A couple weeks ago we took Amtrak home to visit our families for a week. My husband needed to stay back and work, which meant if we were going to see the grandmas and the papas....then mommy needed to take the boys herself. After discussing the (few) options...we decided going by train was our best bet. We've taken the train before with the boys....but this time it would be just me and now we have not two, but THREE boys to bring along. I would take the train up with the boys....Dylan would drive up after work on Friday....and we would all drive home together on Sunday.
The most challenging part of the trip is the fact you have to pull yourself and your kids out of bed at 1 in the morning to catch a 2:30AM train. If you register your phone number for text updates...Amtrak will send you a periodic message if your train is delayed. I've been on rides where we've left on time and arrived late and also rides where we've left 2 hours late and arrived only 30 minutes late. This particular trip our train was only delayed by 15 minutes or so....so we were up at 1 to leave the house by 1:30 to get to Newton by 2...just in case our train arrived early. We prepped the kids the night before by explaining that mom and dad would wake them up, we'd drive to catch the train and then they'd need to go back to sleep. Logical in theory, but you never know how the little ones will handle it in practice.
I packed all our clothing and essentials in one suitcase. It's a travel tip I often use....when visiting friends or family and there's access to a washer/dryer....use it. Your family will love knowing there's something they can do to help you out, and you have to pack and therefore carry less. So I packed 3 outfits for each of us and planned to just wash and wear as we went through the week. However if you have more than one able bodied adult in your party...Amtrak has a pretty generous baggage allowance. Each person can bring 2 50lb. suitcases and 3 carry-on bags.
I also had a couple carry-on bags with snacks, toys, an iPad and clothes for the kids to wear later in the day. (See examples below.) We brought the kids in their pajamas - it's easier than a 1AM outfit change and more comfortable for them to fall back asleep once on board. Dylan helped me by getting our three car seats onboard. That with a little assistance from the Amtrak train attendants and we got on board.
Once we found our seats I set out to get the kids back to sleep. If you have kids under age 5....the seats adjust enough to basically make a bed. We brought Hudson and Fletcher each a pillow and a blanket and water they snuggled up it was just a matter of minutes until they were asleep. Even Shepherd took a snooze thanks to a pacifier and the rocking motion of the train. All were asleep within 10 minutes of departure.
Once 6AM rolled around the kiddos started stirring so we were off to the next phase of the trip -- train exploration! The Southwest Chief has a beautiful observation car covered in windows for beautiful sunrise views. There's a dining car where they serve (very overpriced) breakfast, there's a snack car where you can buy continental breakfast items, and Amtrak also allows you to bring your own cooler of snacks - which is what we do. Between using the restroom (there's one on each car), getting snacks and playing games and watching movies...there's enough to keep kiddos busy. Plus we're usually guaranteed a morning nap at some point. The seats are nice and spacious and there's plenty of room for all your carry-on items.
We did have on unfortunate incident involving Fletcher's Thomas the Train motorized engine. Someone got the motor of the train a little too close to his hair. Cue ear piercing, panicked wail coming from car 5. That was from my son who looked at me with Thomas the Train still stuck on his head. I wish I'd thought to take a picture, but I jumped into mom mode and tried to get the train out of his hair as fast and as least-damaging as possible. I don't even ask 'Why?' anymore.
We spent some time in the observation car, watched a couple movies and the kids enjoyed playing with their toy trains. The atmosphere on the cars is very relaxed and you get to enjoy some really pretty scenery that you miss cruising down an interstate. Plus there's no luggage or security scanning. You bring your bags, you get on the train, the attendant scans your ticket and off you go. It's easier and more cost effective than flying, and if you have little kids - the train actually saves you time. A drive home can take us 12 hours. But on the train - it takes 8 because we can eat and use the potty while the train keeps chugging along.
Before we knew it - we arrived at our destination and mom the pack mule got the job of getting everything off the train. Thankfully grandma and papa were there and watched the kiddos while mom made a couple more trips to retrieve the suitcase and car seats.
Taking the three boys by myself on the train was a lot of work combined with a little stress. But it's also a lot of work just staying home. Embracing the challenge of travel allows our boys to make great memories not only with their grandparents, but with the travel to get there. These trips make me a better parent by providing more opportunities to practice (gulp!) patience. Is every trip perfect? Nope! But every trip is worth it. The boys bring up memories from our train ride at Christmas and we remember how much fun we had. If you haven't taken your kids on an Amtrak train....I highly recommend it. Your kids will love it and you will love watching your kids love it.