Best Age to Travel
It is no surprise that the response to the “best age to travel” question is the age you are at right now. We have been traveling for over 30 years:, first as solo travelers, then as a couple, and now as a small family. And there have been “best ages” to travel throughout those different times in our lives. So read on for recommendations on the best ages to travel for a whole host of different reasons.
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Is There an Ideal Age to Start Traveling?
The best age to start traveling is between 9-12 years old. Memories are made and held. Kids this age are not only more flexible when it comes to travel, they can also be active participants in planning travel.
Additionally, kids around this age are starting to form stronger peer relationships, which is definitely a good thing. But with those peer relationships, can come struggles with peer expectations. And the occasional ups and downs of friendships and school cliques.
Travel can be a great way to keep family bonds strong and combat emotional growing pains. So travel at this age not only has the benefit of raising a person with a wider perspective of the world, but with a stronger support system for the potentially difficult years ahead.
Those bonds formed on family adventures may just make it more likely that your teen can confide in you when school-, friend-, and romantic pressures start to weigh on them.
Best Age to Travel as an Adult
If you haven’t traveled as a child, the best age to travel as an adult is in your early adulthood. And one exceptional way to travel in your late teens or early 20s is through a college study abroad experience.
Students who study abroad are more likely to have higher grade point averages than those who stay on campus. They are more likely to speak another language, which is especially important for American adults since only 7% speak more than one language.
On the more practical side, research also shows that students who study abroad are more marketable in their career.
Best Age to Solo Travel
The narrative of solo travel is that it is something most commonly done in your 20s. However, that is definitely not the whole truth of it. According to 2022 research, 86% of solo travelers are actually 35 or older. In fact, the average age of a solo traveler is 47 years old.
Perhaps it is because as we age, two things happen. First, we tend to have more income to travel. And secondly, we tend to know more about ourselves and what we want to see and do. And we don’t want to wait.
Solo travel in your early 20s presents the added challenge of minimum age for car rentals. We travel almost exclusively by public transit, even in places like Alaska that are seemingly car centric. So let us tell you that young adult travel is completely possible. But if you do fancy the independence of a car, then solo travel should probably wait until you are 25 or older.
Best Age to Travel on a Budget
Famous travel bloggers like Nomadic Matt established early that budget travel was a young person’s game. Staying in hostels, eating street food, and riding public transit have typically been the staple of traveling in your early 20s.
The thinking here is that when you are younger you are more willing to privilege experience over luxury. And I suppose that is true.
But our budget travel game has only gotten stronger as we have aged. Here’s why….Traveling on a budget as a small family has allowed us to see so much of the world with our son.
Family travel is by definition more expensive i.e. more people = more flights, more beds, more food. So learning to travel on a budget as a family has been at the very core of our 40s.
While we have, for the most part, given up the hostels of our 20s, we still find reasonable apartment-style accommodations so we don’t have to eat out. Plus, as experienced travelers, we do the leg work of planning our own DIY tours and adventures.
And of course, we are biased. We definitely feel that traveling on a budget–even when we can afford a little more—has allowed us to spend more time where locals live, in supermarkets and on public transit.
Budget travel should not solely be the mantra of those who can’t afford better.
Rather, budget travel should be seen as more sustainable travel, staying longer in one place, using public resources instead of private transport, learning more of the language so you can ask questions of the locals.
And for that reason, we will be budget travelers until we stop traveling. So the best answer to what is the best age to travel on a budget? Always.
Best Age to Travel with Kids
Numerous studies suggest that family travel can have the combined benefit of reducing work stress and increasing family contentment. However, family travel is not without, quite literally, extra baggage.
While we have enjoyed traveling as a family since our son was an infant, it truly does just keep getting better. In fact, we are right now, really enjoying traveling with him as a teenager. However, our best recommendation of when travel really started to get good was when he was between 9 and 10 years of age.
At 10, most kids can regulate their behavior and be enthusiastic and active participants. They are also much more able to walk longer distances.
However, what we noticed the most, was that at the age of 10, kids start showing their own unique preferences for experiences separate from yours. Younger kids are much more willing to just go along, but as kids age they can express what they love about traveling.
While we had lived in Europe for half a year when our son was a toddler, we chose 10 as the age to take him back for his first “European” vacation. And it was a great choice. At 10, he could handle jet lag, hop trains, explore museums, marvel at cathedrals – including Notre Dame before the fire – and try new foods.
And at 10, he could also handle the disappointments that sometimes come along with travel. Like the time we attempted to ride the longest mountain coaster in Bavaria, only to have it close from the weather minutes before we arrived.
Around this age is also the perfect time for some solo parent trips or grandparent trips. Like the trip, Faith and O took alone to Belize or the cruise O took with his (also 10 year-old) cousin with his grandparents.
But do be aware that 10 is still too early for some experiences. For example, if you want your kid to hike Huayna Picchu, the peak next to Machu Picchu, for breathtaking views in Peru, then they need to be at least 12.
But regardless of what you feel is the perfect age, don’t wait too long. Travel has many benefits for kids, especially raising their cultural awareness. A 2019 study by The Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA) found that 79% of teachers found travel to be a priority to raise cultural awareness in their students.
So get your kiddo out there. We promise despite the extra baggage (both literally and figuratively) it will be worth it.
Best Age to Take a Family Gap Year
There is something important that happens during a family gap year (or 7-months from our own experience). Immersive travel as a family requires you to be strangers in a strange land together. And from that you must learn to rely on each other.
We did our version of a gap year (again, just 7 months) in Spain when our son was 3.5 years old. And there were many benefits to taking a preschooler on an extended stay abroad. The largest being there is literally no school to contend with.
The other main benefit of traveling with young kids is language development. It is much more natural for a little one to simply “pick up” a language. And we certainly found that to be the case with our son.
Little ones are also much more open to making new friends. Spain in particular is such an amazing place for family travel. Its “get outside” culture where kids are encouraged to play in the numerous small parks in the neighborhoods meant O made friends quickly. And his friends’ parents quickly became our friends.
However, traveling with kids under 5 or 6 means they have little to no memories of their own from the experience. If we talk about our time in Spain, O may remember small pieces, but it is far from the rich tapestry of stories and memories that we have as adults.
In that way, a gap year with elementary-aged students definitely has more staying power. Matthew’s family lived a year abroad when he and his siblings ranged from 5-14. His sister’s have rich memories of attending German school and traveling the entire country. While Matthew, then 5, has fewer distinct memories.
Worst Age to Travel with Kids
So we are just going to go out on a limb here and say there is no bad age to travel with kids. There are definitely harder times, like traveling with toddlers, who are so, so busy. Or the infant stage where they come with just so much stuff.
However, there is something to be said for traveling with kids in their last few years of high school. As both parents of a high schooler and as teachers, it is really stressful for kids to miss too much school, even with the benefits of travel.
We recently decided to take off three days from school for an unbelievable bargain flight to Spain, which we found using Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). But while we certainly don’t regret the trip (I mean who can pass up a $400 roundtrip flight from a mid-size market like Boise to Madrid?), we did stress out our kid a fair amount with all the make-up work he had to complete upon our return.
At What Age Should You Stop Traveling?
This question is perhaps more a question of fitness than of age. Travel definitely can get hard for people with limited mobility. On our recent trip to Spain, we walked nearly 8 miles a day. In that way, some travel will just be too hard for some people as they age.
However, older travelers can certainly find tours like AARP’s Golden Circle Travel that caters to an older clientele.
Frequently Asked Questions About Best Age to Travel
What age group travels the most?
According to AARP, Millennials, those born in 1981-1996, travel more than any other generation.
Should you travel in your 20s?
Yes. And one of the best ways to travel in your early 20s is through your university’s study abroad programs.
Students who study abroad have, on average, better grades, more language acquisition, and more marketable skills. So get going.
Is 30 too late to start traveling?
Thirty is definitely NOT too late to start traveling.
Travelers in their 30s have the advantage of not incurring the additional fees for car rentals that a person in their early 20s will have to pay.
Still on a budget? According to Hostelworld, 39% of people who stay at hostels are between the ages of 25-34. And hostels are a great way to meet other people if you are traveling solo.
When can kids fly alone?
At 15, most airlines will allow a child to travel alone. Some airlines allow children as early as 12 to fly alone without flying as an “unaccompanied minor.”
So yes, in truth, it is absolutely possible for a 15 year old to book a flight and travel on their own without their guardians’ knowledge. But that’s definitely a conversation you should have as a family first.