Get up and go: These are the best trips to take with kids at every age
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Where should we go on vacation is a great debate in family living rooms around the world.
Should we go visit grandparents or head to the beach? Maybe we should visit a theme park or take a cruise? Or perhaps we should trek to a far-flung exotic destination with lots of hiking?
There’s an endless list of possibilities and factors to consider, with one of the important being the age of your children. Each developmental stage certainly presents its own challenges, but you can still have a fun-filled, memorable trip if you know how to handle those challenges and decide which vacations are best suited for each age group.
TPG surveyed real-world parents and staffers for their first-hand advice on navigating family travel to bring you the best types of trips for kids at every age.
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Best types of trips with an infant
Congrats — you have a new baby in the family! The good news is babies don’t need much in the way of formal entertainment, though traveling with an infant isn’t without its challenges.
While it isn’t always picture-perfect at this stage, don’t discount traveling with a baby. Once babies have a pretty solid sleep schedule, they can make for great travel companions.
If you are planning a long road trip, you’ll need feeding supplies, diapers, wipes and multiple “just in case” changes of clothes for yourself and your baby. For a trip that involves flying, you’ll need to find out the airline’s policies for flying with an infant and bringing baby equipment like strollers and car seats.
No matter your method of travel, you’ll want to choose a destination with baby-friendly amenities, a relaxed atmosphere and maybe even bonus perks like onsite babysitting so you can enjoy a parents’ night out.
All-inclusive beach resort
A vacation where everything is taken care of ahead of time and you don’t have to venture away from your resort is the epitome of convenience for new parents.
If you want to get away for a walk on the beach or a romantic meal, infant child care with nannies accredited by the International Nanny Association is available at resorts like Beaches Negril.
When it comes to accommodations, a multibedroom suite or room with a separate area where your baby can sleep in a dark, quiet atmosphere will help keep that schedule you’ve worked so hard to create from getting too far off track. If you can’t get an entire separate room, some family travel veterans have been known to make unconventional spaces like oversized closets and bathrooms work as makeshift nurseries.
Mountain cabin rental
Consider a peaceful cabin rental in the Great Smoky Mountains, Big Bear or the Rocky Mountains if you prefer a cool mountain breeze to the salty sea air. Most cabins offer full kitchens and many comforts of home — and maybe even game rooms or hot tubs..
With the help of a home rental service like Vrbo or Airbnb, you can easily filter out cabins that are too small or large until you find one that’s just right for you and your family. You may even consider making it a multigenerational trip that includes the grandparents so they can bond with their new grandchild.
Road trip to visit the grandparents
Alternatively, for that first trip away from home, you could hop in the car and take a road trip to visit your child’s grandparents in their hometown (especially if it’s as picturesque as the above destinations). Depending on your family dynamics, it can be a great way to get some practice in on packing and sleeping away from home, but with some friendly faces and arms waiting on the other side.
Some parents may be ready for a visit like this right away, while others may feel more comfortable waiting until they’ve mastered the basics of baby care. One thing’s for sure, though: You can’t beat the built-in babysitting.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
If you’ve recently had a baby, going on vacation is probably the last thing on your mind, but once you’ve settled into a routine and are feeling up to it, a change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered.
TPG’s director of travel content and mother of two, Summer Hull, remembers that, for some, the 3-6 month range is a golden window when going almost anywhere is doable with a baby who has a good sleep schedule. “Just put them in a carrier, and away they go,” Hull said.
Once they become mobile, everything changes, so take advantage of their lack of mobility while you can.
Best trips to take with a toddler
As infants transition to toddlerhood, they become more aware of the world around them and require more entertainment and stimulation throughout the day.
That can be difficult while buckled up in a car or in an airplane seat for hours. A backpack full of board books, mess-free coloring kits and a trusty tablet can help alleviate the boredom. We’re going to be honest, though: Of all the ages, the 18 months to 3 years range is the hardest for travel, as it requires the most active work from the parents.
You may also be in the midst of potty training and wondering how to manage such a monumental task while away from home.
Plan ahead by packing extra clothing, emergency pull-ups and possibly a portable potty chair if you are camping or traveling by car. If you know you have a big trip coming up, you may want to tackle potty training before your trip (still pack those emergency pull-ups just in case).
Despite these challenges, there is also plenty of joy that can come from traveling with kids at this age. After all, this is the time when they’re full of wonder.
Because toddlers are inquisitive and energetic, any destination where they can explore their little heart out should fit the bill.
Whether you opt for a beachfront resort suite or a home-away-from-home rental, a spot at the beach is an easy place to set your toddler to safely dig, splash, collect shells and search for sea life.
Although it won’t be the same as the relaxing beach vacation you enjoyed pre-baby, taking a trip where you can observe your toddler indulging their sense of curiosity is still pretty fun. Just be sure you do all that is necessary to ensure water safety.
You probably won’t want to spend the entire day in the sun, so choose a destination with other family-friendly activities to fill your time. In addition to its award-winning beaches, St. Petersburg, Florida, offers proximity to Fort De Soto Park, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Sunken Gardens’ tropical botanical gardens. Meanwhile, San Diego boasts its world-famous San Diego Zoo, museum-filled Balboa Park and the USS Midway Museum.
The 30-A section of Florida is also a fantastic, laid-back place to vacation on the beach with the whole family.
Legoland Resort is the only theme park specifically designed for families with kids age 2 to 12.
With locations in California, Florida and now New York, each Legoland park has attractions, shaded play areas, interactive exhibits and on-site hotels that cater to younger children, including toddlers. Staying on-site puts you steps away from the fun and comes with special perks like free breakfast, early theme park entry and character interactions. (But remember, perks vary by location.)
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Mitchell Stoutin, TPG’s director of engineering, took a unique approach to travel with his toddler.
Before visiting Sitka, Alaska, with his then 2-year-old and 4-month-old, Mitchell prepared for a struggle to keep his kids seated without getting fussy. Since neither child liked being strapped into a car seat, Mitchell purchased a Thule Chariot multiuse stroller and bike trailer to use while traveling around the small island. “We arrived with the stroller and rented bikes from the bike shop downtown so we could tow the kids around,” he said. “We spent the week exploring trails, sipping coffee, eating fresh seafood and hanging out by the water.”
This could be a stellar option if you are traveling to a similar destination that’s easy to get around.
Best trips to take with a preschooler
Preschoolers are generally easier to travel with than toddlers because they have longer attention spans. However, they also sometimes see themselves as tiny adults.
This means stronger opinions, self-determination and the subsequent tantrums that come with not getting their way. To manage unexpected outbursts, keep your schedule loose and flexible, include plenty of breaks and pack more snacks than you think you’ll need.
Your child may also be getting to the age where you debate leaving the stroller at home rather than lugging it around on vacation. Consider the amount of walking you’ll be doing each day and whether you’ll be out and about during nap time or after bedtime when the stroller can be used to hold your sleeping child.
If you want to test out leaving the stroller behind, research stroller rental options at your destination … just in case.
As kids get older, more mobile and more independent, a whole new world of vacation options opens up. Now’s the time to try new things on an extra-special family vacation.
A Disney vacation can be fun at any age, but preschoolers are at that magical age where they believe in, well, magic.
It also helps that they are old enough and tall enough for many of the attractions. When you hit something they are not ready to do, Disney offers a rider switch service so parents can experience attractions their kids are too short for without having to wait in line twice.
Whether you visit Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California, max out the magic by staying on-site, booking a character meal and packing their favorite Disney character costume to wear in the parks.
But remember, these kiddos are still pretty young, so you’ll want to build in lots of downtime for swimming and resting at your hotel to avoid the aforementioned tantrums, even if your kid has otherwise outgrown regular naps.
For the most part, preschoolers are too young to be overly scared of trying something new. That makes now the perfect time to take them to the mountains for a ski vacation.
Look for a ski resort that offers ski school with small classes for this young age or even private lessons. In some cases, the length and cost of private lessons is reduced for children in that 3- to 5-year-old age range. For example, at Winter Park, Colorado, a half-day lesson for children age 6 and up starts at $699, while that same lesson for younger kids is $404.
Look for family-friendly lodging — preferably with a hot tub for soaking sore muscles — that offers on-site dining and easy access to groceries and other necessities. If there’s ever a time to spring for a room at the best spot on the mountain, it’s now. The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, which sits just steps from Beaver Creek’s ski school, can be booked with points for an excellent rate.
Go on a cruise
Once a kid is 3 years old and potty trained, the world of complimentary kids clubs, including ones on several cruise ships, begins to open up.
Certain cruise lines are a better match for families than others thanks to their exceptional kids programming. Norwegian Cruise Line’s free program for preschoolers includes activities like treasure hunts, arts and crafts projects and parades. Norwegian also has fun family amenities like bowling lanes, a miniature golf course and waterslides.
MSC Cruises offers similar child care and family activities, with its kids clubs divided into small age ranges, such as the Mini Club for kids age 3-6. This line also has a partnership with Lego, meaning your little ones will enjoy access to Lego play areas in the kids club and a dedicated Lego-themed day during each cruise.
Then, of course, there’s Disney Cruise Line, which excels at keeping kids entertained. Onboard activities range from Disney cartoons showing in the movie theaters to character meet-and-greets to the Oceaneer Club, which is available to kids ages 3-12.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
While traveling with his boys in preschool, Michael Gum learned that his kids especially loved hotel rooms with bunk beds and electronic drawing tablets for inflight entertainment.
Florida-based writer and mom Dani Meyering recommends parents invest in TSA PreCheck to breeze through security, as children 12 and younger can accompany parents with TSA PreCheck through the expedited security lane. Lots of credit cards you may already have in your wallet even offer a credit toward getting PreCheck.
On a recent trip, Meyering and her husband kept everything in order at the airport by designating one parent to manage the luggage and the other to be in charge of their son.
Both Gum and Meyering extolled the value of packing more snacks than you think you’ll need. “It’s survival mode on travel day,” Meyering said. “Bring plenty of snacks.”
Best trips to take with elementary-age kids
The biggest obstacle at this age is finding the right balance of fun and hands-on activities without overtiring them.
This is also the age where school absences and working around an academic calendar become realities for many families. While planning your vacation, be conscious of your child’s limitations and don’t book too many back-to-back activities. Even though these kids can make it through a busy day at home, leave time for some rest and recuperation in between marquee activities.
Best types of trips
At this age, kids are largely self-sufficient and able to handle a full day of adventures. By age 6 or 7, you can start mixing in more active outings like hiking, horseback riding and exploring new cities by foot.
Dude ranch or glamping resort
Dude ranches and glamping resorts let you experience all the fun of the great outdoors while staying in luxurious accommodations. Most offer a wide range of activities like fishing, boating, archery, cycling and swimming in an idyllic, natural atmosphere.
Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo in Polk County, Florida, (about an hour south of Orlando) has air-conditioned glamping tents and luxe covered wagons, among other accommodation options, plus a weekly rodeo. The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana, offers skiing and snowmobiling in the cooler months and mountain biking and hiking during the warmer months.
If you have some Hyatt points to spend, the Rawah Ranch in Colorado has a kids program for those ages 4-10.
If you are ready to venture a bit farther from home for a beach vacation, the Bahamas is a worthy contender. Resorts like Baha Mar in Nassau have multiple hotels to choose from, some of which offer fun amenities like water parks and are bookable with World of Hyatt points, such as the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar.
The Atlantis resort complex, which sits just a few miles away, is also an option that has thrilled kids for decades. Since some of the towers are affiliated with Marriott, you can reserve select accommodations with Marriott Bonvoy points.
This is an opportune time for your child’s first big trip out of the country.
They’re old enough to handle a long-haul flight (and yes, even kids love lie-flat seats!), and they are better able to appreciate the defining characteristics of your chosen destination, whether that’s snorkeling in Bora Bora or enjoying afternoon tea in London.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Jessica Stephens, a mom of two, warns parents not to over plan. “Go in with an open mind and have a short list of things you must accomplish on your trip,” Stephens said. “The other fun things you get to do are just bonuses!”
Best trips to take with tweens
When kids get into the double digits, they will probably want more space and privacy than they did when they were younger. If toddlers are the toughest age to travel with logistically, tweens may be the toughest age group to please.
If possible, you’ll want to seek out accommodations with individual bedrooms or even a living room with a pullout sofa where your child can unwind at the end of a long day. Finding a space with an extra bathroom or two wouldn’t hurt, either.
These kids are also entering an age where fun with others their age can outrank fun with mom and dad or younger siblings. This makes the tween years a great time to double up and take a trip with another family or cousins or go somewhere that has a club specifically for the tween age.
Even in the world of theme parks, resorts and cruise lines, some are better suited for tweens than others.
If you’ve been holding off on long-distance hikes or other iterations of “roughing it,” now might be the time. A U.S. national park is a good place to start.
From mule treks in the Grand Canyon to beachfront camping in Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park to discovering dinosaur fossils at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah, each U.S. national park offers something special for everyone, including tweens. Remember that the National Park Service also makes park passes available for free to those in the fourth grade.
Speaking of (almost) free, kids in fourth through sixth grade qualify for a $59 Colorado ski pass that’s valid at a variety of resorts.
Universal Orlando Resort
You can certainly bring younger kids to Universal Orlando Resort, but by the time they reach the tween years, they should often reach the height requirements for most attractions and won’t be as scared off by the tall, looping coasters that far surpass the intensity of even Disney’s most thrilling rides.
We recommend staying on-site in one of Universal’s Premier Hotels since they are closest to the parks and provide everyone in your party with complimentary Universal Express Unlimited access to skip the standby lines during your visit. If you want to enjoy a real treat, go all out on a Universal VIP experience.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line knows how to make guests of all ages feel special, but tweens can be a tough group to charm.
Luckily, Disney has this down to a science thanks, in part, to their club for guests aged 11-14. Tweens will feel like teens while making fun projects with provided art supplies, partaking in dance parties, singing karaoke, watching movies, playing video games and more.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Mom Shana Loveday advises parents to let their tweens help plan the trip. She also recommends teaching them the invaluable skill of reading a paper road map. “Teach them how to read the map and let them have markers to track progress,” Loveday said.
Best trips to take with teens
Like so many aspects of parenting a teen, the biggest travel challenge with this age group can be getting them excited and willing to participate. Balancing their potentially busy school and work calendars can be tough, too. Asking for their input on where you travel and what you do while there can go a long way. Allowing them to bring a friend may even earn you non-sarcastic “cool parent” status for at least a few days.
The sky’s the limit at this point in terms of where you go and what you do. The training wheels are gone, and you can probably take the types of trips you used to go on before you had kids — just with a teenage twist to the plot.
New York City
There is so much to see and do in New York City. Not to mention, there are quite a few opportunities to sneak in U.S. history lessons while you’re there.
We can help you choose a hotel and from there, it’s up to you and your teen to decide which Broadway shows to see, museums to visit and landmarks to go to the top of for perfect panoramic views of the city for social media.
California road trip
California is well known for its theme parks and beaches, but it’s also one of the best states for an epic road trip.
In addition to its general travel tips and visitor information, Visit California (the state’s tourism board) offers a variety of road trip itineraries for every type of traveler. You can stick with the Highway One Classic road trip for unparalleled views of the California coast, or you can choose a trip that satisfies your family’s specific interests, such as the Amazing Desert Oddities road trip or a Movie Locations Tour.
Nobody wants to deal with jet lag, but it is true that teens are probably better equipped to handle it than their younger counterparts.
If your teen is taking European language classes in school, you could choose a destination where they could get in some real-world practice. Or, you can bounce from country to country, which is surprisingly convenient and affordable by train or plane.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Writer, podcaster and parent Jana Seitzer loves letting her teens help plan their vacations. “We’ve found over the years that when they are invested, they enjoy the trip more,” she said. “When everyone gets to provide input on activities and locations, everyone gets at least something they want.”
Best trips to take with your college-aged ‘kids’
If your college-age kids have flown the coop, planning a vacation where they have the freedom they are used to can be difficult. Keep them involved throughout the planning process and try to keep the reins loose during your trip, with pre-arranged meeting times throughout the day. As long as you land on something that sounds mutually enjoyable that works for their schedule, odds are they’ll be thrilled to take a trip on their parents’ dime — especially if a friend can come along.
Consider how your kid in college likes to spend their free time, and tailor your plans to their favorite activities. You could spend a day lounging on the beach or trying more active pursuits like zip-lining or parasailing.
Because the cost includes (almost) everything, an all-inclusive resort gives everyone the freedom to do what they want, when they want, without worrying about money.
Excellence Resorts in Cancun, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Montego Bay, Jamaica; are ideal options for families with kids in college. The adults-only section of Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is another terrific option, as it caters to guests 18 and older. There are plenty of points-friendly all-inclusive properties, too, such as the Hyatt Ziva Cancun.
Multigenerational ski vacation
Whether you’ve been skiing together for years or you’re all learning together for the first time, the college years are an excellent time to bring the grandparents (and maybe some cousins, aunts and uncles) along for a big multigenerational ski vacation.
Rent a spacious ski home close to the slopes so everyone has plenty of room to spread out when they’re not shredding powder on the mountain as often as they choose during the day. You can even book a semi-private ski lesson for your whole group and tailor it to your current skill level.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Seitzer is an enthusiastic proponent of multigenerational trips, no matter your kids’ ages. “Multigen travel is a fantastic way to spend quality family time with multiple family units making memories together,” she said.
Traveling with kids of different ages
If you have multiple kids with significant age gaps in between, your biggest challenge will be finding a destination with a wide range of activities that will entice children from various age groups. Your best bet is a cruise or resort where the activities and entertainment are built right in.
Adventures by Disney
While you may feel sticker shock when you initially see the price tag, if you have a mix of ages in your family and the budget to support it, Adventures by Disney vacation packages can be a fantastic solution.
They offer guide-led trips on land and by cruise to destinations ranging from Wyoming to Antarctica. They take care of most of the details and work, and the price covers all meals and outings. Additionally, there are likely families there with kids of all ages so your group could blend right in.
A sprawling resort with lots of activities and accommodations designed for large families will ensure everyone has an enjoyable vacation. The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is an amazing deal with Hyatt points. Plus, it offers daily activities like yoga, lei making and golf, as well as one of the best family pool complexes in the U.S.
There’s also a kids club (for a fee) if you find yourself in need of child care for the younger members of your travel party.
Advice from parents who’ve been there
Travel writer Sarah Gilliland has 10-year-old twins and a 2-year-old son. Her advice is to save her older kids’ favorite activities for their little brother’s nap time.
“When he sleeps in the stroller or I head back to our hotel with him for a nap, it’s go-time for them,” Gilliland said. “It helps their time with us feel special, especially since they had our undivided attention for eight years.” She also recommends having a grandparent, another family member or a babysitter travel with you so they can help care for the younger kid(s) while you spend time with the older ones.
Mom Christy Kelley shared a helpful tip for keeping the boredom away while en route to your destination. “A friend once suggested that I take paper lunch bags and fill each with one activity and one snack for each hour of the trip so the kids always have something to look forward to,” she told TPG. “It’s great for kids of any age.”
Naturally, these recommendations aren’t set in stone. Some kids and families are ready to level up their travel early, while others like to keep things simple for a little longer. There’s no right or wrong time for most types of trips, just general age ranges when some things tend to be easier than others.
If you want to head to Europe with your toddler, go for it. Or, if you want to head to Disney World with your grown kids, do it. Odds are high that great memories will be made no matter what you take on, as long as you’re willing to go with the flow and keep your kids’ wants and needs high on the priority list.
So, where to next?
Featured image by Westend61/Getty Images.
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