T S Eliot once said ‘The journey, not the arrival, matters’. I can only deduce from this that he never had to travel with small children.
There was a time when travelling anywhere could be a joy, a time to be cherished rather than a trial to be endured. A good book, a hot coffee and a big fat muffin meant any train journey could be a delight. Then you had children.
The thing is, I don’t really find travelling with children that difficult. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy – I learned my lesson not to stuff your toddler full of cheese and tomatoes before their first ever flight if you don’t sent to spend two hours smelling like sick and sitting in stinking pink-stained trousers, and when recently faced with the possibility of a five hour coach journey with a two year old I quickly arranged alternative childcare for the weekend – but on the whole I reckon I’ve cracked it travelling with my kid. In fact, it can be a fairly enjoyable experience (not as enjoyable as with a good book and a muffin obviously, but still ok).
No, the problem is – as always – other people’s kids. No, scratch that. The problem is – as always – other kids’ parents! Bumbling, hapless, moronic parents who don’t consider that sitting on a plane, train or automobile for four hours might be a little dull for a child. Weirdos who haven’t thought that the passing clouds and the low hum of the engine might not provide enough entertainment for a child with the attention span of a gnat and whose go-to activity when left to their own devices is either running around in circles or shouting loudly, neither of which go down well on public transport. Worse still are those who vaguely realise that they need to structure the journey and do so using only food, opting for the ‘why don’t we spend the first half an hour eating Haribo and crisps then wonder why you’ve gone so mental for the rest of the journey?’ technique.
I like to travel. I may not be off anywhere exotic, but I want to be able to take my boy out and continue our journeys in relative peace and quiet. Even more so, on those rare, beauteous days when I am blessed with a stretch of time travelling sans-child, with nothing to do except read and relax, I do not want my journey ruined by a useless parent-traveller. I make my point clear here. I have no problem with children – they are just doing what comes naturally – I will just never understand parents who can’t foresee and at least try to prevent the hazards that come with such a family journey.
So, in case you are one of these poorly planned travelling families (and, as the cliched comedy stand up goes, if you don’t think you know any, it’s you!) here are some basic tips for getting through a trip with your hair and nerves thoroughly in tact, and without making enemies of the other passengers.
1. Go by train wherever possible. That way if they get bored, you can get up and wander around: it’s dull and futile, but better than getting into a fight with a seatbelt and a raging toddler.
2. Plan in advance and choose your times. There’s nothing worse than a buggy taking up half a carriage while every other passenger crouches with his nose crammed into some sweaty businessman’s armpit. The fact that many people have already realised this is what I credit with creating ‘buggy rush hour’. Between 4 and 5pm there is clearly a spark in most parents’ heads shouting: ‘Bugger. I need to get home before rush hour!’ meaning buses and trains are suddenly abound with more children than The Sound of Music. Clever parents – they clearly remember what it was like commuting pre-baby.
3. Take books. Lots of books. Pack your bag full to bursting, then balance a few more on top. Read in a quiet voice, keep your child calm and avoid massive dirty looks form strangers who really don’t need to hear what the hungry caterpillar ate on Saturday for the fourteenth consecutive time.
4. Take snacks. Lots of snacks. Pack another bag full to bursting point, balance a few more on top, then cram a load more in your pocket. Worry about the perils of encouraging overeating when you get there – right now you just need something to keep them quiet. Anything but Haribo and crisps.
5. Dress your kid cute. If all else fails and the other passengers are staring at you with hatred in their eyes, you can always have it up your sleeve that when you whip off their jumper, your little one is wearing a t-shirt with a grinning tank engine and an irresistible slogan that says ‘I’m choo-choo cute!’ or some other mush to pull at their heart strings until they can’t hate you any more!
Right, now we’ve cleared that up, anyone for a day trip?