TRAVEL

Go on a Euro­pean fam­ily hol­i­day – with just one suit­case.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - SimplyHer -

T here’s a spe­cial ro­mance in see­ing Europe by train – as my fam­ily and I found out on a two-week-long ur­ban ad­ven­ture to London, Bel­gium, the Nether­lands, Lux­em­bourg and Ger­many in 2012.

Miles and miles of post­card­per­fect land­scapes – sprawl­ing fields, glis­ten­ing forests and city sky­lines – were ours to en­joy. Trav­el­ling by rail also eased the strain of hav­ing my two chil­dren in tow: Keyaan was three at the time, and Jiyann was six months old. With fewer con­straints and no seat­belt rules on trains, it was eas­ier to make my rest­less kids com­fort­able and oc­cupy them with food and games.

We vis­ited in spring, so it was chilly by trop­i­cal stan­dards. But it wasn’t so cold that we had to fuss with ther­mal wear; ev­ery­one only needed a good jacket to keep warm.

Plan the Route

When trav­el­ling with kids, your route needs to be eco­nom­i­cal. This means the stops must be rel­a­tively close – no more than four hours by train – to min­imise trav­el­ling time and fa­tigue.

Most hol­i­day­mak­ers who see Europe by train pur­chase tick­ets in ad­vance from Rail Europe. They have a lo­cal web­site, www.raileu­rope.com.sg, and an of­fice in Sin­ga­pore, which makes book­ing and col­lect­ing tick­ets a breeze.

My hus­band Leonard was mak­ing a business trip to London, so it made sense to start and end there. Since we’d been to France be­fore, we de­cided to visit Bel­gium in­stead. While flex­i­bil­ity is nice, it was im­por­tant for us to sort out how long to stay in each city, and have buf­fer time for pos­si­ble emer­gen­cies, like miss­ing a train.

We bought a one-way Eurostar ticket from London to Brussels (rates start from $116 for adults, de­pend­ing on the sea­son, with a vari­able re­duced fare for chil­dren; a child un­der four years old can travel free if he sits on your lap). Then we set­tled for a Eu­rail Benelux-Ger­many Pass (from $559 for five days for adults, with vari­able dis­counts for fam­ily mem­bers trav­el­ling to­gether), which al­lowed us un­lim­ited travel on the na­tional rail net­works of Bel­gium, the Nether­lands, Lux­em­bourg and Ger­many. Book all tick­ets to­gether as early as pos­si­ble for cheaper rates. Hav­ing de­cided the route, we took note of train times so that our jour­ney would be smooth, since we were schlep­ping a tod­dler and a baby. I stud­ied the sched­ules be­fore the trip, de­ter­mined my pre­ferred times and al­ways had a backup plan in case we missed the train.

We aimed to travel as early as pos­si­ble each morn­ing so we could ar­rive by lunchtime and check into our ac­com­mo­da­tion be­fore ex­plor­ing the area. The down­side was that we had to wake up early, although it helped that we could catch up on sleep on the train.

In ad­di­tion to set­ting our mo­bile phone alarms, I asked that re­cep­tion give us a wake-up call and ar­range for trans­port to the train sta­tion if it wasn’t within walk­ing dis­tance.

What I also found use­ful was dress­ing the kids in their travel clothes be­fore putting them to bed. This saved us time and al­lowed us to make our way swiftly to the sta­tion. I also made sure that we ar­rived at least 30 min­utes be­fore our train was due to de­part, so we had ex­tra time to get our bear­ings.

One im­por­tant fact to bear in mind: chil­dren can al­ways sur­prise you with their need to “go potty” at the last minute or throw a tantrum just when the train ar­rives. So al­ways plan ahead by pre­dict­ing bath­room times, and have your hands free to pick them (and your bag) up to run for the train!

Pack Light But Don’t For­get the Toys

Get­ting on and off the train quickly and safely are top pri­or­i­ties, so it’s best to travel light and bring bags that you can lug around eas­ily. We ditched the stroller for an all-pur­pose baby/tod­dler car­rier and our older kid was on a back­pack har­ness – a bag with a tether so we could keep him close while walk­ing around. My hus­band and I had a back­pack each, but most of our be­long­ings were in one main bag – an ex­tra-large, wa­ter­proof duffel with wheels.

I packed enough di­a­pers for Jiyann for the first day, then vis­ited the su­per­mar­ket for more when I ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion. I did the same for snacks and food.

The view from the train on the way from Bel­gium to the Nether­lands. The Ow fam­ily in the

Nether­lands.

Bran­den­burg Gate in Berlin

Browse through shelves filled with ac­ces­sories and racks laden with vin­tage

clothes.

Leonard holds on to son Keyaan us­ing a back­pack har­ness.

A view of the canal in Am­s­ter­dam. Be­low: Clogs

sold as sou­venirs.

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