I must admit that when we first decided to make the journey across Europe to the Bavarian Forest on the German Czech border by train I was not convinced it was the best mode of transport for 2 adults and an 8 month old baby. Whilst we were adamant that we would not be travelling by plane I couldn’t help but wonder if travelling by car with a baby but be the easiest alternative.

However, 3 months before we were due to travel I found myself on bahn.de trying to work out the best routes and times for our journey.

In theory it is easy to book train tickets across Europe these days there are websites and phone lines through which an entire booking through numerous countries and using many train companies is possible. But past experience has taught us that these companies do not always give the cheapest or best route.

For this trip we booked 3 separate tickets through 3 separate companies. The main reason that we book the tickets in the following way is that German tourist accommodation providers have access to cheaper train tickets – but these tickets are only available for the German part of the journey.

As I mentioned my first port of call was bahn.de. Whilst this is the German railway website it can be used to plan journeys across Europe or even within a single country that is not Germany itself. If your German is not up to scratch (as mine isn’t) then by simply selecting your preferred language from the options available a fantastic website is at your finger tips.

Having found the only trains that would allow us to travel from Ebbsfleet to Bayerisch Eisenstein in 1 day (or in 11 hours!) the next task was to break the journey down into 3 sections.

The first section is simply from Ebbsfleet to Brussels. So this first ticket was booked through Eurostar.

The second section is the “pre-Germany” stage – in this case from Brussels to the first German station that we will stop at – Aachen. Booking this ticket was a little trickier as there are many companies through which this can be done but the easiest is b-rail.be – the Belgian railway website.

Finally our accommodation provider booked the final leg of our journey through bahn.de.

So, on a sunny morning in May we left my brother-in-law’s farm in Kent for our long journey east. Our luggage consisted of two rucksacks (one of which containing Sam’s cloth nappies and not much else!) which would be carried by my husband, a small suitcase on wheels (the sort that used to be allowed on planes as hand luggage but I now believe would be considered too big) a cloth bag and Sam in a Mei Tei – the final 3 were my responsibility!

We arrived at Ebbsfleet with not much time to spare as the signs for Ebbsfleet in Kent are almost nonexistent (but that is another story!). We easily found the seats that I had chosen for us at the time of booking the ticket – one side of a table. Fortunately the train was not too full so we only had to share “our” table with one other person and that was just as far as Lille. The ride was very comfortable and Sam took it all in his stride. He was not even phased by going through the tunnel!

Sam did get the opportunity to use the changing facilities on the train and they passed with flying colours.

On arriving at Brussels International we headed straight for a cafe in the main domestic part of the building that just happens to be called “Sam’s”! We had never noticed the name before! Whilst Gary looked after Sam and the luggage I went and collected the ticket from an automated machine. Very simple to do and avoided the very long queues in the ticket office.

There was just time to have a quick snack before we headed to the platform to catch our next train that would take us as far as Frankfurt.

As I mentioned we had booked separate tickets from Aachen onwards so whilst the train was stopped at that station we moved from our two seats in a normal carriage to luxury! Let me explain… When researching tickets I had noticed that it was possible to buy a special family ticket on German trains for use by 2 adults and one child. It was not any more expensive than other tickets but I thought I might as give it a go just in case there were any advantages to it. The first advantage we found out about at time of booking – Sam would get to have his own seat for the cost of reserving a seat – 3Euro. The second advantage we found out about at Aachen. Our 3 seats were found in a special “family compartment” about one and a half to two times bigger than the old BR first class compartments. In this compartment were 6 seats – 4 round a large table and 2 others separated by a small glass screen. There was clearly room for 2 buggies as when we arrived the compartment was filled with two other families including buggies. We managed to make it clear that we had reserved seats and both families left the compartment. I felt bad but soon discovered that they were all getting off at the next stop anyway.

But back to this amazing compartment… It included a socket for a milk bottle warmer (or in our case our laptop for watching DVD’s should Sam have a nap through all the excitement). Next door was the disabled loo which also contained a baby changing bay. A few meters further along the carriage was the buffet car which didn’t bat an eye when my husband and I took our delicious plates of pasta back to our compartment to eat. Unfortunately there was nothing on the menu suitable for Sam but we had come prepared with rice cakes and the excellent Ella’s pouches of organic fruit.

At Frankfurt we had a 40 minute wait for the next train which was plenty of time to do a bit of people watching before tracking down our platform. Which reminds me – one of the great things about bahn.de is that you can print out a journey plan which includes all the platforms that your trains will be stopping and arriving at! You also get sent a copy of this with your tickets.

The train from Frankfurt to Plattling also contained a fantastic family compartment which we once again had to ourselves.

Sam finally decided that all the excitement was a bit tiring and to our relief succumbed to the motion of the train and had a nap. This gave us enough time to watch most of the latest Star Trek film!

I must admit that we did cheat a bit with this outward journey. Our hosts were actually doing some shopping in Regensburg that afternoon so very kindly offered to pick us up there so that we did not have to carry on to Plattling where we would have changed trains for the Waldbahn (Forest Train) to Bayerisch Eisenstein. As it turned out this was a blessing as Sam had woken from his nap in a bad mood – not impressed to find that we were STILL on a train!

However we did the return journey properly travelling all the way from Bayerisch Eisenstein to Ebbsfleet by train. The return journey was a little different as there were engineering works (!) so from Plattling, rather than heading north, we took a regional train to Munich. There are no family compartments on either the Waldbahn or the regional train and no option to book seats. Fortunately neither train was busy so this was not a problem. At Munich we had a very short stop (20 minutes) before finding our family compartment on the ICE. At the point we were let down by the German train people for the first time. The compartment was locked. Fortunately we were not the only people who were booked into it and a German lady and her baby managed to shout at a guard and get them to unlock it. We only shared the compartment until the next stop before having it to ourselves once more.

This time we changed at Cologne which is usually incredibly busy as the change is at rush hour (arriving at 1732 and leaving at 1744). This time it was not so bad but the train was heaving and we were not booked into a family compartment. We gave up Sam’s seat to a young lady as at 8 months he did not really have much use for it.

Unfortunately we still had to change seats at Aachen (this is the price of booking through two separate countries’ railway companies) and it was quite a battle to get through. We squished into our pair of seats and marvelled at the dated looking decor.

We arrived in Brussels with plenty of time to walk through to the International station and wait for our final train of the day. This train was also very busy but pretty comfortable. Despite it being past Sam’s bedtime he refused to sleep for more than a few minutes so it was a relief to get him back to my mother-in-law’s for a much need sleep.

All in all, the journey was much better than expected. This was helped by careful planning and careful packing. I would not have liked to make the journey with too much more luggage. I’m glad to prove that not only is it possible to travel with a baby by train but you can do it in style! The views are amazing. From the plains of northern France and Belgium to the hills and mountains of Germany; from the vineyards at Wurzburg to the wind farms and solar panels throughout Germany – there is surely something for everyone.

In fact we thought it was so good that we plan to do it again at Christmas!

Guest contribution by Alice Cowell