How to Survive the Subway With Kids

I had lived in New York for 18 months before I ventured onto the subway with my two children. I had no trouble catching it by myself, but for some reason I was terrified of travelling on it with both my children. Once I began taking them on the subway, I realised how much more it opens up the city to me on weekdays. To be honest, it is occasionally a very average experience, but it is worth it to get away from my regular four blocks, which contain the park, school, and grocery store. My children love the adventure, too. So here’s my 5-point plan for surviving the subway with children.

#1 – Hand sanitiser

Make sure you have litres of the stuff. One touch of the slimy poles and you’ll regret not having any. It can also buy you time until you can wash the children’s hands properly in a sink post-subway. Despite my best efforts, my children tend to touch every part of the subway car: poles, seat and even sometimes the floor. Touching a handrail on the New York Subway system is like shaking hands with 10,000 people. Children are germy enough without adding more into the mix! I also strip the children once we get home and wash (burn) their clothes.

#2 – Plan your journey

If it’s your first time on the subway, allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. As I am rarely without a stroller, I like to plan my journey based on where the elevators are. I use the ‘Subway: NYC’ app, which indicates the stations that have disabled access. Even if there is no elevator at your destination, you can at least prepare yourself for having to bump the stroller up or down the stairs. Or prepare to smile sweetly at passersby until someone offers to help.


#3 – Be prepared for angry people

People catching the subway are going to jobs they don’t like, appointments with people they don’t like, doing the school run, running late etc. During the week, travel on the subway is rarely a fun occasion. My rule of thumb is to keep out of the way, smile widely and apologise as much as possible. Fellow travellers are generally not angry with you, just at the world in general, so don’t take it personally!

#4 – Take no prisoners

Stand up for yourself. You need to get on that train and there’s always room. It is a lot more difficult when you have a stroller, but if six people can mash in just as the doors are closing, there was room for your stroller.

#5 – Bribery works

What I would consider the most important thing to take on your journey are bribes. Find something that will keep your children quiet or entertained for the journey. My two are generally happy on the way there but tired and cranky on the journey home. What works for me are apples – they take ages to eat, and lollipops – totally worth the sugar high if it keeps them quiet. In desperate circumstances, my smart phone helps! Timing the return journey with my younger child’s naps also helps so I only have the elder one to worry about who is more easily entertained. I’ve tried toys, however they largely get dropped, lost, or forgotten about early on. It is just more to wash (burn) when we get home.

Finally, I have no advice on how to avoid the horrible smells in the elevators. I’ve no idea how people find the time to use it as a bathroom but just hold your breath and advise your children to do the same.

Happy travelling!

Helen was born in South Africa, grew up in Brisbane, but calls Sydney home.  She is a social worker who is currently a stay-at-home mum to her two boys in the ‘burbs’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side.

Author: Helen McWilliam

Helen is a Mum of two boys, who was born in South Africa, grew up in Brisbane but calls Sydney home. She is a social worker by trade and is currently a stay at home Mum in the ‘burbs’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side.

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