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How Old Should Kids Be for Your Family Gap Year ?

What’s the best age to take your kids on a family gap year? How old should children be to travel the world? Should you take babies and toddlers travelling? Is it possible to take a gap year with your teenagers?

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I’ve travelled with my kids from babies to now, teens and tweens, and this is what I think. There are benefits to the kids and to parents at just about any age. But is there a sweet spot?

What's the best age to travel with kids

It may not be what you think, that’s fine, but you came here to see what I had to say about this, so can we stay friends? Thanks

Travel With Kids -Best Age For a Family Gap Year

This is totally dependent on what you want the kids to get out of travelling around the world and what you, the parent, want to get out of it.

Which is more important to you, their enjoyment, family time for mutual benefit, learning experiences for them or satisfying parental wanderlust?

There are a million reasons to take a round the world trip and I doubt that any two people’s are exactly the same.

You need to honestly figure out what your reasons are. Be real. Why do you want to do this thing?

What’s the Best Age to Travel for Education?

Kids will learn more from travel if they are older, the older the better.

All kids are different but my younger son remembers very little from our travels until he was about 8. Everything before that is pretty much a blank.

My elder son has a much better early memory but little kids really don’t pick up on that much.

Now, as teens and tweens, they learn far more and in greater depth from our travels.

Also, the older they are the more interested they become. They start Googling things because they want to. Little kids just want to play.

Sure, play is learning, that’s fine. But they won’t be learning a whole bunch about the countries they’re visiting.

What’s the Cheapest Age to Travel With Kids?

Obviously the younger the better.

Kids under 2 can travel virtually free.

Toddlers to kids about age 12 will qualify for kids’ admission prices and very slightly cheaper airfares.

Past 12 it’s like travelling with adult friends, that you’re paying for.

They also start eating a lot.

So the younger the better to keep costs down.

Do Kids Get Sick Much While Travelling? How Does Age Affect That?

Babies and toddlers get every bug going, it’s a normal part of growing up and they’ll go through this stage at home or on the road.

Would I want to go through normal childhood bugs while travelling?

Absolutely not.

It’s hard enough at home where you can access clean water, fresh clothes, heating or air conditioning, hospitals and familiar drugs.

I would not want to have a sick child on a travel day, nor in a hotel room.

This is a big reason to wait ’til they are older.

Little ones may also pick up some really nasty bugs on the road, GI viruses, flu, Dengue and worse. Babies and toddlers crawl on dirty floors and put fingers in mouths. Rats are everywhere.  They must be protected from sun, mosquitoes, dogs, deep water, cliffs, traffic and roads. Little ones are a big responsibility.

How Easy is it to Travel With Babies, Toddlers, Tweens and Teens?

The older they are the easier it gets.

Once you have them fully toilet trained, able to walk reasonable distances, past the picky food, naps, bath time, car seats and milk stage it’s a whole new ball game.

Absolutely 100%, it gets easier the older they get and you, as a family, have far more options.

Snorkelling with manta rays, trekking in the Himalayas, anything involving altitude, these big activities are only possible with older kids.

What About Older Kids Missing Friends While Travelling?

Best Age For a Family Gap Year Travel With Kids
These four kids have hung out together in 4 countries now, for weeks at a time. Their ages are pretty mixed, they are of vastly different backgrounds and nationalities, but it works. They have fun. Meetups and keeping them busy are the key to no social homesickness.

If they’ve been in the school system or have a group of friends or family that they see day in day out, if that is their normal, they’ll most likely miss that.

Some will miss it intensely and be deeply miserable.

The only solution is obviously not to put them in the system and not have deep roots at home that need to be temporarily severed. We’re lucky to have that, we’re 100% independent, but it’s rare.

Because mine have never been in the system it’s never been a problem. They’re very self-contained and will have fun with anyone, anywhere.

I always ponder on this. Does any child prefer school to weekends and holidays? I’ve never known one that does. Maybe if the home was absolutely dreadful or abusive, but most kids prefer being out of school and being able to do what they please.

In this instance the older they get the harder it will be.

Little ones play with other little ones wherever they happen to be and language barriers don’t stop them until they get older. It’s very easy to find playmates for tiny tots anywhere that kids gather, but of course, playing with mum and dad is fine by them too. Be ready for endless tag and sand castles.

Do Kids Like Spending Time With Mum and Dad Every Day?

Yep, mine do.

Up to puberty this is a total no-brainer. After that their need to play with and be close to a parental unit or two diminishes. If you play your cards right, yes, teens can still love hanging with mum or dad.

My teen is my funny friend, my sunshine, I adore him in a whole different way to his tween brother and we share humour and interests.

If I can prize him away from his computer games.

So What’s The Best Age to Travel With Kids?

What's the best age to travel with your kids

I’d say the sweet spot is 10-12, depending on how early or late puberty really gets a grip. You can still have great times, really great times and huge adventures with older teens, but the tweens win. That’s my honest answer based on my hugely scientific sample group of two. What do you think? If you want more posts along these lines, how about travel with teenagers or our family gap year ideas?

nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.

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Jeanette teslo

Monday 13th of January 2020

Hi,

We are taking our kids (soon 4 and 6 years) to Australia for 6 weeks. I have lived and travelled the whole country before, so I am quite familiar with all our destinations. We have pre-booked every accomodation, and we are mainly interested in just enjoying nature and living stress-free while on the road. My question is: have you experienced your kids to be burned out from moving from place to place? We are staying for longer periods at the same place at the start, midle and end of the trip. In between these we are between 2,3 nights in each place + 3 single sleeps. My biggest concern is that the kids will not like moving around, and that they will get stressed from doing so.

I would really like to hear from your experience and thoughts. I could write more about our plan, but in short I have tried to make it as easy going as possible.

Regards Jeanette

Alyson for World Travel Family

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

No, that's never been an issue Jeanette. But we are mindful of just chilling and giving them plenty of sleep, great food, they love their food and things that they enjoy doing. That includes being online as often as possible. We always make sure there is good free wifi at our accommodation. But they enjoy trekking in the Himalayas too, and that's totally offline. One likes groups and other people, sometimes, so group tours, his volunteering, he likes to chat to cool people. And often it's the simple things like a tuk tuk ride that they enjoy. Sometimes an amazing theme park, sometimes a huge buffet, just things they love. Also movies, we take them to see movies a lot in Asia, they love that. Treats, things for them, not things mum and dad enjoy on occasions that the two are different. But I think because mine started young and did it for so many years ( and now my son tells me he loved/loves the lifestyle) they just accepted it as normal. I really love the long travel days on buses, trains etc. The kids enjoy them too because they just chill and read or now, have their phones. They like flying days too, airports always mean junk food, planes ( on decent airlines - not budget - nobody likes budget) mean more food and movies. They detest cars. Cars are bad for my two, and boring, no other people, nothing weird happens. Best of luck.

Andrea

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019

We are planning a gap year in 2020. Kids will be 9 and 11 and ) (Gasp) 2-1/2. The little one came before these dreams of a gap year but we don’t want to let him stop us! We realize the planning will be much different but we are thinking more of a slow travel year. If we wait until he is older the older kiddos may not be into it, so we’ll make do. For now I just need to keep reading and figuring out how to make this possible!!!

Alyson Long

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019

Hi there. There's no reason that you have to do slow travel just because you have a toddler. It's possible to go at a normal bckpacking sort of pace. The trouble with slow travel is you get a lot less travel for your dollar, fewer destinations, less experiences, but you will get to know small areas in some depth. I think slow travel is more for us on long term and full time trips because- I know you won't think it now- a year is actually very little time to see much of the world. So really hone down on where you most want to be, what destinations you choose if you want to do it that way. What destinations were you thinking of picking?

Mark

Friday 18th of January 2019

Really helpful and insightful article to read. So I have two children 4 years apart. Neither are old enough yet to travel but we have our hearts set on doing this when we feel they are ready. With the age gap being being 4 years, do you think 7 and 11 is a good age? or would you wait until older? The boy is older and the girl, younger.

Alyson Long

Friday 18th of January 2019

I think that sounds pretty good. From my ( limited) experience with girls, it looks to me as if they get much more difficult to handle past about 12. Boys are so much easier!

Toria

Monday 14th of January 2019

Thank you for writing this Alyson. It is something I have been concerned about for some time. On the one hand, my partner is at a critical point in his career and it would be a shame to leave now, but on the other hand, I had been feeling the pressure of time as my son has just turned 7. I feel that he really gets so much out of our short trips already and I was concerned we would miss the boat leaving long-term travel until he is older. But you give me heart that there are many benefits to leaving things for a few years. If we could go now and take our time we would, but if we only get one chance and that has to be left a while I can relax about it. My son has never been in school, so I don't think 'extracting' him from his life here will be too much of a problem.

Kathleen Glossop

Saturday 5th of January 2019

Thanks for writing this, I think a lot of people are reluctant to travel with older kids because they view school as critically important to their futures. This is a great perspective from someone who has done all ages!

Alyson Long

Saturday 5th of January 2019

Yep, getting them out of the system is probably the most critically important thing. Who wants to get the sort of jobs the majority of school leavers end up in anyway? They need to think outside the box and have their eyes opened to all the millions of possibilities there are in this world.

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