When the subject of family travel comes up in conversation, one question that comes up again and again is, “When is the best age to travel with kids?’ Is it five? Ten? Teens? Preschoolers? Or that ever elusive “when they’re old enough to remember it”? My short answer to that question whenever I encounter it is an emphatic, “Right now!” With a few exceptions, I don’t think there is ever a bad age to travel with kids, but I have to admit that some ages are more challenging than others. And of course, with my oldest being barely seven, I’m not exactly an expert at travelling with kids of every age. But as I look forward to our upcoming spring break trip, it’s fun to look back at our trips of the past and look at travel with kids of different ages.
Itty Bitty Babies:
You know how I mentioned there were a few exceptions to the “no bad age to travel” thing? Well, I have to admit, we never managed to travel with a newborn and I have great admiration for anyone who can. Maybe we were just slow, but it felt like it took about three months just to figure out how to keep this little person alive. I occasionally hear of people who go all over the world with a newborn and they say it’s no problem at all, and I’m willing to admit that maybe they’re just better at it than we were.
Pros: They’re cute.
Cons: Not old enough to notice new surroundings; parents too tired to notice anything!
Slightly Bigger Babies (4/5 month old to walking):
Now here’s a different story. By this age, things are settling down a bit. While it was a lot of work to get out the door, we found that this was a perfect age to start some short starter trips. It’s not easy travel and they won’t remember where they’ve been, but it’s fun to watch their reaction to new things and you’re setting them up for a lifetime of travel!
Pros: They’re portable and may even be sleeping half decently. They’re not yet getting into things so it’s easier to keep them safe. Most babies are pretty happy at this age.
Cons: you still have to bring a tonne of stuff. They can be hard to entertain and most babies need to stick to a routine, which can cramp your style on the road. Feeding can be a challenge and most babies are teething at this age.
Toddlers (about 1-2 years):
Ah toddlers. Every once in a while I miss that squishy, emotional, busy phase with my kids for a few minutes and then I watch a real toddler for while and the feeling quickly passes. Travel with toddlers is exhausting. But then again, everything about life with toddlers is exhausting, so why not do it somewhere more interesting? And it’s not like travel with toddlers is all bad. For every tantrum there’s an equal measure of pure rapture and squeals of delight at the simplest pleasures.
Pros: They are pretty much up for everything. Many things are free. They make you slow down and enjoy the little things.
Cons: You still need a lot of stuff. Did I mention they can be exhausting? Parents need to be constantly watchful in new surroundings.
Incidentally this can be a great time for a first visit to Disney Parks. They are free until age three (and cost almost as much as a adult after that) and they truly believe in the magic.
Young Preschool (about 2.5-4)
This age can be a bit of a toss up. Kids get more opinionated, but also more involved. They are able to tolerate longer flights and car rides, especially if you use electronic entertainment and they are more aware of their surroundings. It was at this age that we really began to feel that some of the things we are seeing might actually “stick”. On the other hand, you still need to bring quite a bit of stuff, many kids still need naps and early bedtimes and it can be the worst age for picky eaters. This was the age that we really started branching out with family travel and it slowly started to feel a bit more enjoyable for us.
Pros: Easier to entertain, getting more autonomous, starting to remember things. Many things still free.
Cons: Admission fees start kicking in, kids can be more opinionated and less portable.
Early School Age (about 5-7)
This is where we’re at right now. I have to admit it’s my favourite travel age so far. We’ve finally ditched most of the stuff. They’re starting to read and they can build Lego or play games for quite a while to entertain themselves. They remember a lot of things about where we’ve been and get excited about helping to plan the next trip. They can be reasoned with and can rally a bit when they’re tired or we run into challenges, at least to a certain extent.
Pros: More self reliant, more involved. Still love hanging out with their parents.
Cons: Fewer freebies. Beginning to get very strong ideas about what they want to do. Still get tired quite easily. First hints of cynicism start creeping in. (Mommy, that’s just a guy in a costume you know)
The Future (7-???)
As I’ve said before, we’re still pretty new at the family travel and I’m excited to see what the future brings. So far, I have to admit that it just keeps getting better. I’ve been warned that the teenage years could bring this winning streak to an end, but you never know. There are plenty of smart, fun, adventurous teens out there, and we can only hope that travelling with them when they’re young will help our kids become that way. If nothing else, it can’t hurt!
So what’s your favourite age to travel with kids? Is the golden age a real thing or is every age just what you make it? We aim to do our best to find out.