Family Travel Inspiration
I created my family travel blog to inspire people to take their kids everywhere. It’s why I post to social media as well. It’s an amazing world. The more places you take your kids, and the more cultures they see in person, the more it will change them in really positive ways. I promise.
If you’re inspired (which hopefully you are), then the next question becomes where to go.
Thinking back on our early family travel, we chose destinations based on family, weddings, invitations from friends and family, and simply where we wanted to go. We ruled a few destinations out based on safety or age considerations, but we ruled most of the world in. And in the process we learned a lot about how to travel and what destinations worked best for what ages.
Years ago I wrote a post on The Best Age to Travel Everywhere and I’ve kept it updated as we added to our experiences. And for pure travel inspiration I’ve continued to add to my Top Spots lists. The goal with those pages is to simply list every destination, hotel and activity that we’ve loved anywhere. Maybe a place will jump out at you that you hadn’t previously thought about.
And of course I do blog posts on all of our adventures. Are you going to head to Asia and see six countries in three weeks with your kids, or go around the world just for fun, or let your kids choose anywhere they want to go every year? Maybe not. But hopefully a story or photo will stay with you and start you on a crazy (or utterly sane) adventure of your own.
“Where Should We Go?”
But despite all of that, I get several emails a week asking what destination I would recommend for a 7-year-old, or a 13-year-old, or every other age. I’ve always responded personally because I didn’t want to write this post. Why?
Because the truth is that there isn’t a perfect destination for a specific age. Every child is different.
The best trip at any age is the one that speaks to your child’s passions.
Think about your child, and what he/she likes, and choose a destination around that. And then make the trip all about your child (or children).
“No Really, Where Should We Go?”
But still, I know that people want specific ideas. So here you go! I’d love your thoughts in the comments too, with a caveat. You’re right. No matter which of these you’re going to have an issue with, you’re right. Paris at two instead of 12? Absolutely. Your child loved India at seven? Great. Every answer is correct, because you know your kids better than I do.
The Best Destination for Every Age
Ages 0-3: Anywhere you want to go
There’s no perfect destination for kids three and under. Other than maybe an adults-only resort, you can take young kids anywhere. You’ll end up carrying them or pushing them in a stroller regardless. Always wanted to see the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids, or Dubrovnik, or Iceland? Go! Flights are a hassle with kids under 24 months or so, but that doesn’t matter – flights are over with quickly, and then you can enjoy your trip. Of course you’re still a mom or dad, and the hassles of home (nap times, food) will still be there when you travel, but kids are highly adaptable.
Note: even though the destination doesn’t matter, my guidance to make the trip about your child still stands. If he/she hates being in a car seat for hours, don’t go somewhere with a lot of driving. And your days of long museum visits are over for a while. Head to a park or playground instead.
Age 4: Australia
I’ve taken my kids to Australia four times now and it’s a great destination for really young kids. It’s English-speaking. There are all sorts of unique animals and animal experiences. There are beaches. If your child is a picky eater you can find anything down under that you would be able to get in the US or Europe. And it’s easy to get around – we’ve still never rented a car, relying completely on public transportation. You have to be at least eight to climb Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, but other than that there’s not a lot that’s off limits to four-year-olds.
Age 5: Spain, Italy and/or Portugal
Italy is my favorite country in the world, and we’ve been traveling there with the kids since they were under a year old. But other families like Spain and Portugal just as much, and yes, we took our kids to both when they were tiny too. All three countries are amazing – historical with great food and walkable cities, and lots of very kid-friendly outdoor dining. And they all have beaches too. Given that your kids aren’t in school yet or, if they are, it’s Pre-K or Kindergarten and they’re not going to miss major projects, I’d travel in April/May or September/October. You’ll be avoiding the peak tourist times and still have good weather.
Blog posts: Kid-Friendly Adventure in Trentino, Italy’s Stunning Val di Fassa; Adventures with Kids in the Dolomites: Two Days in Trentino’s Val di Fiemme; Florence with Kids – What to Do and Where to Stay in Our Favorite City; A Villa in Tuscany for a Month
Age 6: Costa Rica and Panama
Costa Rica is the best of all worlds for kids – beaches, animals and activities. Base at a resort, but head off to the national parks in search of monkeys and sloths. Or go to Panama – similar to Costa Rica, but with the Panama Canal (interesting for kids of all ages) and it’s a little less touristed and less expensive. Both countries are reachable via direct flights from the US.
Age 7: Scandinavia or Canada
Seven is a perfect age for getting outdoors. Norway and Sweden are especially kid-friendly when it comes to having safe, walkable cities and amazing nature a bus, metro or train ride away. In Oslo you can take the T-Bane to Sognsvann to hike, barbecue by the lake or go swimming in the (fairly cold, but fun) lake. There are forests on the T-Bane lines as well for berry picking. In Sweden fly into Stockholm, take the train roughly an hour and a half to Köping and take a taxi to Kolarbyn, where you can sleep in a forest hut, canoe to a floating sauna and cook all of your meals over campfires. Oh, and there’s mushroom and berry picking in the forests all around there. Magical!
If you want to stay closer to home (assuming home is the US), look at Canada. It’s very similar to Scandinavia – cold and dark some of the year, but June through September are perfect. So much to do, from kayaking and hiking to animal experiences to exploring really cool cities. And it’s (mostly) English-speaking. We love Manitoba, right in the middle and accessible from everywhere.
Age 8: Antarctica or Japan
The first blog post I ever wrote was about taking my daughter to Antarctica when she was eight. It was a perfect age – she loved seeing the animals (penguins, seals and whales mainly) and playing in the snow/ice. She didn’t get bored on the boat. She was great with the hikes and kayaking. And she was light enough that she didn’t sink into the snow on our walks like the adults did. A lot of people wait to visit Antarctica until they’re retired. That’s a waste. Take your kids! Starting at eight, they’ll love it.
But Antarctica isn’t for everyone. My other two kids haven’t wanted to go. Plus it’s expensive. Japan is another good option at eight. It’s cultural but in a really interesting way with temples and anime coexisting – zen and crazy. My daughter absolutely loved Japan at seven and eight.
Age 9: Bali
Both of my daughters have chosen Bali for their 9-year-old trips and it makes sense – there are beaches and animals (the monkey forest is great for kids), but there’s also culture, yoga and a sense of peace. A perfect transition destination for kids who aren’t so kid-like anymore.
Blog post: Bali with Kids
Age 10: An African Safari (or the Amazon Rainforest)
We loved our safari in Tanzania and Kenya when our kids were 5, 8 and 10. We found that it was best for our 10-year-old however. There are a lot of vaccinations/medicines that are recommended for Africa travel, and our 5-year-old had trouble swallowing malaria pills. And long days in the safari vehicle are easier for older kids. Ten is pretty much perfect. Again, feel free to take younger kids. I have friends who have taken their kids on safari every year since the kids were born.
If a safari is out of your budget, or if you don’t want to travel that far, think about heading to Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. It’s still my favorite kid trip ever. I took my daughter at eight, but there were kids on our boat between seven and 14. Ten was a perfect age. Lots of animals and lots of adventure, and not having internet is good for kids and adults alike!
Blog posts: An African Safari with Kids; How to Book an Affordable African Safari; Packing List for a Family Safari; Five Tips for Taking Your Kids on an African Safari; The Amazon Rainforest with Kids: A Magical (Unplugged) Expedition
Age 11: Greece
We’ve taken our kids to Greece practically every year since they were born. The Greek islands in the summer are magical. So we highly recommend Greece at any age, but if your kids have reached 11 and haven’t been yet, this is the time. By 11 kids likely will have studied Greek history in school, and they should be in the middle of reading Greek mythology. Nothing like a trip to Greece to make everything come alive.
Age 12: Paris
As with Italy and Greece, we’ve been taking our kids to Paris practically since they were born. Any age is great. But Paris is home to amazing museums, and the younger your kids, the fewer museums you’re going to visit. By 12 kids will be willing to spend a couple hours in a museum – especially if you book a kid-oriented tour. Twelve-year-olds will have more fun with Paris’ shopping as well.
Age 13: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand
Your 13-year-old may still want a beach or animal-oriented vacation, or maybe he/she wants to go on a Disney cruise and hang out with other teenagers for a week. If that’s not the case, it could be a good time for a more cultural trip. Southeast Asia is safe and easy (really, nothing to be intimidated by), the food is great and there’s an abundance of amazing sites. Vietnam and Laos are still fairly non-touristy, whereas Cambodia (especially Siem Reap) and Thailand see more western tourists.
And if you want some beach/resort time with your temple sightseeing, that’s easy to arrange too.
Age 14: India
India’s one of my favorite places, and you can of course take kids there at any age, but it’s chaotic and it’s very easy to come down with a stomach ailment. Plus it’s not about beaches – it’s pure culture, and color, and adventure. Ride camels through the desert in Rajasthan. Visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Explore desert forts. Take a boat down the Ganges past cremation ceremonies in Varanasi. Attend festivals. Show your kids the slums of Mumbai for a reality check. My son at 10 was overwhelmed. Probably a better destination for teens.
Age 15: Patagonia, the Faroe Islands or Greenland
So what do Patagonia, the Faroe Islands and Greenland have in common, besides being gorgeous, remote, non-touristy and adventurous? Lots of hiking. Our kids are moderately outdoorsy and do well on hikes, but long hikes with short legs have been a struggle. As the kids have gotten older, hikes have become easier and a lot more fun. If you want some serious adventure at 15 (or earlier depending on your kids), these are three great destinations to look at.
Blog posts: Spring Break in Patagonia; A Multi-Sport Adventure in Argentinian Patagonia; An Amazing Week in the Faroe Islands (with Kids); South Greenland: Kid-Friendly Adventure in a Stunning Destination; The Beauty of Unplugging in South Greenland
Age 16: The Maldives
So we don’t have a 16-year-old yet, but we love the Maldives. Six Senses Laamu is our favorite resort in the world, perfect for honeymooners, couples and kids of any age. Seven and up is probably best, though, since kids will be able to ride bikes, including on long jetties to overwater villas. But I’m listing it here since the Maldives are 1) expensive and 2) hard to get to. From California there aren’t many spots on earth farther away than the Maldives. So it’s a perfect destination for a splurge trip at 16 based on relaxation, fun, independent exploration and luxury.
And per my introduction, comment below! What do you disagree with? What would you suggest for specific ages instead?