited about the exploration opportunity.

Just be creative, don’t be afraid of doing silly things and you will be rewarded by a happy toddler and smiling co-travelers sitting nearby.

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Author:Katka Konecna-Rivera

Katka Konecna-Rivera, co-founder and host of Living Green with Baby, is an architect focused on sustainable design as well as a filmmaker, writer and personal wellness coach.

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