When Does Traveling with Kids Get Easier?

Are you a parent who has suffered from a bad travel experience with kids? Or have you not traveled with your kids yet and are wondering when is a good time to start?

I’ve been on dozens of flights and road trips with my four-year-old daughter and have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of traveling with a kid.

While I firmly believe you can (and should feel free to) travel with kids at any age, there was a definite moment for me where it felt like a “switch” turned on for my daughter and travel suddenly became significantly easier.

Traveling with a kid to the Rocky Mountains

When does traveling with kids get easier?

I’ll start by saying, I’m sure this varies by child. I’ve heard some parents say their kids have always been champs on airplanes, sleeping well and not throwing tantrums.

If you’re one of those lucky parents, I’m so happy for you (and only slightly envious).

We took our first flight with our daughter when she was 18 months (from Michigan to Florida, about 2.5 hours), and it was pretty terrible.

I once read that 9 months to 18 months is the trickiest time to fly with a kid, because that’s when they have just learned how to be mobile and do not want to stay still. 

For our daughter, I think it was a combination of her not enjoying being held captive on our laps for hours and her ears hurting from the pressure.

That was the perfect storm that led to her screaming bloody murder for at least 30 minutes of our two-hour flight. I still cringe when I think about that experience. Not a fun time.

Since that first flight, we’ve had a mixed bag of good and bad flights with our daughter. 

On the bad flights:

  • She once threw up on me just before landing (likely also due to ear pressure and still recovering from a recent cold – poor thing).*
  • She wouldn’t fall asleep on the plane and got overtired and cranky.
  • She liked to exercise independence and freaked out about needing to put a seatbelt on.

On the good flights:

  • She was an angel in the air – happily watching movies on the iPad, playing games, eating snacks, and taking naps. 

In all honestly, until she turned about 3.5 years old, flying with her felt a bit like Russian Roulette. I never knew exactly what I was going to get. It wasn’t until she hit that magical age that things became noticeably different. 

All of a sudden, she was proud to put on her own seatbelt, and loved showing me what a big girl she was.

I remember meeting a mom with five kids on a plane once, and she mentioned to me that flying gets so much easier once a kid reaches age 4. She wasn’t far off in her estimation. I feel like we’ve finally reached the point where we can breathe a sigh of relief when we’re in the air.

(Now I just have to get over my newfound fear of flying. I’ll have to write more on that in a separate post.)

*The kindness of strangers 💜
It’s worth noting that I have run into more kind people on flights than grumps who give you dirty looks. 

When the vomiting episode happened, a fellow mom next to me helped me clean the puke off my clothes. BLESS HER HEART. 

On other flights, people gave our daughter toys to play with, lollipops to suck on, etc. And a number of people gave me verbal encouragement. Things like, “Oh, I remember those early days well.” 

All of these people helped me not feel alone in the struggle and gave me the courage to keep flying with my daughter.

What are things to keep in mind to ensure a good flying experience with young kids?

Since I didn’t fly with my daughter until she was 18 months, I don’t have personal tips on how to fly with a child under that age, though I have heard that nursing/bottle-feeding on takeoff and landing can help prevent earaches from the pressure change. 

I think this advice could apply to flying with young children of any age: Bring a change of clothes not only for your little one, but ALSO for yourself. It’s quite likely that whatever they get on themselves (be it pee, poop, milk, vomit, or any other random liquid), they’ll get it on you, too.

Make sure you also pack plenty of snacks, including lollipops. These are especially good for landing, as they help relieve ear pressure. I had a mom walk down the aisle to give me a lollipop during one of my daughter’s in-flight tantrums, and it brought sweet relief. (God bless her.)

Lastly, don’t feel guilty about bringing an iPad on board and letting your kid have as much screen time as they want. When I’m on a plane, I believe in survival. You just want to make it through the flight as unscathed as possible.

We don’t usually let our daughter have unlimited screen time, but we make an exception when it comes to airplanes. Game changer.

What is the most difficult age to travel with a toddler?

18 months to 3 years was the most difficult time for us to fly with our daughter. It was such a battle of the wills. She wanted to be independent but couldn’t yet. And she knew how to express her frustration in very vocal ways.

I think it’s the awkward middle phase between when your child starts to walk and when they can finally express themselves in full sentences that proves most tricky. They want so badly to articulate what they are feeling and move wherever they want to go and can’t. That spells trouble.

🎨 Check out my ideas for fun toddler activities on airplanes!

Traveling with a kid in Paris

What is the best age to start traveling with kids?

I’m a big fan of traveling with kids at any age. We would have started traveling with our daughter even sooner if we hadn’t been in the middle of a pandemic.

It’s not recommended to fly with a baby under three months since their immune system is still so weak, but after that, it’s really fair game.

I’m often curious how our flying experience with our daughter might have been different if we had started flying with her earlier. Perhaps her flight at 18 months wouldn’t have been quite so overwhelming.

Based on my own experience, traveling with a kid becomes easiest around 3.5 to 4 years. But we took road trips with our daughter when she was just a few months old and have no regrets. More frequent stops perhaps, but we were so glad we packed up the car and continued having adventures with her.

I don’t think having kids should stop you from traveling. If you want to explore the world with your kid, just do it. If they don’t appreciate it yet, they will one day.

What is the best age to travel with kids overseas?

My answer to this would be similar to what I have above. The “easiest” age would be around 4 years and older, but it’s absolutely doable to fly overseas with younger children. Our daughter was about 2.5 years old when we took our first overseas flight with her.

I recommend getting an overnight flight when flying overseas, so your kids can fall asleep at their normal time and make the trip go faster.

Traveling with a kid in St. Louis

At what age do kids remember travel?

My parents traveled with me a lot from the time I was a baby, and I have memories of our trips from about the age of 5.

I’m not sure how much is actually retained in my brain or a result of seeing pictures in photo albums, but five is the age where I can begin to recall specific things that happened during our travels.

But I would answer this question with another question: Do YOU want to remember traveling with your kids? I choose to travel with my daughter not just because I want her to remember it later. I want to remember it, too. 

I love going back through old photos and seeing me chasing my daughter through a park in Paris or holding her in front of a historic palace in Istanbul.

Yes, I want my daughter to have the best travel memories with us as she grows up. But at the end of the day, I do it for me, too.

What’s the best age to road trip with a baby?

We started with shorter road trips (3 to 5 hours) when our daughter was about five months old, which felt a lot more doable at the beginning. You can expect frequent stops for diaper changes and feedings during the first year especially.

Our daughter was only six months old when we took her on the first long-distance road trip (about 12 hours). For that trip, we chose to drive through the night, which wasn’t fun for us, but did make it easier for our daughter, who was able to sleep for the majority of the trip.

If I could choose, I would say the best age to road trip with a baby is when they aren’t nursing/bottle-feeding quite as often and can go several hours between diaper changes. When our daughter reached a year, it became noticeably easier to take her places.

Conclusion: When traveling with kids gets easier

I’m a big proponent of traveling with kids. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that having kids should put an end to your travel days. But there is definitely an age when traveling with kids is easier, and for me, that happened when my daughter was about 3.5 years old. 

We still traveled with her often before then and made lots of great memories, but we had to reset our expectations and be much more flexible with how we traveled. 

Now that our daughter is a bit older, we don’t have to make quite as many accommodations for her. She falls asleep much more easily in hotels, sits still better on airplanes and in cars, and is generally much easier to reason with.

I hope hearing my perspective helps you in planning future adventures with your kids! 

I love traveling with my daughter and have no regrets about bringing her with me wherever I go. Kids just add to the adventure!

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