Home » ‘The kids now prefer trains to planes’: How I took my family on a 7-day rail adventure around Europe

‘The kids now prefer trains to planes’: How I took my family on a 7-day rail adventure around Europe

by Marko Florentino
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Just because you have kids in tow, doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious with travel plans.


When Poppy was quoted nearly €7,000 for a family trip to Lapland by a holiday provider, she knew she could do better.

After extensive research and planning, she pulled off the two-day break for a family of four for just €1,700 including flights, accommodation, car hire and all activities.

Since then, Poppy has favoured the DIY route for holidays – and she realised that all parents like saving money, but struggle to know where to start.

So Poppy began sharing her travel tips and tricks on social media. “It feels like I’ve won a competition when I manage to find bargains and I just wanted to share that,” she says.

Her most recent trip was a seven-day rail odyssey around Europe that was a resounding success. It has also inspired plenty of sage advice for families that want to follow in her footsteps.

‘I wanted to see 30 countries this year’

Just because you have kids in tow, doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious with travel plans – at least that’s what Poppy wants to advocate.

After being in a rut of taking her family to the same place year after year, she was inspired by the BBC series Race Across the World to attempt to see 30 countries in one year upon turning 30.

“I knew that doing 30 countries in a year wouldn’t be possible by doing one country at a time, with schooling, work commitments and budgets so, just like the BBC series, I knew I would have to do some sort of quick, day trip style holidays to get me close to my goal,” Poppy says.

So for the February half term, she spotted some cheap flights to Milan and put her seven countries in seven days plan into action.

“Everyone thought we were crazy. Our clients, our parents, our friends and I even started to doubt my own plans – but I stuck to it and got stuck in with building our DIY Europe trip,” she says.

She ended up ticking Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and Belgium off her countries list as well as taking two planes, six metros, three trams, thirteen trains, three taxis, seven buses, several funiculars and one horse and carriage.

How to do a stress-free family trip around Europe

Poppy’s key takeaway from the trip is that comprehensive planning is the best way to ensure a stress-free experience.

She booked most of the trains and buses in advance as well as accommodation. “It gave me peace of mind that we knew our next move,” she says.

She provided each of her children with AirTags, which they had on a watch-style strap around their ankles under their socks.

“Although my eyes were always on my children, it gave me a little bit of security knowing that if we had any incidents, I would be able to track the children within seconds, especially in the busy cities where there are thousands of people,” Poppy says.

‘My kids now prefer trains to planes’

With such an extensive network of trains including sleepers, it’s relatively easy to hop between countries in Europe.

Poppy’s children “have now decided they prefer trains to planes” and she and her husband appreciated the ability to move around freely and the convenience of restaurant cars and charging points.

“Some of the trains also had family zones and children’s areas with TVs and little stair seats set out like a cinema, board games on the tables and slides,” Poppy says.


How to do the Bernina Express on a budget

One of Poppy’s bucket list activities was to visit Switzerland and ride the scenic Bernina Express, a four-hour train trip from Tirano in Italy to Chur in Switzerland.

The famed route passes through 55 tunnels, across 196 bridges and through a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When Poppy looked at tickets, she found it would cost €90 per adult for second class and €140 for first where the carriages have vast panoramic windows – so she got creative.

“As it turned out, local trains take the same Bernina route every day and much more regularly meaning more flexible times,” she says.

The only catch was having to stop in St Moritz instead of doing the journey continuously, but Poppy says the children were happy for a break.


“Despite it being a local train, the experience was still incredible. We pretty much had the entire carriage to ourselves, as it was much quieter than the Bernina train would ever be,” she says.

“It was brilliant that the train window opened halfway allowing us to breathe in the fresh air and also get the perfect photos without any glare from the glass – at one point we also had a little snow in our faces.”

Doing the train the local way, the family saved nearly €150.

If you’re travelling with kids, book a private sleeper cabin

During the trip, the family took a night train for the first time. This was the only part of the trip where things didn’t go to plan.

“We wanted to book a four-bed cabin but unfortunately it had sold out, so we naively booked a six-berth cabin thinking that nobody else would be in it,” Poppy says.


“It was all going well until two men joined our cabin. We had quite some big backpacks and it was a tight squeeze, and our children were pretty much ruling the roost.”

Shortly after setting off, they decided to upgrade to a private cabin which had the added benefit of better bedding, more storage space, free water and croissants in the morning.

Along with a private cabin, Poppy recommends a long sleeper journey, which is ideal for letting children get a good rest.

“The train departed at 7:20 pm and arrived at 10:40 am the next day meaning we had ample time for the kids to sleep and recharge before getting off the next morning,” she says. “Other options meant waking up at 4 am to disembark.”

How to keep children entertained on a trip around Europe

The seven-day journey left Poppy with a few tips for keeping children happy and entertained on a long trip.


Aside from the sleeper, they kept train journeys to no longer than three and a half hours so the kids didn’t get bored and there were more stops at interesting towns and cities.

The family threw themselves into myriad activities from riding Switzerland’s longest toboggan run to visiting local markets and underground World War tunnels in Croatia.

In Slovenia, they took a horse and carriage ride around Lake Bled while in Munich they drank in a Beer Hall where the children were given little game packs to keep them entertained.

For Poppy and her husband, the best part was bonding with their children as they spent so much time together.

“We would 1000 per cent do it all again and we are already talking about our next potential trip and how many countries we could fit,” Poppy says.


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