Monday, January 31, 2011

Traveling by train with a toddler

We've been really lucky that the arrow has always been a great car passenger on our adventures. But when we went to Chicago for a morning back in September, he got to experience the thrill of train travel. There's a commuter train service that runs across the northern part of Indiana into downtown Chicago. Since we were already up north camping at Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan, we decided to take the train instead of driving into the city. We spent the two hour trip traveling from Michigan City, Indiana straight into the heart of Chicago reading books, waving hello to the commuters going into the city, and eating Cheerios. I was worried there would be no going back to the isolation and confines of his carseat after all that fun.

If you're considering taking the South Shore train line across northern Indiana and/or into Chicago, you can read more about our trip at my post at the Indiana Insider.

Reading books with daddy
I'm no expert on taking a train, especially domestically. But we had a great experience. Here are a few reasons it's my new favorite mode of transportation.
  • There's more room to move around. You can get up and move if you need to. The seat in front of us wasn't within kicking distance of the arrow's legs. And he didn't have to be pinned down to his car seat for hours.
  • The action outside the window was much more entertaining. (Since typically, once you take off, you're only looking at gray skies or big clouds.)
  • Passengers come and go, which also adds to the visual interest for a toddler.
  • Your fellow riders can also choose not to sit near a little kid, unlike on a plane. The folks surrounding us seemed to enjoy the presence of our son and waved to him or said hello. Maybe he spiced up their typical commute.
  • There was no need to arrive 2 hours in advance and still worry about getting through security.
  • Space to stow our stroller and bag was plentiful. I'm sure this isn't the case on all trains, but we had no trouble.
  • PRICE: it was about $16 roundtrip.
  • We avoided outrageous parking fees in downtown Chicago and didn't pay to park at the station. The Indianapolis airport charges at least $9 per day for parking, and I think that's pretty cheap compared to many airports.
  • Train stations are usually more centrally located. We arrived 1 block from Millennium Park, right on Michigan Avenue. So much to see and do was at our reach from the moment we stepped off the train. That's certainly not the case when flying into O'Hare or Midway.
  • The environment. I don't know how it breaks down, but I'm certain the carbon emissions coming from each of the 30 or so folks in our train cabin would have been greatly increased had we each taken a car into the city. And that's just one cabin of about a dozen.
I'd really like to explore more of the country by train. I have great memories of hopping on trains throughout Europe--no need to worry about driving in a foreign country or navigating ancient city streets. It would be so much more fun to explore nearby cities if we could get there by train. Unfortunately, that's not possible from where we live. And the options I've researched from the Indianapolis Amtrak station are extremely expensive.

I dream of the day that rail travel is as prevalent, easy and affordable in the Midwest as it is in Europe or other areas of the world.

What about you? Have you taken the train recently? Love it? Or hate it?

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips and Top Ten Tuesday at Oh Amanda.


  1. I am *very* down with this dream, for all the reasons you cite. It's very frustrating for me because we live right on the Northeast corridor rail line, but taking the train to DC or NYC is prohibitively expensive for a family - it's much cheaper to drive. I'd like to see the train subsidized so that it's cheap and have everyone pay more for gas!

  2. You said it!!! This has been my dream for many years . . . I LOVE the European train system and we have nothing like it here on the west coast, or anywhere in the U.S. Such a shame.

  3. I love traveling by train with Michael in Europe, and he has so much fun. I wish, wish, wish we could a similar system here in the U.S....

  4. Yes! We have had wonderful train trips in Turkey, Japan, France, etc. The girls and I have taken the train ATL > NYC a couple of times, but it is more expensive than *flying* (and that's with a 50% kid fare and without a sleeping compartment). It takes longer to take the train from ATL > DC than it does to drive!

    I looked into taking the train for this trip from ATL > NOLA and was floored by what it would cost. Such a shame.

  5. Totally agree. We live outside Atlanta and we take the train into the city all the time. Both my kids love the adventure. We can take my son in his stroller and then we have it for walking when we get where we are going. We can easily get to a lot of attractions the city has to offer for minimal cost. Kids under 36" even ride free with paying adult. :-)