When did travelling become such hell?

I am a little unusual I admit, I quite like travelling by public transport and I always have. I don’t see driving a car as superior and much prefer to pay someone to do that for me so along with anything from 1 to 50 fellow humans, hire a chauffer in the form of a bus driver to do that sort of thing for me whenever possible.

That being said, there isn’t much worse than having your journey ruined by an obnoxious, spoilt child, especially on longer journeys or on travels to holidays.  Though sometimes their parents do make a good attempt at being more annoying.

It’s not always the fault of the child or parent but it is almost guaranteed that if you are travelling with a small child that at some point in your journey, likely before the child has even made a peep, you’ll be the recipient of disapproving looks so venomous you might as well be going to the toilet on the carpet of the plane, train or bus you occupy. For such parents you travel anywhere then you’re guilty until proven tolerable.

I really like well behaved and polite children, I like well behaved and polite adults even more and I always try and give everyone the benefit of a doubt and if necessary put up a reasonable amount of noise.

You can tell a lot about a parent by their behaviour on public transport.  I can’t abide some of my fellow passengers who decide that out of an entirely deserted long tube train, they decide to sit next to me.  It’s bad anywhere, ten times worse if you have music playing or intend to go on the phone and insufferable if the children run riot and the parent thinks it is perfectly fine so long as it doesn’t interrupt their innane facebook messenger chatter.

If you go on a long distance train or plane journey then you might see some attempting to distance themselves from their own child: who is this savage beast? I cannot claim it as my own. Watch my back as I skip off to business class and leave it in steerage (a true story of transatlantic child-custody-sharing).

Others, adopting a more socialist attitude to public spaces, think the entire community – sorry, planeful of strangers – should be responsible for the care of their offspring.

Why, after all, wouldn’t the man in 17B want a child to play with his laptop or the lady infront object to a brat continually kicking at the seat.

There is a lot to be said for the old fahioned ethos that a child should be seen and not heard.  There is a lot not to be said for it too, why have children if you are going to treat them like robots or soldiers?   On the other hand, the rest of us travelling who scowl whenever a parent and child seat nearby only do so because we are so used to the parent letting the child run wild.

So whilst children are prone to kicking the back of seats because as parents say “Kids will be kids” – especially when kicking of the back of your aeroplane seat. How can I be expected to get my fun-loving child to sit like a statue?

Objectively though  It is impossible to find something more annoying in traveldom than being kicked from behind.  Recently an American family was removed from a flight reportedly after their one-year-old repeatedly kicked the back of the seat in front of her, I did feel sympathy for the person with the seatback.

As with a dog, when you bring a child on a plane, you should bring it well-exercised, well-watered and fed; in prime condition for a nap. As back-up, bring silent entertainment of proven popularity; 35,000 feet up in the air is not the moment to experiment.

And if you’re a child-free passenger, bring your manners. As with the Tube and bus, offer to swap seats if that will improve everyone’s journey. Know that the child will want to be on the move if they’re not asleep; facilitate this by offering an aisle seat.

Apparently, in parts of the USA, parents preemptively hand out apology packs to nearby passengers that are filled with sweets and earplugs.   I can only think in Britain that this would ensure everyone hates both the parent and children as they expect the worse.

On public transport, parents can often be worse than their children, displaying as they do a misplaced sense of entitlement. As with dogs, the fault lies entirely with the owner. Yes this might be a tad judgemental but then I am doing that in my head anyway.

I live in an area euphemstically called Social Housing and the amount of local mothers on buses I witness who totally ignore their children just so they can use their phone is unbelievable.  Worse still, several swear at their children to be quiet.  The time to be obsessed with your phone is when you are a child, not a parent.  The parents though seem oblivious to the fact that half a bus is wishing the mothers phone would run out of battery and the other about calling Social Services to have the child brought up in a loving environment.

I know I am 43 and things are different now, actually they were all ready different when I was 10 and had to stand up for my elders on the bus so they could have my seat.  These days, I still give my seat up to anyone who needs it whereas few children do and fewer parents would ever think of asking them to.  In fact in the UK recently there has been quiet a few cases of disputes because parents can’t be bothered to fold up their push-chairs and move out of the spaces reserved for disabled people reliant on wheelchairs.  Unbelievable!  Others rather let their children sit whilst they themselves stand.    The wheelchair vs buggy on the bus debate had to be decided recently by the courts. Rightly, wheelchair users – who have no alternative forms of transport – have been given priority so parents do actually have to have a modicum of responsibility for their sprogs.


In the case of parents vs child-free passengers, we all have a stake. But here’s the bad news: no one has the moral high-ground on public transport. Trips – on plane, train or bus – are the one situation in life in which we really, truly, are all in it together. There are no winners – but there are good manners and stopping being selfish would be a good place to start.


But what about seats on buses and the Tube? Recently Debrett’s, arbiter of all that is decent and British, ruled that adults should not feel compelled to give up their seats to children. Nor should they. Most children can and should stand.

But make sure your child’s fun isn’t landing on someone’s shopping. And if you see a tired, sad child – or parent – why not offer them a seat? There are energetic nine-year-olds, and there are springy 90-year-olds. Assess the situation and offer your seat to someone who might want it more than you – not because they’re wearing a badge saying they are pregnant, disabled or old, but because you’ve noticed them and you care.  It happened to me in June, I’d had my 6th day in a row of walking 20+ miles and a kindly tourist said that I looked like I needed the seat more than they did.


London Underground Commuting Hell

London Underground Commuting Hell

I often go into London which for me using public transport can be anything from 1 hour to 2 hours (still quicker than driving).  I’m aghast at how people fight over seats on the tube.  I’m going to be walking 15-20 miles all day and I am fine with standing or giving up my seat… the majority of the commuters are going to be doing nothing more energetic than sitting on their fat harris’s all day.  You’d think they might welcome the chance to stand.   These same people though are also very lazy and would never think of running to catch the train whilst I probably hold the record for the Euston Escalators-Concourse and station dash.

Happily, I don’t have to go into London today or tomorrow and instead will eat out with a friend whose strict policy is to eat as far away from children as possible, perhaps because though they are lovely little darlings, he couldn’t eat a whole one.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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10 Responses to When did travelling become such hell?

  1. Great post Stephen 😊. I just loved it so much !! 👍

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My children grew up on a good slice of my 200-plus trans-Atlantic flights. Many of these were 2-seats, 1 adult and 2-kids flights! There never was a single time that passengers near me didn’t, at the end of the flight, compliment me on my well-behaved boys. I really worked at it. I was master of distraction, whispering in ears, pointing out marvelous things, reading, drawing, playing games, creating breathless anticipation for any little thing. I arrived a dripping wet rag of a mother, but the trip went really fast in compensation! I never (never!!) have ignored my children, which would have lead to them clamoring ever more loudly for my attention. But alas I see this everywhere, especially on public transportation. Parents: Ignoring your offspring will not make them go away, or desist. We are doomed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh congratulations! I always make a point of complimenting parents whose children are well behaved. It makes such a difference to all concerned. There is a theory in the U.K. that it is those most unsuited to have children who have them, or have more of them… so over the generations we get increasingly doomed. It sure does feel that way sometimes.


  3. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    Too true

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dbmoviesblog says:

    I never could understand why people should give up their seats for children, say of 5 years and above. They can stand on their own. To elderly, yes, to mothers, yes. Perhaps, it is so mothers could keep an eye on them or something. Crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I could never understand it either. It makes no sense at all and is the complete opposite of what happened until at least the 1980’s. I might be wrong but I might put some of it down to lazy parenting, with it easier to keep the children quiet when sat down than have them standing up and complaining.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting article! Your analysis of etiquette on planes is particularly interesting, you’ve clearly witnessed the worst!

    I know personally I think that the debate around public transport and how it relates to those less able is the most important aspect of your discussion. So many people who are wheelchair bound or suffer from limited mobility these days are forced to endure less than ideal conditions simply due to the “dead down, eyes away” approach often demonstrated by many in public situations. Not only is it important that we lead by example towards everyone on board, but its also important to call out those who ignore people in need. I know I have personally had to ask someone to stand for an elderly passenger standing besides me simply because they were too consumed by their mobile phone to notice.

    I think not only is a public discussion around how we may better support each other as member of society necessarily, but we must also include those who suffer as a consequence of crowd mentality in this discussion. If able people find loud and obnoxious children/parents annoying to have to put up with on public transport, imagine those who are in even less of a position to do something about it, and are often forced to use public transport out of necessity must feel.


  6. Pingback: Coronavirus Diary 54 – Going on the London Underground! | Stephen Liddell

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