An inevitable challenge parents will face when trying to travel with kids is transportation. In North America, public transit tends to be less than helpful and not generally used outside of major cities. As such, North America is a car culture. We pack our kids in the minivan or SUV and set off on road trips for holidays. We even pack our kids and all their accoutrements in family vehicle for short trips to the store that we could walk to in ten or fifteen minutes. When some people get to Europe, they have little to no experience with taking public transportation with their kids.
Europeans in general have difficulty understanding this concept in my experience. In Europe, public transportation is easy, safe, and relatively reliable. In the places you’ve dreamed of visiting, many people never choose to own a vehicle because not only do they not need them, but because they can also be a hindrance. More and more European capitals are choosing to levy a fee for driving in the core of the city and finding parking for your vehicle at your destination can also be a difficult task.
We always travel on a budget and are looking to keep things as simple as possible. Hotels and rental apartments often do not offer parking, and in cities you normally don’t need a vehicle. We only rent vehicles to travel between major cities, or in more remote destinations with little to no public transportation. With that being said, all the major hubs of Europe have public transit which is functional and affordable (though London’s Underground can be pretty pricey compared to other European cities).
Public transit is usually free for kids under a certain age, it varies and I have never concerned myself with it, but we have never had to pay for our eight year old. Once someone stops us and tells us to pay, then I guess he will look the age when we need to start paying and I will have to start thinking about it.
Five Tips for Public Transit with Kids and Babies
- Do some research. Before you leave on holiday, you should know how public transit works at your destination, how you can pay, what passes will work for you, and where to get those passes.
- Think about accessibility. Realize that since you are traveling with kids, not all stations are accessible with strollers. Baby carriers are definitely an asset. We rarely take a stroller any further than walking distance and never travel with one or take it on public transport despite having twin 20 month old babies.
- Don’t rush, take it slow. Stations can be very crowded and have a confusing layout. The last thing you want is to get separated. On this note, we also generally label our eight year old with all our contact information.
- Understand your route. Most transit systems are pretty straight forward, but some can seem like a rats nest. London Underground, I’m looking at you! I remember the first time I was in London, it seemed incomprehensible between variable fares and routes that run in complete circles. I thought I was doomed, but quickly adapted. Londoners may hate me for this one but I still cannot comprehend why there is a line that goes in a complete circle and runs adjacent to other lines which seem much more efficient.
- Practice. If you are unaccustomed to using a baby carrier and want to use one on your holiday, long train rides can be tough because it is not easy to sit with a baby strapped to your body. Try getting used to standing, not only walking, while wearing a carrier.
I slagged the London Underground a bit, but it is still the best way to get around if London is your destination.
We have a lot of experience with our little ones on European public transportation. If you have a question, concern, or other advice, leave it in the comments below.