Travelling with kids is hard work. There’s no sugar coating it. They are hard work at home, and its not any easier when you are on the road. The thing is though, is there an age where its easier, or better to travel with them?
We have two boys, 5 and 3, and can most certainly give you some insight into the earlier years. Our eldest has done about 200 nights camping, and the youngest one has probably done about 100, so we’ve got a fair bit of experience into what works, and what doesn’t.
Of course, there are different variables. Your children’s attitude, flexibility and most importantly your setup all play a huge role into how easily you can travel.
Those with nice caravans who jump from caravan park to caravan park have a much, much easier travelling lifestyle than anyone who is using a camper trailer, or tent, and staying off grid more.
In 2018, we did 3 months in a soft floor camper trailer with our oldest child who was about 18 months when we left. We had a heap of fun, but it was exhausting, and with Sarah pregnant with our second child (which we found out just a couple of days prior to leaving) it required a fair bit of effort.
Looking back, I think the 1.5 year – 3 years old age bracket is probably the worst period for travelling with kids, for a number of reasons:
Some kids are better than others, but it doesn’t take much to set a tantrum off in a young child, and then you are in for all sorts of fun.
The other day I helped my youngest son shut the car door as he couldn’t get it started, and he saw my hand on the top of the door and completely lost the plot. I carried him inside and let him scream and roll around for some time, before he eventually calmed down.
When you have tantrums on the road, its even less fun, and harder to deal with. I recall Oliver losing it at the Territory Wildlife Park, laying on the floor screaming and kicking in front of a crowd of people. You get used to it, but it certainly doesn’t make travelling easier.
We really struggled with day sleeps for our kids. It either forces you to be at camp for that period, or you have to schedule a drive in (which probably works best) where they have a nap while you sleep.
Yep, you can avoid the nap altogether, but it usually doesn’t end well nearing bed time, when they are cranky, over tired and don’t want to sleep in a new environment.
Having to deal with nappies when you are camping is just a part of camping with young kids, but its not much fun. Of course, toilet training and then taking them to the toilet often is another challenge, but its probably easier than having to change nappies all the time.
Learning to speak
Before your kids can speak, life is far more difficult. They can’t tell you what they want, what is hurting, why they are upset or anything else. From the moment they can communicate by saying simple things like drink life gets a lot easier.
Good luck trying to calm a toddler down who’s unable to communicate what they want!
Young kids don’t have much perception of noise, and when you are amongst other people its often a battle to keep them respectfully quiet. Once they get a bit older it becomes a lot easier, but some kids are just noisy, full stop. Yes, I’m looking at you Cooper.
After 3 years of age
Once they hit 3 years old, things get much easier. They can communicate better, they are learning to manage their emotions better, many have dropped their day sleep and are toilet trained, and can actually voice what they want (and don’t want) with ‘some’ rationale behind it.
Oliver was fairly easy to travel with once he hit 4, and it keeps getting easier. Of course there are other challenges (like schooling on the road), but in general its so much easier than travelling with a baby, or a toddler.
I can leave Oliver outside the camper trailer knowing that he isn’t going to take off and be gone when I come back out. I also know he’s not going to run out in front of cars, or go for a swim with the crocodiles in the Daly River.
Travelling with babies
Prior to about a year old, kids are reasonably easy to travel with. They sleep a lot, can’t run off on you and in general fit in without too much fuss. Yes, you’ll have to slow down to accommodate feeds and sleeps, but babies tend to be pretty flexible and easy to travel with.
You will get woken up often at night time though, as you do at home. It’s just the nature of the beast. Hopefully its a quick feed and they go back to bed easily, but I know we had some pretty shocking days with our young kids camping when they wouldn’t sleep, especially when its cold and unpleasant being out of bed.
The moment your baby can crawl quickly, or walk your easy days are gone and you’ll have to be far more careful. This is the time frame where they want to go, and have no comprehension of the danger of anything.
Oliver is moving into pre-primary this year, which means full time schooling and a much welcomed break for Sarah. It also means that if we travel long term he needs to have schooling done, and that is a whole new kettle of fish.
There’s a variety of ways you can do schooling on the road, and a lot of families make it work, but it isn’t always easy. There’s a vast difference between schooling being done by a teacher in a dedicated environment and being done in your caravan or camper trailer, by one of the parents.
Travelling with kids who can communicate a bit better is a lot more fun; you can teach them all sorts of new things, and they really enjoy being able to understand what is going on, and being apart of the planning stage. We can tell the kids what we are going to do, and they’ll look forward to it for weeks.
On the flip side, the older they get the more close knit friends they develop, the more consuming schooling is and the less accepted that it is to take them out of formal schooling.
When’s the best age time to travel?
We are hoping, and thinking that around the 4 – 10 years old is probably the best time to travel. You get great family time together, and can make a decent dent together without affecting their schooling too much, or their social life.
At the end of the day though, its a personal thing and all you can do is weigh the options up for your family, and make the best choice possible. It’s not always an option to travel at the ideal age, and that means you either go, or you don’t.
What’s your experiences? What age have you found best for long term travel?