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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Almost Fearless
- The Dropout Diaries
- Around The World In Easy Ways
- Tripping Mum
- Globtrotting Mama
- Snap and Blabs
- Rider By My Side
- Wandering Educators
- Travels with a Nine Year Old
- East Side Curry
- Got Passport
- Our Travel Lifestyle
- Living on the road