Dutch Public Transportation with Kids
We brought our car from the U.S. but have found bicycling and public transportation to be easier and cheaper for lots of reasons. We use our car when traveling to remote areas that would require multiple public transportation connections. Luckily, a lot of our travel has been city-to-city so we have been able to get there quickly by the super-efficient Dutch rail network.
The first key to successful public transit with kids is preparedness. You’ve got to know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Without that, you’re going to lose. The 9292.nl app helps us with planning. It will route you from any location (including your current location, using location services) to your destination, using rail, tram, bus, subway and ferry. You can restrict the app to use certain modes of transportation. For example, if your kids love ferries, you can make a route that involves some time on a boat. The app also allows for advanced planning. You can make your routing days ahead of time so you know when you’ll arrive at your destination.
Another part of preparedness is having the right supplies on hand to keep the kids happy. This means snacks, toys and educational materials. For our kiddos, we pack 300% the amount of snacks we expect them to eat. This allows us some wiggle room with missed connections or delays. Quiet toys and workbooks are the best use of space and weight. Books are just too heavy to lug around in your day pack.
The Dutch trains have several sections. There are first class areas (represented by a “1” on the train car) and second class areas (“2”). There are quiet areas, which we avoid. There are also special cars for handicapped access, areas for stroller storage and areas for bicycles. All of these sections are denoted by internationally recognizable graphics. We seek out a spot with four seats, two facing two. This is the best layout for our family of four because it oftentimes has a drop-down table for us to use for snacks or games. Most trains also have restrooms. The water is not potable and there is rarely soap in the dispensers. But on the plus side, some of the toilets empty right onto the rail below. I often hold up our little guy so he can see his urine hit the tracks – he loves it!
The second key to success is flexibility. Trains and buses break down. The weather might be awful when you get to your destination. Or you may find that the train is full and you need to stand for an hour. All of these disruptions could spoil your day, so maintain flexibility by turning the problems into fun for your kids. If you end up in a strange place, stop and take a breath. Let your kids help solve the problem – there’s usually no danger in spending an extra five minutes figuring it out. And when in doubt, go get some snacks. Most large Dutch rail stations have food kiosks and small grocery stores.
You can play eye-spy out the windows. Try to count windmills. Name all the animals you see. Most of all, talk about your destination so your kiddos can get excited about the reason they’re on public transportation.
The Dutch railway is free for children under four years of age and if you sign up during the periodic promotional period, you can get a card allowing your child (up to 11 years of age) to travel free with you.
We were nervous the first few times we traveled on Dutch public transportation but have found it to be reliable, clean, a good value and most of all, fun for our train and bus loving kids!