Updated: Aug 23
I was asked this question on a podcast recently, and I wanted to share my insights. Our son’s first flight was at 2 weeks-old. In his first year on this planet, he took 56 flights around the world. We have had a blast traveling with our three kids from newborn to 12-years old. Every age comes with exciting changes and sometimes challenging phases.
If you need some inspiration about why you should travel with your kids, and the unexpected benefits see my previous post here.
Let’s systematically work through the advantages and disadvantages of each phase so you can plan your trip with eyes-wide-open.
0 - 3 Months
The newborn phase is so special. They are little balls of love and cuddles … and that smell! If only I could bottle that smell! They are so precious. Their little bodies are trying to navigate this new world we have brought them into and parents are working around the clock to keep them safe, happy and thriving. I am going to be honest, it might not be the most optimal time to travel with them but it does have some serious advantages. Let’s break it down:
Everyone LOVES small babies, and babies don’t mind being passed around at this age. You’ll meet so many people and have heartfelt interactions wherever you go.
They sleep A LOT and will adapt to sleeping most anywhere. These bucket babies are easy to go site seeing with because they sleep through everything.
They require little in terms of food safety. If you’re nursing, it’s extremely easy because they don’t need anything else (plus have your antibodies). It’s a bit more complicated with formula but still relatively easy to find safe drinking water and the ability to sanitize bottles almost anywhere. After all, there are babies everywhere around the world.
They are light and easy to carry.
They don’t have strict bedtimes or nap routines yet. Flexibility while traveling is a major advantage. It also means little to no jet lag.
If they get sick, there is a higher risk. Be extra cautious and over prepared. Before you leave research and know the emergency numbers in the area you’re visiting and the best medical facility in case of emergency.
They don’t get their first immunization shots until 2 months.
They don’t always sleep well at night, leaving you potentially exhausted.
Their needs are basic: eat, sleep & bathroom breaks. However, they all happen in high frequency and quick succession.
If you are traveling internationally, you will need a passport and perhaps visas. This can be difficult to accomplish in the first couple weeks of life.
In conclusion, I suggest staying home with your little one for the first two months, after that, things get a bit more normal. If you’re going to travel with your newborn I suggest doing it between 2-3 months old.
3 - 6 months
This is the golden age to travel with babies. Your ideal time frame is after the unpredictable, exhausting newborn phase and before the mobile phase. Here’s a couple things to think about.
Routines are more established offering you predictability. This can be helpful in knowing the ideal time frames to get out and do some site seeing, lounge on a beach, play in a pool or walk through a museum.
There is enough time between feeds, changes and naps to get things done. You are getting more sleep. Happy dance!
Your baby is likely to nap in your arms, in a carrier or in a stroller.
They are still largely only nursing or taking bottles.
They are smiling and laughing, making it SO much fun to take videos and pictures of them.
They’re still good with other people taking care of them, so get a babysitter and enjoy some time with your partner!
They are still a baby so things can and will happen. They will cry, they will have explosive poohs while you’re in some exquisite European Plaza with NO public washrooms… etc.
This is also an ideal time to travel with your little one. Mostly because they aren’t mobile yet or if they are, you can still manage it. However, flexibility is becoming less tolerated and solid foods are being introduced which can make things a bit trickier.
The older they get, the more routine things become and therefore, the more predictable things are. This helps for planning activities, and also eases your stress as parents.
They should be sleeping through the night or pretty close. YAY!
They have limited mobility, making them easy to carry around with you.
They are more robust, and older. If they do get sick, the risk is lower.
Solid food is being introduced which means you need to be cautious of food-based illnesses. Also, it means a host of extra things you need to bring with you on your outings like bibs, food, utensils etc.
Teething tends to happen during this time, which may or may not be a complete nightmare.
They pick up their toys, drop them deliberately on the ground then put EVERYTHING in their mouths. Bring lots of sanitizer (wipes, gels, everything).
Fear of strangers might start making it a little harder to have someone come in and watch your baby for an evening.
The bassinets on flights have a max weight limit of 25 lbs and age limit of 8 months.
9 - 12 months
These crawling, walking, babbling cuties are so much fun! They have more stamina and energy but still love cuddles and sleep. They’ll be entertained by their new surroundings and it’s a lot of fun to watch their reactions. I loved traveling at this stage too, however, it does require some extra planning.
They are awake for longer periods of time between naps giving you more time to get out with them.
There’s a high chance they’ll tolerate one out of the two naps on the go.
They love to interact with people and things, making everything tons of fun.
They may want to crawl or walk, making it difficult to see anything other than their cute little rumps. Make sure to bring extra socks or gloves for their hands so they can crawl around wherever you happen to be.
They are DEFINITELY teething by now. It might be nothing, but it also might be a complete disaster.
I found this phase to be the hardest with jet lag. I’m talking 5+ days to get over a 10-hour time difference. Those are some rough nights followed by difficult days.
They love to test out their vocal cords and all the fun cool sounds they can make. This makes gallery gazing a tad more difficult.
We are getting out of the baby phase, but they will ALWAYS be your baby... so let's keep going.
12 - 18 Months
Honestly, just get it in while you can! The closer they get to being toddlers, the harder it will get. Take advantage of your relatively emotionally stable little sweetheart and go see the world. They are a ton of fun to play with and they’ll be so happy for the family bonding time.
18 months - 2 years
As your baby becomes a toddler, things get increasingly more difficult. It’s a phase. Sometimes it’s 6 months, sometimes it’s two years… and for some people it’s not bad at all whereas others it’s equivalent to Dante’s nine circles of hell.
We haven’t stopped traveling with our toddler. Go for it. Just know it won’t be as easy and try to plan trips that will work well with their routines, personality, emotions and interests. Outdoors-based activities are great for this age. Any place where they can be themselves, taking the pressure off of you and them. Go to the national parks, enjoy camping or a cottage at a lake!
2 - 4 years
Yay for electronics! Your child is at the age where they have the attention span to be able to watch a movie on a flight. This is a lifesaver.
Pick age-appropriate vacation destinations and plan according to their energy levels.
4 - 6 years
Thank you teachers for instilling a sense of authority and expectations of society in our children. At this age, they seem to understand what is acceptable behavior and are eager to please, especially with a well-placed reward.
FREEEEEDOOOOOM!!!! The world is your oyster. Plus they’re more likely to remember some of your travel adventures at this age. Go build memories, expose them to the world and educate them through experiences. Enjoy the time you have together. Take a million pictures and videos. Love and live life at max capacity.
Need some travel destination inspiration? Check out my top 10 favorite monument-based travel destinations here.