Which age is the best for travel?

What is the ideal age to travel with kids?  Travel now. However old they are. How’s that for ambivalent?

We’ve traveled with our boys since they were six weeks old and it’s all good – different throughout the ages to be sure, but good.  As I think back upon these years of travel, it’s the Christmases in various places that mark time for me.

When they were tiny babies travel was easy – babies are happy as long as they have food and a place to sleep.  That’s it.  Simple needs = simple travel.  We first flew from the USA to our home in Ethiopia when the boys were a mere six weeks of age.

In our home in Ethiopia

Just before Davy and Daryl turned a year old we took off and traveled Egypt.  That was easy – as long as our mindset was on chasing after a couple of eager beavers more interested in rocks scattered on the ground than the fabulous ancient Egyptian temples we were exploring.  As long as we weren’t terribly interested in actually relaxing on the upper deck of the Nile cruise boat we took.  As long as we didn’t mind taking three times as long climbing Mount Sinai and didn’t mind watching the boys crawl up the trail.  Travel with a couple of one-year-olds was easy and a ton of fun.

In Egypt

We entered the terrible twos in Vietnam.  It was a magical experience where the boys opened many doors for us.  We met shop keepers when the boys headed in to play on the toys, we met people from the hill tribes when the boys trudged through the mud to stand in a big group of kids waiting for rice – and took their turn eating mouthfuls of rice from Grandma’s chopsticks right along with the rest of the kids.

The terrible twos weren’t so terrible at all – until I tripped on some old rickety stone steps going to the market and seriously injured my foot.  All of a sudden my boys, who had been perfectly content heading out with Daddy, suddenly demanded that Mommy carry them – even though she couldn’t walk.  When John tried to take them, they screamed bloody murder and I’ll have those screams echoing through the airport corridor implanted in my memory forever.


The following Christmas we went to Thailand – lovely Thailand.  They were cute as a button and nobody minded when they crawled into places they probably shouldn’t have.  As long as I made sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, they didn’t care where they were, so we could explore the places that interested John and me.


We ushered in the boys’ next year in Ethiopia.  By four, they were big enough to interact with other kids, but small enough to have no preconceptions about anything.  If it looked fun – they were there.

hiking in Ethiopia

By the time the boys turned five, they were travel pros – they had seen it all and done it all. Nothing could faze them.  We wandered around Bali and played on beaches.  The boys had a blast wherever they were and never worried one whit about all the world unsettlement going on around them.  If there were monkeys to play with, they were happy.

Daryl with parrots

Age six wasn’t much different from five.  As long as they had water to swim in, trees (or temples) to climb, and grass to run in, they didn’t care where we were.  John and I dragged our sons all over Malaysia and played.  I could tell they were maturing, however, because they quickly decided the tourist shops selling souvenirs weren’t much fun.


By age seven, our sons were much more aware of the world.  They were aware of poverty and hardship. So when the Asian tsunami hit while we were traveling the highlands of Burma, they were devastated.  Upon our return to our home in Malaysia and they were accosted by people with cans asking for donations, they couldn’t give enough.  We watched videos of the tsunami and talked at length about how it happened.  They were starting to see that maybe the world isn’t all roses, gumdrops, and puppy dog tails.

exploring Burma

My sons celebrated their first “traditional” Christmas ever just before their eighth birthday. By then, we were back in Idaho and the boys got to decorate the tree with Grandma’s ornaments, bake cookies, eat a full blown Christmas dinner, and open presents on Christmas Eve rather than a week or two early because we didn’t want to carry the presents with us.

in snow

Traveling with the boys at age 8 was one of the best times for us – they were old enough to be independent thinkers, yet not so old as to demand we do things their way. During this year we loaded the boys on our bicycle built for three and headed out to see America – they had traveled the world, but this was their first chance to get to know their own country.  They learned that kids their own age had actually walked across the country next to a wagon train not so many years before.

Davy and Daryl celebrated their ninth Christmas in Baja under the splendor of cardons and boojum trees.  By now, they were total mountain men and loved being outdoors.  Camping was home to them and they preferred to be as far away from civilization as possible.  We found it behooved us to teach them a bit about upcoming historical sites before we got there or their interest was gone.

In Baja with massive cardon cactus

The following year we were with cousins in Denver for the holidays – yet another brand new experience for them.  They were amazed at how the stores were filled with Christmas stuff so early in the year and they heard Christmas carols they had never heard before. At ten years old, the boys were still pretty easy to travel with and they were interested in just about anything we showed them – as long as we studied them first so they knew the historical/political significance.

Daryl with his cousin

At eleven, the boys’ interest in certain things was starting to wane.  They weren’t so easy to win over with just a simple lake to swim in – they wanted white water rafting.  They had turned into full fledged adrenaline junkies, so we sought out more active pursuits.  Fortunately, they hadn’t lost their interest in history and engineering and were intrigued by Mayan ruins – the Mayan calendar was a particularly fascinating subject to study.

kayaking down to the Rio Grande

Davy and Daryl celebrated their twelfth Christmas in Ecuador by bungee jumping – their love of all things adrenaline-related hadn’t passed at all.  What had changed was that they were no longer interested in “exotic” anything – the beautiful typical dress of other cultures meant nothing to them as those people were nothing more than just other people. In short, they were ordinary teenagers.  Travel with them was easy in that they were capable of getting around on their own and didn’t require intensive help from Mom and Dad.

bungee jumping

Now my sons are thirteen and we’re still enjoying the journey.  It’s fun to watch them learn things that most American teenagers have known for years.  They’ve learned to be flexible and adaptable through all their travels and are now sliding into American culture seamlessly.

ziplining in Argentina

Is there a “best” age to travel with your children?  I think they are all best – one age is not better or worse than another, only different.
We’re not the only family out there traveling the world with our children. Here are a bunch of others who’ve written about their experiences with children of all ages!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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44 Responses to Which age is the best for travel?

  1. Tracy Burns April 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    What an amazing life your boys have led. I’ve really only been following your last journey so it was fascinating to have an overview of everywhere you’ve been and see the boys at various ages/stages!

    I’ve been meaning to ask – where in Malaysia did you live?

  2. nancy April 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Tracy – we lived in KL. The boys and I were only there 7 months before we returned to the USA. John stayed on another 5 months.

  3. Ian and Wendy Sewell April 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Without a doubt, the best age is when they sleep through the night – so you can be awake enough to remember traveling with them! 😉

  4. nancy April 28, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Yeah – you’ve got a point there, Wendy. When our boys were 5 months we flew to California for the summer where John and I were taking classes for our masters’ degrees. It was an interesting couple of months – I won’t say the boys were sleeping through the night, but we managed!

  5. wandering educators April 29, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    what fun – and what a FULL life of the world they’ve experienced so far!

  6. mrbill April 29, 2011 at 3:34 am #

    I believe travelling is easier before age 60.

  7. Rain April 29, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    How completely fabulous! I can’t wait to read their memoirs of a life well lived and well traveled ;-).

  8. Jenn Collins @ Monkey Butt Junction April 29, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    What incredible lives your children have led! I loved reading this. I hope they grow up to write books about their lives and experiences. I would surely read them.

    We have traveled with our son since he was just a few weeks old. I was surprised at the number of naysayers – you can’t take a baby that young on a plane, he shouldn’t be out until he’s older, traveling with an infant is so hard. I didn’t find it hard, I just think it takes more planning. My son is just 16 months now so I don’t have the experience of traveling with older children yet, but as to which age is best, so far they have all been amazing.

  9. Vickie April 29, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    What an exciting way for your boys to grow up! Inspiring! After reading about your bicycle built for three, I thought you might enjoy this post about unschooling being like riding a bicycle. I didn’t know of your blog then but you are the perfect example! Here it is if you are interested: http://demandeuphoria.blogspot.com/2011/02/unschooling-its-like-riding-bicycle.html

    Love your blog!

  10. Justin@The Great Family Escape April 29, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Nice Post! And I agree.

    There is never a best age. The age is only best because things went well during that time.

    When my daughter was 1 we read “Hungry Catepillar.” Now she is 6, we read “Anne of Green Gables” You don’t change what you do, you change how you do it. Evolve.

    Travel is the same way. The world has plenty to offer to all ages!

  11. Richard Masoner April 29, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    As somebody who grew up traveling the world with my parents since infancy, I agree — there’s no better time than now to travel with your children. If you wait for the perfect time it will never happen.

  12. Amy April 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I love the comparison of different ages. No time like the present!

  13. Angie Dilmore April 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Nancy, you really need to write a book. You’ve had a facsinating inspiring life.

  14. Gayle April 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Nancy – thank you so much, in a different vein, for finally sharing a chronology and pictures of the amazing life you, John and the boys have been leading over the last 13 years together. You have always hinted and alluded, in your travel blogs, to the fact that Davy and Daryl have traveled almost since birth but it was really fun to have you finally lay it all out.

    And – I agree with several others that say both you and Daryl and Davy have amazing books to write about your experiences growing up and traveling together!

  15. nancy April 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for a while, but wanted photos to go with it – but we didn’t have access to the photos while we were on the road. Now that I have them, I’ll be using them a lot!

    I would love to write a book – but want to write one about our Americas journey first.

  16. Ana May 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    I love it when you say “Travel now!” All ages can be lots of fun while traveling. I enjoyed this story a lot!

  17. The Dropout May 6, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    What an amazing 13 years you’ve all had. I cannot imagine what it must be like chasing twin toddlers around. I’m exhausted with just one!
    You were my idols for doing family bike trips. Now you are my idols for being such a fantastic traveling family and such an inspiration for others.
    Thanks for sharing!
    (Oh, and I love your “travel now” advice too.)

  18. LBJ May 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Do you do a lot of bicycle travel (you did mention a bicycle built for 3…)? I have been travelling around with my Montague folding bike which allows me a lot of flexibility in terms of travelling/lodging etc. Just wondering what kind of bike you used and how it all worked out.

  19. Mary January 8, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    This is a great post! My boys have been traveling quite a bit since they were born. We just started a slow travel trip around the world and they are 12,8, and 4. It has been so interesting to note the differences with them and how they are each viewing the whole thing in their own way. I am always so inspired by reading all you have done with your boys! They have led quite an amazing life so far!

    • Nancy January 8, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      It is really fun to watch how the kids react to different cultures and experiences. My boys are now in those teen years and it takes a lot to impress them – we found just the thing to impress with FIRST robotics!!

  20. walkingon travels January 8, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Love it! A great recap for anyone who thinks you have to wait to travel with your kids until they can “appreciate it.” As you have pointed out, they appreciate it at any age, just in different ways. We are so excited to get to share the world with our 2 year old and his soon to be little brother when he shows up in the spring. We will get to experience travels at two stages now. One with a content baby that is along for the ride and a toddler who is destine to meet every single person he meets due to his insatiable curiosity 😉

    • Nancy January 8, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      @walkingon travels,
      And you will love it!

      • walkingon travels January 8, 2012 at 10:16 am #

        @Nancy, Already do 🙂 I love how much the world has opened up to us since having Dek. He is a total charmer and schmoozes the ladies every where he goes. It opens up doors and opportunities we never had or were to scared to ask for when it was just the two of us traveling as a couple or solo. Traveling with kids really is the best!

  21. @TheBigBreak January 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    So inspiring! Thanks for the great article!

  22. Jeremy Branham January 9, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Great story of your travels with your boys! I do think the older they get, the easier it is. You also appreciate it a little more and they understand what is going on. The tough ages are when they don’t understand and it’s hard to manage them on airplanes and airports. Look forward to many more trips as my kids get older!

    • Nancy January 9, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

      @Jeremy Branham,
      In some ways it’s gotten easier as the boys have gotten older, but in other ways traveling with little ones was easier. Back then we were able to go whereever WE wanted. Now, we have to go where the boys want. It’s all good, just different.

  23. Sara Carbone February 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    What a great article to read! Truly inspiring – particularly given that my husband I are contemplating whether or not to bring our 2.5 yr old with us to Spain this summer. Our biggest reason is that we are so in love with him that we feel like we just don’t want to be away from him for that long. Plus of course, how much fun it would be… Your boys truly seem like adventurous, confident kids out to take on the world.

    • Nancy February 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      @Sara Carbone,
      Take him! It’ll be a wonderful experience for him! And you’re right – it’s a lot of fun to travel with your kids.

  24. Lisa Wood February 7, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    I never realised that you and your boys have travelled so much over the years…amazing! What a fantastic lifestyle they have had – travelling and growing together! There is nothing better than life education.

    • Nancy February 8, 2012 at 1:10 am #

      @Lisa Wood,
      I’ve been traveling pretty much fulltime since I graduated from college back in 1984. Met the hubster in 1990 and we traveled together until the boys were born in 1998. Now we all travel together! Crazy, eh?

  25. Lauren February 15, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    Wow thank you that made some fantastic reading! I would love to be so carefree and travel the world, i have 2 boys one 3 yr old and one 8 yr old (who has ADHD) I would love for them to explore the world meet new people and learn all they can.
    I am in the thought process of taking them somewhere for a month over christmas, maybe vietnam or thailand.
    my biggest problem i feel is that i am not a seasoned traveller, well i’ve only been abroad twice and they were resorts 🙁 and i worry about everything!
    Thank you for your inspiring story maybe i will take the plunge and open the worl d up to my children 🙂

    • Nancy February 16, 2012 at 1:53 am #

      @Lauren, Worry is normal, but totally unproductive. Just go – it’ll be just fine. In all my travels, I’ve discovered that human beings around the world have 3 basic needs – food, water, a place to sleep. If you find yourself without any one of them, somebody WILL step up to the plate and help you out.

  26. Jorie @ The Midwest Maven April 17, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Wow! I so loved watching your boys “age” through the photos and their amazing travel experiences. (Those bald little cuties on the Egyptian ruins is too cute for words). I grew up traveling with my parents from the time I was born, and we often did adrenaline-pumping activities. The neat thing is, as twenty-somethings, my sister and I now have that same adventurous spirit — and have partnered with boyfriends/husbands who feel the same way.

    Now we plan the adventures and my parents love to come along with us (although they have their own adventures RVing across the country as well). Introducing a love for travel, curiosity about the world, and a sense of adventure to your child is one of the best gifts you could ever give as a parent. Your boys will never forget the experiences you allowed them. Hats off!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 17, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      @Jorie @ The Midwest Maven, I totally think that taking kids out when they are young will empower to live adventurously later. Set the stage early and help them see that the world isn’t a scary place, then let them fly. (And I agree about the Egypt pic – I love that one!)


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