What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

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What’s the best age to travel with kids? Wrong question — a “best age to travel” doesn’t exist. Put another way, let’s just say that there isn’t a perfect age to travel with kids, therefore any travel age is the right one.

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids?

You and I both know that it’s complicated. The problem is how the question is worded and it should be phrased differently. Each travel plan, each traveling child, and each traveling family have their own unique dynamics, so it would be better to ask “What is the best age to travel for my kids?”

One thing I can tell you without hesitation is that if you can, you probably should try traveling with your kids, no matter their age. Sometimes the time and the opportunity for family travel present themselves. Sometimes the onus is on you to create that time and opportunity. Regardless of how it happens, figure it out, and if possible, start traveling with your kids now. If not now, then soon. They’re not getting any younger, and neither are you.

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Traveling with kids makes some parts of travel easier

Many people think that travel is hard work, so traveling with kids is even harder work, but the truth is often quite different. I’m not saying that traveling with kids is easy, but sometimes throwing children into the mix can make many travel experiences easier,  more meaningful and more fun!

Traveling with children can help break the ice with people who might not normally speak to you or help you out. It can also get you better treatment in some parts of the world because people have more empathy for a family showing their kids where they are on a map than for a trio of backpacker bros high-fiving each other in matching Red Bull T-shirts.

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

The Best Age to Travel with Kids: Anytime

We’ve been traveling with our kids since 2003 (our oldest: born Dec 2002). In our years of full-time family travel (since 2013), we’ve met long-term traveling families with kids of all ages — from infants to college freshmen. I’ve made a weekly podcast out of talking to many of them, and have begun to see patterns emerge.

While there may not be a one-size-fits-all “best age to travel” for families, there seem to be certain advantages and challenges with every travel age, and I’ve listed up a few of my observations below. This is not a scientific study or a comprehensive overview of traveling with children. These are is just a few of my observations, and there are countless exceptions to every rule I’m sure.

What do you think is the ideal age for traveling with kids? I’d love your input and opinions. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

0-5 years old: Best Age to Travel

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

Advantages

Is traveling with a baby possible? Do people really travel with babies and toddlers? Oh yes. You might be surprised. We’ve met lots of families traveling with an infant or traveling with children younger than five. Some were traveling for just a few weeks. Others were traveling indefinitely.

When kids are this young, it’s easy to keep them close, and their main source of entertainment is you. They don’t need books, games or even playgrounds to keep them stimulated, because the world is still so new and fascinating that every object they encounter — a ticket stub, a water bottle, a stick — has the potential for play. Who needs toys?

I’ve spoken with below families about their experiences with babies and toddlers. Listen to the podcasts to hear how they traveled with kids.

Little Ones Play with Anyone

Most toddlers and pre-K kids will play with whatever kids are around, no matter what language they speak. Play is an international language, and kids at this age will find playmates without problems.

Travel costs can also be significantly lower if you take the plunge while they’re still young. Toddlers eat significantly less than teens, and transportation fees are less when a child sits in your lap. This works for accommodation as well, as long as an extra bed isn’t required.

Sure, you won’t be able to stay out all night like you did before having kids, but you probably weren’t planning to party that hard anyway. Besides, this is a great opportunity for one-on-one time when you can read together, which is one of the best things you can do for a child, and as young as possible. And hey, there’s no school to worry about, right?

Worried about supplies? Diapers and baby bottles can be found all over the world, as long as you aren’t particular about specific brands or designs.

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

This may seem odd that family travel could be the most enjoyable when kids are at their highest maintenance, but for many, it’s the best way to go. It’s true that babies, toddlers, and pre-K kiddos will not have as many lasting memories of those travels (if any) when they’re that small, but that shouldn’t be the end goal. The end goal should be time together.

Challenges

Health is probably the biggest concern for new parents. Little kids crawl on questionable surfaces and love putting various objects in their mouth. When a young child gets sick, parents want to know there’s a good hospital nearby and that you can communicate your needs adequately. Hospitals and healthcare are better in many parts of the world than you might think.

We had one incident I remember in Phuket, Thailand. Our son was 4 yrs old and the girl was only 6 months. The boy got sick in the taxi on the way to our hotel. He puked in the car and now we’re worried. We had just arrived! Fortunately, it was just motion sickness.

The next morning, the baby girl is vomiting and has a high fever.

Luckily, the nearby hospital was the largest in the area, with a super high-tech facility full of friendly, English speaking Thai staff. This surprised us at the time (circa 2006), but we’ve gone on to see sleek, modern facilities in numerous countries. Our girl was treated well and recovered quickly.

I gush praise on traveling with kids younger than five, but I’d be remiss without mentioning the specific difficulties of traveling with two-year-olds and three-year-olds.

Kids in this age bracket are often able-bodied enough to walk (or run) directly into danger, but often not yet able (or willing) to listen to reason when a parent tries to explain the risks of certain behavior. They are also loud, strong-willed and unaware of social graces, which can make a long flight or dinner at a restaurant…quite challenging.

5-10 Years Old: Best Age to Travel

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

Advantages

In my opinion, this is the best age to travel with kids. They are capable of walking, climbing and carrying their own packs with relative ease. They can start taking steps towards becoming responsible for their own stuff, practicing patience for longer periods of time, and learning to navigate an airport or train station.

They are just starting to form opinions of what they like and don’t like, which can change by the week. This is not only the best age to travel with them, it’s also the best age to start exposing them to many cultures, foods, languages, and people.

If your kids are in conventional schools, you will probably encounter the least resistance from educators about taking time off school because most kids can catch up quickly, as the Clarks said in our podcast.

Challenges

For some families, traveling with kids at this age comes during an odd transition period in their children’s tastes. Younger kids can be entertained by anything, while older kids start to crave travel experiences that adults enjoy, too. Some (not all) primary school-aged kids crave only playgrounds and Disney-type fun and balk at everything else.

Wait, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is that many kids of this age require a level of engagement that might not jive with much older or much younger kids if you have them. The solution? Work their type of fun into every day, no matter what else is on the agenda.

Tweens & Teens (11-18): Best Age to Travel

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

Advantages:

If you travel with kids once they hit double-digits, they can walk longer and can take on more responsibilities. Here is where they really make memories that will last their entire life.

This is the best travel age for children to become curious about cultural differences and begin to create their own informed opinions of how the world works. If you’re just starting out with teens, this can open up the world for them. It could be painful leaving friends, but it could also change their entire life direction. Traveling also gives you a new way to bond with your children, away from the pressures of home.

Challenges:

Tween and teens are more selective about who they spend time with. You can’t just place a group of 12-year-olds on a beach and expect them to start playing immediately (although it’s great when it happens). Language, personalities and the child’s own interests now play a huge role. For some families, the teens have a transition period where they miss their friends back home much more than some parents might expect.

We’ve discovered that some kids approaching their teens may want to slow down traveling or stop altogether. Many other long-term traveling experiences something similar. That’s happening to us right now, and has happened to other traveling parents I know when adolescence arrived.

And hey, with the teen years comes puberty. Possibly rebellion. And definitely mood swings and the conviction that their parents don’t know anything. Not all kids go through this, but most of them do. Mine certainly are, just like I did before him.

The key to many of these problems is time and space. When I spoke to Gretchen Richter and Rodrigo DeMedeiros for our podcast episode #23, they talked about traveling with their teens and tweens.  Giving their son and daughter enough time on their own helps a lot, they say.

Conclusion: Best Age to Travel

What is the Best Age to Travel with Kids? The Best Time for Family Travel

I love traveling with primary school kids. They can carry, experience, and endure more. They are happy as long as they are with their family.

Ours are hitting tween and teen years when their parents are nothing but an embarrassment to be avoided. Don’t get me wrong. Our kids are usually good to us and enjoy their time with us — but now we have to make sure that no one is watching.

Is there a best age to travel with kids? What do you think is the best age to travel? What factors am I leaving out? When did you travel as a kid? And when did you travel with your own children? Keep the conversation going in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Kelly Davis-Orr says:

    Download podcasts for long car or plane rides! Highlights Hangouts is a brand new one for little kids. It’s fantastic!

    • Great tip! Thank you! The right audiobook can be great as well!

      • Were currently on a 5 month trip through China, Mongolia and Southeast Asia with our 5 and 8 year old girls and audio books have been a life saver. Both mine are prone to motion sickness and can’t read or even watch tv on a slightly curvy road and audio books have kept them entertained on multiple car, bus, van rides of up to 6 or 7 hours. I have audio books to thank for my sanity!

        • Yes indeed. Three cheers for audiobooks! That goes double when we can listen to them together. During some road trips, we’ve used Audible to listen together: books by Rick Riordan, Phillip Pullman, and various Greek/Roman mythology books.

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