Many a writer has romanticised the quaintness of Indian train travel: the long winding tunnels, the sprawling landscape, the friendly conversations with strangers, endless cups of chai. But if you're a parent, you know there's a dark side to these voyages. Travel on a train with kids, and you'll more quickly utter curses than odes. We've compiled this train travel survival guide that will keep your trip on track.
1. Arm yourself with tenners
Despite the balanced mix of goodies you pack (some folks have the math all figured out: one cookie for every orange), your kids will still go wide-eyed at the sight and smell of roasted peanuts that traverse the train on the shoulders of a smiling hawker. While we advise you to stay off train and station samosas -- the oil is questionable -- a few roasted peanuts never harmed anyone. Make sure you're equipped with enough small change for the snacks your kids might fancy -- there's nothing that ruins the mood more than a child who didn't get his chana chor garam.
Nothing that ruins the mood more than a child who didn't get his chana chor garam.
It might also surprise you that plastic wind-up helicopters and little toy cars can excite the same little devils who can't be entertained by a train set for more than 15 minutes. No one said kids were rational. One more reason to keep change handy, and throw reason out the window, along with the word puzzle you might have packed.
2. Treat nap-time like a military exercise -- non-negotiable and fully armed
For any journey that's longer than five hours, bring all the gear you need to create a comfortable and familiar sleeping environment for your child. Wash the sheets a day or two before you pack so they have time to absorb the "home" smell; bring a cushioned eye shield to block out sunlight or reading lights that other passengers might still be using; and don't forget the extra blanket - air-conditioned trains are often freezing cold. If your child is in the habit of a musical lullaby to induce sleep, don't forget whatever it is that you use to pipe in said tunes.
3. Keep your toys safe
While you might consider your journey a success if no family members went missing between departure and arrival, children might disagree. The loss of a purple crayon or a green Lego block are the kind of things you won't be forgiven for. And until the plastic toy cars make an appearance, you'll have to bring out your own stash to keep your children entertained. So make sure to keep them safe. Take out all crayons and colour pencils from original boxes and put them into egg cartons so they're easier to access and use -- just secure the carton with rubber bands.
If you have young children who are at that stage where they're flinging things across a room, pack only large toys which are easy to find once flung.
If you have young children who are at that stage where they're flinging things across a room, pack only large toys which are easy to find once flung - pick soft ones so passengers aren't injured in the bargain. Leave out anything with tiny pieces, and use your spare time to dream about the days when children's toys come with built-in tiles.
4. Befriend people who like babies
We think stranger-time, in small and careful doses, is a good thing. Especially when the said stranger is only too happy to play with your toddler while you read your book in peace. If you happen to encounter friendly young men or women (usually travelling alone), who take an instant liking to your child, and if the feeling is mutual, allow your baby to bring some joy to those who don't have the luxury of being around a toddler 24-7. Remember to pack an extra bottle of sanitiser -- it might not be as good as soap, but you'll need something to wash away the germs from endless hours of cheek pulling.
5. Have your comebacks ready
One would imagine that most humans have been around babies even if they haven't made any of their own, and would understand that even if you pack all the right snacks and toys your kid might still throw a cranky fit five hours into the train ride. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. So prepare yourself for some common questions and remarks, with appropriate responses.
Comment: "Can you ask your child to be quiet?" Or "Shhhhh" uttered in the direction of your child.
Response: "We're actually still trying to find his mute button. Could you help us?"
Comment: "Why is your baby still crying? You should feed him/walk him/take him to the bathroom."
Response: "We're quite sure he's just exercising his lungs. Our jyotish said he will grow up to be a famous singer. Would you like an early autograph?"
Comment: (When your kid is safely in your view and enjoying running up and down the aisles of the train and someone pushes her in your direction) "Go find your mother."
Response: "I don't know this child, I think she belongs to the train."
6. Make a happy playlist: There's that magical time on every family voyage where the baby has consumed her snacks, thrown her little fits, cuddled up to her koala and fallen asleep. We're thinking you might want to use that time to appreciate the sunset over the Arabian Sea, so make sure you pack your happy playlist for a befitting background score.
There's really nothing that replaces the bonding that happens when you're all squished together in a freezing coach, and a little humour is the only means of survival.
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