Saturday 10 September 2016

Europe By Train With A Kid In Tow

You probably know by now that Ebi-kun and I took an epic adventure around Europe this summer. I have been asked lost of questions about the trip so I thought it might be useful if I give you a breakdown...


Well, I live in Japan, most of my family are in the UK. I hate the heat of the summer in Japan and Ebi-kun gets six weeks off so that is a good enough excuse for me! But, going home doesn't cure my itchy feel, I still want to go travelling and exploring, it lights me up, it's my passion.

My cousin Kirsty happens to live in Vienna and invited us over to stay - or I might have just invited myself, if I'm to be perfectly honest. It's a city I haven't visited so checks the adventure box!

Why by train?

When I started researching prices of flights I was shocked at how much the flights were going to set me back so curiosity set me off looking at train prices and the actual logistics involved. When I started looking into it, well my feet got even itchier and so the flights got kicked to the curb and the train adventure began.

First thing I did was to clear some dates with Kirsty, she had a couple of weeks off work in the summer so it needed to coincide with her holidays.

Next, I got real friendly with google and the train times. I looked at getting a rail pass but because Ebi-kun was under 12, some of his tickets were free or at a reduced rate so it was cheaper at the end of the day to book the specific trains.

I used this website as a reference, he has a lot of good info on there and what I used was accurate.

Our journey was...

Congleton - London
London - Brussels
Brussels - Cologne
Cologne - Vienna (night train)
Vienna - Zurich
Zurich - Paris
Paris - London
London - Stoke

We also had a day trip form Vienna to Bratislava but bought the tickets on the day, I think we could have got them a bit cheaper if we had booked in advanced but we hadn't really got a set plan with Kirsty so we didn't by the tickets in advance.

I get a Family Saver card to use on the trains in the UK, this saves me money as soon as I use it, that combined with booking tickets in advance saves a lot of money.

All the trains were booked for specific times and dates, of course this runs the risk of something going pear shaped, illness, train strikes, missed train for whatever reason. I left a good bit of time between connections which may have made the journey time longer but it also reduced my stress levels! 

We didn't have any issues, my theory is to go for the cheap tickets and hope for the best and if something goes wrong, at least you haven't paid through the nose for you ticket!

I did screw up on the Vienna to Zurich train. I couldn't reserve a seat on the regular train but realised to upgrade to first class was only 20 euros more PLUS Ebi-kun travels free! That is what I did but I think somewhere in the booking I should have requested a reserved seat… you can see where this is going… we got on and didn't have a seat! 

The conductor was a total ass about it, not helpful in the slightest but thankful a chap stepped in and helped me figure out which seats were available. It was an 8 hour journey and Ebi-kun had to sit on my lap for about 40 minutes of it, the rest of the time we had our own seats and the scenery was magnificent - distracted us from the 40 minutes of discomfort.

How Did You Pack?

I would say I'm a pretty seasoned traveller and so is Ebi-kun now. I knew I wanted a backpack not a suitcase but our back packs are either big 80l packs - that we took around South America or a skaters day back pack. After a LOT of googling I decided on this bag, Cabin Max Backpack 44l Hand Luggage and wait for the rave review…. it has been brilliant. It's the right size to use as hand luggage (55x40x20cm) if you are flying but has loads of space. The downfall was that it doesn't have a padded laptop pocket, my skater bag does so my laptop went in there. It does come in a massive range of colours and designs! It's the bigger of the two in the picture.

We were away for two weeks, did a big wash in Vienna and a (mostly) undies wash in Brighton. For long journeys we had our comfy travel outfits, for rbi-kun he has a favourite track suit, I have a long tunic and leggings. We had undies for a week each and Ebi-kun had a couple of pairs of shorts and a pair of long trousers, his swimmers and rash guard, football shirt and shorts, a long sleeved T-shirt, a hoodie, 4 t-shirts and a spare paid of shoes.

I had a couple of pairs of jeans, 4 t-shirts, a couple of blouses (that I didn't wear), a hoodie, a light weight card, trainers and a pair of sandals - which I didn't really wear. I didn't pack anything that would need an iron and I roll all my clothes. 

I also packed a bag of toiletries/make-up, the laptop, the kindle, Ebi-kuns camera, his diary, a notebook, passports, tickets and documents, presents for our hosts, rain ponchos (we did use), pencil case, Ebi-kuns book that he is reading and the bag of cables for the electrical gubbins, a small towel and the best purchase of the holiday - a selfie stick (I kid you not, I am a convert!)

We could have lived with less in the way of tops, we both could have managed with one pair less of trousers, they were packed as 'spare' pairs really. I could have managed without my sandals and maybe used a pair of flip flops instead. There was nothing that we didn't have that we needed.

I always go with the expectation that if we desperately need something, we'll be able to buy it.

All that training walking to school with his randusal backpack meant that Ebi-kun had no problems at all carrying his bag. We both has a small bag that would fi into the bigger bags to use during the day.

What were your worries?

I suppose my biggest one was missing a train somewhere along the way, which would cock everything up. I know a number of friends and family were concerned about the recent spate of terrorist activities, I'll be sharing my thoughts about that soon. I did have the niggle in the back of my head about being robbed again, my last Euro-rail tour ended in disaster! This time was smooth sailing. 

I admit that usually my adventuring worries are connected to getting bitten by some nasty beastie and getting sick, mosquitoes seem to smell me for 500 miles away and I didm get badly bitten in Switzerland - I know, who knew that Zurich was a mozzie hangout, not me or I would have added deterrent to my packing list. 

Getting sick abroad is no fun, I got Amoebic dysentery in Peru and Ebi-kun had a high fever in Laos but both times, the hospitals have been great so my fears are somewhat unfounded! 

We also did a day trip when in Zurich to Liechtenstein and Heidiland (read about the day HERE), I'm not usually a guided tour kinda chick but we had very limited time and I was sold on the chance to go to Liechtenstein!

Keeping In Touch

Pretty much every we went had free wifi hotspots, both hotels claimed to have wifi but both were crappy connections - first world problems. I did a daily update on Facebook to keep everyone in the loop of where we were and that worked well, because the wifi wasn't great I didn't spend much time at all online for the whole two weeks - not a bad thing but it does explain why I am still playing catch up on the blog!

I think that is about all, if you have any questions let me know in the comments.

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