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Tips for Navigating Public Transportation with Kids

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Living in car-centric Southern California, we’re always excited when traveling to other places where public transportation is the primary means to get around. For many people, it’s part of their daily lives. But for some of us who aren’t exposed to it other than on vacations, it’s an adventure. Though, navigating it can be daunting with kids in tow.

It’s hard enough planning itineraries but trying to figure out the transportation system can leave some of us a bit frazzled. We dread getting lost or losing the kids. But, there’s also a triumphant feeling of conquering those subway or train maps. Here are some tips we learned along the way to navigate public transportation with kids.

Riding in cable car in Hakone, Japan.

Riding in cable car in Hakone, Japan.

1. Plan your schedules and routes ahead.

Know the stops to your lodging and attractions you’re visiting. Most major cities nowadays have smartphone apps to help map your route. Search for “city + public transit apps” online. Google maps’ transit feature is also a great resource for planning your trip.

2. Take your time.

Leave some cushion for delays and surprises. This will avoid rushing around with the kids.

3. Remember WiFi and Internet connections are not always available.

We navigate with smartphone apps that have offline capabilities like MetrO. They display the shortest or fastest route options. We’ve used it for various public transportation systems on our trip to Tokyo and when visiting many European cities.

4. Skip the lines.

Buy tickets in advance or get public transit passes. We also like the convenience of tourist cards which include unlimited public transportation and admission to major attractions for specific days. This will save time and not subject the kids to lines.

Renfe Train in Madrid, Spain.

Renfe Train in Madrid, Spain.

5. Avoid traveling during rush hour.

If your itinerary is flexible, try to avoid traveling during rush hour commutes in the morning and evening on weekdays. Travel outside these peak times and avoid the overcrowded trains. We’ve been on subways where we could barely move and that was not pleasant.

6. Use lightweight strollers.

Lightweight, collapsible strollers offer convenience and easy navigation when traveling with babies and toddlers. However, some stations don’t guarantee an elevator or escalator to transport your strollers so that’s why the lighter, the better.

7. Plan a meeting place.

Have a designated area to meet if your family is divided. Ticket machines or ticket vendor booths are good meeting points. It’s also a good idea for you and your kids to have a plan in case you get separated.

8. Bring hand sanitizer.

My kids always inadvertently touch handles and other things that make the germaphobe in me slightly panic. It’s inevitable, so be prepared to sanitize on the spot and remind them not to touch their faces or bite their nails.

Thalys train in Paris, France.

Thalys train in Paris, France.

9. Pack snacks and drinks.

There’s always a chance that a short bus or subway ride can be delayed, and that’s of course when hunger and thirst will strike.

10. Bring distractions.

Pack activities and portable toys if you’re traveling long distances to keep them occupied. Looking out the windows and people watching can only go so far.

11. Lock your bags!

Ensure bags are locked and not easily accessible to deter pickpockets on crowded buses, trains or subways. We make the kids carry their backpacks in front during the rides.

My kids love riding public transportation now whenever we travel. They consider it a fun and exciting adventure. We hope these tips that have helped us find our way in many cities will also help with your public transportation travel experience.

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Mary lives in San Diego, California with her husband, 13 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son. She was born in the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. territory…

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