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How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

If you have young kids and think that traveling with them is super difficult and exhausting, don’t worry. It DOES get easier. My kids are now almost 7, 9 and 13 years old, and we survived many trips with them as babies and toddlers. Most of the headaches and mishaps from our early travel with them is now forgotten, and only (mostly) the happy memories remain.

However, traveling with older kids has its own set of challenges and isn’t always a piece of cake.

How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

How Family Travel Gets Easier With Older Kids

We don’t have to haul around as much equipment. Yay, no more strollers, car seats or bottles! Also, our kids can carry our own things and even help us wheel around our big family suitcase.

I remember our first family vacation as a family of five when we went to San Diego. My youngest was just three months old. Looking back, I’m not sure how we even managed that trip!

How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

How did we ever survive this trip?

Public transportation becomes more of an option. Without car seats and strollers to lug around, we are free to climb up and down those subways stairs to get to the stations. We waited to travel to New York City until we were stroller-free. Uber and cable cars/streetcars are a breeze with no strollers.

On my recent trip to New Orleans, I saw a young family struggling with a stroller inside the streetcar. I offered to help fold it up, but they were able to muddle through it. I am thankful for moving past that travel stage!

How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

My weary subway travelers in New York City.

No kids menu? No problem. We used to pick our restaurants based on the kids menu. Now, even though two of our kids can still order from the kids menu and we like the lower prices, the kids menu is not the determining factor. Our kids’ palates have expanded, and they can usually find something to eat on almost any menu.

Older kids can read stuff on their own in museums! Hallelujah! I remember going to a dinosaur museum in Colorado that had so much writing on the walls. Only one of our kids could read, and even he didn’t have the patience and stamina for that much reading. Oy!

Bathroom breaks and logistics get easier. No more diaper changes and running to the bathroom every two hours for us! If our older kids need to go to the bathroom, they can go by themselves. When our older kids want to skip a ride, they can wait for us at the exit. We can move faster and accomplish more.

How Family Travel Gets Harder With Older Kids

School calendar and activities make it harder to schedule vacations. For my family, this is the biggest downside to travel with older kids. I pulled my kids out of school for off-season travel every year in elementary school. I thought I wouldn’t do it in middle school, but now my new policy is pulling out only 3-4 days. When my oldest hits high school, we might have to eliminate these ditch days altogether.

Tweens and teens are harder to impress and default to phones/video games. Gone are the days when we could rest at a playground inside a theme park and just let the kids run off steam. My 13-year-old jumps on his phone the minute we have any downtime. That is a big pet peeve of mine. Look at these photos my husband took of my son on his phone during our recent Disney cruise to Alaska:

How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

Despite being on his phone sometimes, my son still had a blast in the tween club on the ship. However, at our all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta last year, the teen club was empty. My son wanted to be on his phone ALL THE TIME. In my opinion, that’s not what vacations are for.

My husband says, “Young kids are more like dogs. Older kids and teens are more like cats.” He means that dogs are always raring to go have fun at any time. Cats are finicky and need coaxing to get up.

Older kids have different interests. Now that we have a 6-year-old and a 13-year-old, it’s sometimes hard to find things that interest both of them. At SeaWorld, my youngest wanted to spend hours in the Sesame Street Bay of Play. My oldest wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near Elmo but would be thrilled to ride an extreme roller coaster.

Bigger kids want more space. When our kids were little, they loved sharing hotel beds and would fight over who gets to sleep with who. Now, my teenager would prefer to have his own room on every trip. He would be thrilled to stay up late and sleep in as late as possible in the morning without any of us disturbing him.

How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

Don’t wake the sleeping teen!

I’d love to hear about your funny or difficult travel experiences with your younger or older kids. What is easier/harder for you as your kids get older? Please share in the comments!

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Author: Nancy

Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.

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24 thoughts on “How Family Travel Gets Easier (and Harder) as Kids Age

  1. My kids are 6 and 8 and it is so much easier than it used to me. I remember traveling when they were toddlers and babies and thinking, “Why did we even bother?” Specifically, I remember a beach trip where we spent the entire time in our condo looking at the ocean because my oldest screamed and cried when we took her down to the beach. She was 1 and she hated sand and sun and water and basically everything about it.

    • @Holly I can relate! I remember one trip to Colorado when my youngest was 9 months old and she screamed through the entire night, every night! Miserable. I’m glad we’re past that.

  2. I got a kick out of the photo collage of your son on the phone. My daughter is 9, and we are already there, my friend!
    I remember my in-laws complaining that my husband was constantly on his Nintendo or whatever they had in the early nineties, when he was a teen. They went on a big road trip out West, and all he wanted to do was play video games. Although my husband’s version of the story is a bit different. He said he remembers his dad yelling: “Look outside, you are missing out on all the scenery!!!” Except they were going through Kansas, and it was mostly a view of cornfields for miles and miles.

    • @Leana I have memories of so many car road trips passing corn field after corn field. And nothing to do. And no air conditioning. Our kids don’t know how good they have it these days! It’s funny to hear how your husband’s version differs from your in-laws’ version.

      My 9-year-old is obsessed with video games, so on our last trip to California I didn’t let him take any. I think our trip was much smoother because of it!

  3. As a mom of a teenager, I can definitely agree that the logistics are so much easier now! But at the same time, his friends have become a very important part of his world. If it’d be up to my son, he would cut our summer vacations short so he could spend more time with his friends.
    We may have to start bringing one of his best buddies along with us on vacation 🙂

    • @TropicGal I totally understand what you’re saying about teenagers and the growing importance of friends! Last weekend, I got tickets to an aviation museum and my oldest got an invitation to hang out with some friends from school. I let him go with his friends, but I was sad about him missing out on our family outing.

      I have let him invite a friend to local outings with us (like the pool, movies, etc.) but I’ve found that adding a friend changes the whole dynamic among our kids, and not for the better. My oldest and his friend won’t let my middle son anywhere near them, arguments ensue, etc. My husband and I decided there’s no way we would let our kids take a friend on vacation for that reason. We don’t need another set of arguments with an extra kid. 🙂

      • Then we’d have 6 kids! No thanks! LOL However, I have great memories as a kid traveling with my friends’ families. I was invited to spend a week on a houseboat at Lake Powell, a week traveling to Yellowstone in an RV, and many camping trips.

    • My two BFFs were always allowed to bring friends on family vacations. Definitely made the trips much more fun and exciting from the kids’ point of view. And we have lots of wonderful memories surrounding these vacations. As a parent I might offer… You can invite a friend or bring your phone… but not both!

  4. Traveling with older kids is so much easier. Traveling during peak seasons absolutely stinks, but that is the worst part. My children have never been picky eaters so it’s fairly easy to find something to eat, they don’t need frequent bathroom breaks, and I only allow electronics/phones at airports or in the hotel rooms (not allowed to be on at museums, ballparks, trails/tours, etc.).

    We stay away from hotels with double beds as my children are practically adult size, and it’s just too uncomfortable. They carry their own luggage and backpacks, and my oldest will even go evening sightseeing with dad when mommy and the younger one are just pooped out for the day.

    • @Stephanie I’m still mourning the loss of off-peak travel. 🙂 I hear you about hotels with double beds. I can still share one with my youngest, but as my other two are getting older it’s just uncomfortable.

  5. Traveling with kids can be difficult at times. However, it’s fun as well especially hearing them get excited for little things along the way. Thank you for this great post.

  6. Really enjoyed this post Nancy. Thank you. We have two 8 year olds and a 5 year old. You’ve suddenly inspired me to get planning (Aulani???) before they are too old to enjoy and the cell phone thing takes hold.

    I’m nervous about what’s to come in the future and your post offered much insight.

    I have to say I remember being 14 and hanging with my family, whether on vacation or on a family outing…I was not present. I didn’t have a cell phone, but I had a walkman! And all I thought about was my friends. If I’m honest with myself, a cell phone would have made those times less torturous! The separation was painful! Hahaha!

    In spite of realizing this, I don’t want that for my own kids. Sigh. Life. Double sigh. 🙂 🙁

    By the way, lately I’ve noticed other Amandas commenting! So to avoid confusion I’m changing my screen name to Talchinski. That was our families last name below Americanizing.

    • @Talchinski You bring up a very good point! Yep, in my day it was the Walkman instead of the phone. My last vacation with my family was just after I turned 13, so I just don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager on vacation with family. I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to relate to him and his priorities. 🙂

      • Ha! I have photos of myself listening to New Order while in London with my family. I was so cool.

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