As you plan your travels for the coming year, a question may arise: What’s the best age for kids to travel? In other words: are my children old enough to make taking a trip with them doable and enjoyable, or will I be so exhausted and frustrated that I would have rather stayed home? There’s some good news — but first, a bit of background.
Yes, there are some families who enjoy voyaging far and wide with their young kids at all ages, but I was not one of them. Travel with a baby was somewhat more manageable than expected, but travel with a toddler and pregnant plus toddler travel were so difficult for me that I nearly threw in the towel. Toddlers REALLY like trying to run into streets and eating sewage, which is even less ideal on the road than at home!
The final straw came in 2017 when we attended a wedding near the California redwoods in Santa Cruz with our infant daughter and 3.5-year old son. While I’m extremely thankful to have seen such a gorgeous place, and to have spent time with extended family… the trip was so soaked in kiddo vomit that I did everything possible to avoid travel with kids in the years following.
Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit, but this travel writer is simply not great at travel with young children. Where’s the good news, you ask? read on.
The year 2022 arrived, and our kids reached ages 6 and 8. Because our family was in the middle of amicable divorce proceedings, the logistics were just right for me to try my hand at going on the road with kids again — this time with just me, plus one kid at a time.
Wow! I was THRILLED to see the difference a few years make in travel with kids — not to mention focusing on one child at a time during each trip. Growing up can be good! I now declare: age 8 and 9 are magical years to travel with kids. Here’s the surprising reason why.
Why is Age 8 – 9 Great for Travel?
Yes, it’s waaaaaay easier to travel with kids above 5 because they’re potty trained, better understand logic and safety, and don’t need special bottles or wildly different food and equipment (like heavy cribs or strollers) — but there’s another piece.
Here’s the massive travel-with-kids milestone that I didn’t realize early in my parenting journey: READING AND WRITING make all the difference! When you’re traveling with pre-literate kiddos, there are only a limited number of amusements for them… but once they can devour books and fill journal pages on their own? Game-changer.
Why Does Reading Matter in Travel?
It’s not just because I’m an English teacher that I’m saying this: travel with a kiddo who’s a reader — and can write fluently, too — makes all the difference for an easy trip. Here are some examples, plus tips about how to foster happy literacy while on the road.
Encouraging Reading During Travel
All the photos here are from a recent trip I took with my 8-year-old son to Juno Beach, Florida to visit a dear friend. What helped my son be surrounded by engaging books during the flights and down time? Libraries!
Before the trip, I unleashed him on our local library, making sure to get lighter, more densely-worded books so they’d take up less luggage space. I’ve also gotten into the habit of asking the people I’m visiting if they might be willing to get a stack of books from their nearby library to be waiting for us. (Librarians can help give tips, and graphic novels are a particular hit.) What treasures our public libraries are: so much enriching entertainment, for a total cost of ZERO dollars!
A Travel Journal for Writing Encouragement
What about ways to foster writing while on the road? During our trip for Spanish immersion in Mexico this summer, I presented our son with a special travel journal (er, a random free notebook I got once), which we made time to write in each night of our adventure.
It was a hoot and a joy to see what he scribbled down! It also provided some much-needed quiet reflection time after action-packed days. With my son’s permission, we were able to take photos of the entries to send them to our family back in the States so they could stay abreast of our escapades. Of particular interest to his sister was the dramatic entry about how we couldn’t find a bathroom in time, and he needed to, er, “use” an empty water bottle… Hehe.
The Best Age for Kids to Travel, in Sum
Each child’s temperament is totally different, but there’s much we can do to leverage literacy in order to make travel with kids age 6 and older a pleasure — not an exhausting marathon. I’m excited to see what the coming years bring, as those little brains keep developing!
So what about you? Which ages do you think are the best to travel with kids? Do share.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!