32 Hours On A Train … And Still Sane

In nine days, our two-year-old spent 32 hours on trains, five hours on motorbikes and several more hours in taxis, tuk tuks, ferries and planes. And slept in five different beds.

There was only one meltdown. And it was done by me, at Bangkok Airport.

So hands up who thinks kids aren’t good travellers?

The epic-ness of our trip from northern Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City was, sadly, the result of budget constraints rather than a desire to subject our curious and active offspring to extended periods in confined spaces.

Our frantic trip to Australia last October blew an enormous hole in our budget. We ended up getting nothing back from our insurance company. Meanwhile, the work I’d lined up before we left Singapore has been coming through in agonisingly slow drips, rather than the steady stream I’d counted on. So we are now, unexpectedly, on a very tight budget. So tight we are going to miss a dear friend’s wedding in Phuket next month.

Darling Man’s trip home for Tet was not really negotiable, considering how homesick he’s been. So we engineered the cheapest trip possible — trains, a loaned motorbike, a borrowed apartment and a friend’s spare room.

This is how our trip looked:

Tuk tuks – 4

Trains – 36 hours

Taxis – 8

Motorbike – 5 hours for Miss M, 9 hours for the adults

Ferries – 4

Planes – 2 for a total of three hours flying time

Tan Son Nhat Airport Ho Chi Minh City

And then there was the meltdown, the result of my sleepless night worrying about the train journey, my sleepless night on the train worrying about money, the ickiness of sleeping in my clothes and then wearing them all day as we shlepped sweatily around Bangkok during the six hours between train and plane, the GODDAMN PUSHING IN THE CUSTOMS QUEUE and then a completely forgettable comment from Darling Man.

The moral of the story is that you CAN travel with young children. Often they cope with things better than their parents.

(The sane bit in the title … call that poetic license.)

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8 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Wow, what a journey! Now that you know it is not only possible but survivable (and even enjoyable), you can relax a little more when future travel opportunities present themselves. Thanks for sharing
    linda@adventuresinexpatland.com recently posted..Versatile? I’d Like to Think So

  2. Jill says:

    Weve just booked our first, second and third long haul train trips. I’m banking on the hunch that train is better than flying for kids as they can walk up and down ( skip, dance, crawl…) and that there are more than clouds to look at out the window. Let’s hope I’m right, or we have one day and two nights of not- so-fun to look forward too!!
    Jill recently posted..Travel…. not what I thought

    • Barbara says:

      The funny thing is we got two different train configurations on the Chiang Mai-Bangkok leg, even though both ways were “second class sleeper”. The first configuration, with little “rooms” formed out of two sets of bunks facing each other and an aisle down one side of the train was MUCH roomer than the second configuration with the bunks along the wall and an aisle down the middle.
      The top bunk bed of the second configuration was just too narrow for me, and it seemed much rockier. I thought I was going to fall out! Next time we’ll book two lower bunks, I think.
      Best of luck with your three long haul trips. I’m sure you’ll have a blast!

  3. Taryn says:

    Glad to hear that long distance train travel is possible with a toddler! We’re thinking about the Trans Siberian later this year, or at least part of it.
    We really do need to give the little ones more credit for keeping it together!
    Taryn recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: spotted at the playground

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, the Trans-Siberian sounds FABULOUS. (Although I accidentally said this out loud a few weeks ago, which triggered a lot of low muttering from Darling Man…. sigh.)

  4. Denise says:

    don’t envy you 🙁 Hope you’re feeling better.

  5. that’s a lot of moving around!! i am glad you’re back. 🙂
    wandering educators recently posted..Explore the Edge of the World with Jordan Oram

  6. That is pretty rough. I think I would have a meltdown too. But really impressive that you are so travel savvy that you can figure out a super-budget trip like this.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Journey to the End of the World (aka That Time I Thought I Might Die in the Wilderness)

  7. Aledys Ver says:

    Oh dear, that must’ve been terribly difficult, no wonder you had a meltdown. I think I would’ve collapsed in the middle of the 36hr ride on the train, sans the kid!

  8. Brian Scholes says:

    You people surely had an adventurous trip.
    I loved reading your post and the photographs were an extra treat.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Brian Scholes recently posted..how to seduce a woman

  9. Chad @ Road Dog Travel says:

    Journeys like that make you appreciate spending time at home! Just the six hour wait between train and plane sounds bad enough. I once was on a train for almost forty hours, going across the U.S.. I can’t imagine that just being one leg of the trip home.

  10. Tiphanya says:

    I suppose it’s easier for the kids when the parents seem to know what there are doing even if they are exhausted.
    We try to plan a trip in Japan for next septembre and our daughter will be 10 months… I’m just a little worried about the plane.

  11. […] traveling with a toddler is possible. Sometimes it’s even fun. A 16-hour train ride with a toddler is infinitely more tiring than a 16-hour train journey without a toddler. Traveling […]

  12. Stefan says:

    That’s impressive – when travelling on a plane with my sister and her nephews (3 and 6) I started to empathise a lot with mothers and screaming kids and now take a different view…

    Did any of these trains include the Trans Siberian at all?

    Where was the most kiddy friendly place you found?
    Stefan recently posted..Video of our travels on the Trans-Siberian train

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