Although Italy has a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s also one of the most kid-friendly vacations you can take.
Think about it: what kind of food will even the pickiest eaters enjoy? That’s right: pasta and pizza! With excellent, kid-friendly food, hospitable weather and cool, historical sites such as the colosseum and the leaning tower of Pisa, Italy has got all the ingredients for an amazing family vacation.
One of the best ways to travel with kids in Italy is by train. It offers a great budget family vacation and means you don’t have to worry about driving in the chaotic big city streets or find parking near the big attractions.
Still, kids are kids. If you want to have an enjoyable trip travelling with your children, they need to be rested, fed and watered at regular intervals or (we are sure you already know), your little angels will turn into demonic travel partners. To avoid the hassle of grumpy children and to ensure a smooth trip, a little planning will go a long way.
Here are our pro tips for traveling on the train with kids younger than ten.
Leave the Kitchen Sink: Pack light
Traveling with kids can make you feel like a pack mule. Still, it’s possible to keep from bringing the kitchen sink with you if you have a strategy.
- Don’t pack a year’s supply of diapers. Only bring enough of the big items (diapers, etc.) to get you through the first couple days in Italy. There are pharmacies and grocery stores where you’ll be able to find what you need.
- Leave the large stroller at home and opt for a comfortable carrier. Remember the streets of Italy are for the most part really, really old — which means uneven cobblestones. If you do need to bring a stroller, opt for a light-weight umbrella stroller that you can easily fold and carry.
- Don’t bring the crib with you. Same goes for the pack and play. As we mentioned above, Italy is very family-friendly. Most hotels will provide one.
- Try to bring one small suitcase per person. This will make navigating the train stations with your kids much easier.
- Plan laundry day. Smaller suitcases mean fewer clothes, and that’s okay. Plan to stay in at least one place midway through your trip that offers laundry.
Book family train tickets in advance
Traveling with family is a lot trickier than traveling alone or with your partner. Before, you may have been able to make a whimsical decision to hop a train from Rome to Florence, only to get to the station and find out the train is already full and you have to wait for the next one. Whimsical travel plans become a thing of the past once you’re traveling with kids in tow.
To avoid long waits in train stations that are often busy and chaotic, book your train tickets in advance. If you’re going to be traveling a lot, you might also want to consider a Eurail pass — with each adult, up to two children can travel free.
- Book high speed trains whenever possible. They are comfortable and reliable. Note that you must reserve your seats in advance to make sure everyone can sit together.
- Stamp your tickets. The rules around stamping your tickets are so complicated, you’ll need a lawyer to decipher it for you. Though not all train tickets need to be stamped, there is no mercy for you if you haven’t stamped a train ticket before boarding the train.
- Take advantage of family rates. On most trains, kids under four travel for free. And fares for children between four and 11 are discounted on Italian trains. If you’re traveling with an infant or a toddler, you don’t have to buy them a seat. However, if your kid is on the older side of toddler and getting heavy, you may want to shell out for a seat so they’re not sitting on your lap for the entire journey.
- Even if your child is traveling for free, you are required to make reservations and pay reservation fees for seats, couchettes and other types of seating on many trains.
- High-speed trains offer changing tables in the disabled washrooms.
- If you’re bringing a stroller on the train, you will be required to fold it up and stash with the stored luggage.
What to bring for a smooth train ride
There are a couple of travel items that are a must if you want to navigate the rocky shoals of toddler tantrums without sinking the ship.
- If your child suffers from motion sickness, don’t forget Gravol or Ginger Chews to ease upset tummies.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Make sure you bring plenty of water for the family. Though it might mean more frequent trips to the train’s facilities, you’ll avoid dehydration and fatigue.
- Pack light. Unless your kids are on the older side and can carry their own backpacks, one backpack for adults, one backpack for kids should be sufficient for carry-ons.
- Always bring snacks. On most trains there’s a trolley that circulates, offering usual snack food (chips, chocolate, etc.). Keep a supply of healthy snacks in your backpack so you’re not at the mercy of the snack trolley.
- To pack light, you’ll need a strategy for what kind of entertainment to bring. Think small and stackable: cards, small colouring books or notebooks with pens and a couple of favourite books. If your kids are a little older and you don’t mind reading on the train, an engrossing chapter book the whole family can listen to is also really fun. We recommend limiting devices for those moments when you need time to be still and gaze out the window.
Italy is a great place to travel with kids. Just remember: a little planning and preparation goes a long way toward making your trip relaxing and magical for everyone — kids and parents alike.