Ages and stages the key to holiday plans

Illustration by Michael Mucci.
Illustration by Michael Mucci. 

If you're travelling with toddlers or temperamental teenagers, it's all about choosing the right sort of trip.

Not sure about travelling with toddlers in tow? Nervous about holidaying with temperamental teenagers? It's all about choosing the right sort of trip.

What makes for a happy holiday with a five-year-old could be a disaster with a teenager. Take the experts' advice on the best types of holiday for different stages of family life.


"In some ways, travelling with a baby is a breeze," says Lonely Planet author Monique Perrin.

"They're portable, sleep a lot and they don't have strong views on where you take them!"

This area has child-friendly resorts that are all about relaxing, swimming, eating and sleeping ...

Perrin says the main things to consider with a baby are health risks, routine and the amount of equipment you need to cart around.

"Many people travelling with babies prefer to set up camp in one spot, where they have access to a kitchen and a nice room or garden," she says.

"You're likely to be spending a lot of time in your accommodation, so it's worth choosing somewhere pleasant to spend your time."

The managing director of Travel with Kidz, Wendy Buckley, believes the most important thing for this age group is an easy time for the mother, who is "normally just exhausted".


Buckley says many families with young children head to Fiji and make the most of cheap nannies, or stay in accommodation where they can put their baby down for a sleep and sit under a palm tree with a baby monitor and a good book.

The owner of the Travelscene at Hills Travel Centre in north-western Sydney, Angela Fisher, says the South Pacific in general is ideal for children under five.

"This area has child-friendly resorts that are all about relaxing, swimming, eating and sleeping," she says.

"They usually have kids' menus, kids' pools, kids' clubs and kids' games rooms and often have kids-eat-free or kids-stay-free deals."

Perrin says families can find the toddler and preschool years a good time to travel with other families or take grandparents along.

"As children grow up and become more curious about the world, it can be a real joy to share new places and cultures with them," she says.

"It's also a challenging period as you can't take your eyes off your toddler for a moment, which often means an extra pair of hands is crucial."


Wendy Buckley says many families hat this stage opt for Asia, where there are lots of "soft adventure" activities.

"By this stage, you can afford to sit on a plane for seven hours, because you can reason with them and they can make the most of the entertainment," she says.

"They are also far more adaptable with their eating and can handle a bigger variety of food."

Buckley says children of primary-school age can often relate what they see with things they are learning in school.

Children's cooking classes have become very popular for primary-age children, partly thanks to MasterChef and other television programs.

Monique Perrin believes the primary school years are the "golden age" of family travel, with children old enough to really engage with new places and cultures as well as be more responsible.

"This opens up a broader range of more adventurous travel possibilities," she says.

"You'll have to be a little more collaborative in how you make your itinerary decisions, but the flipside is that when kids are involved in the planning they are more likely to be enthusiastic about the trip."

Perrin says setting kids up with activities such as writing a travel blog or making a short film can head off any "I'm bored" attacks.

For those who prefer a less active holiday, the experts say the primary school years can also be the time to make the most of kids' clubs, either at resorts or on cruises.

Angela Fisher recommends Disney Resorts, such as those located in Honolulu (just opened), Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo and Paris.

These properties offer Disney-themed rooms, kids' clubs, swimming pools and a raft of kids' activities including computer games and movie rooms.

A mobile travel agent with MTA Travel, Leanne Flanagan-Smith, says she sends a lot of families with primary-age children to the US, as the kids are old enough to the go on the theme park rides and to remember the holiday.

Flanagan-Smith says that families planning to use a kids' club need to check that it is broken up into age-appropriate groups, as "no self-respecting 12-year-old wants to hang with their five-year-old brother".

She says children this age also need to be kept physically active.

"You don't want the kids' club to be like a day care centre where they're indoors doing arts and crafts; you want them to be outdoors fishing or snorkelling or climbing trees to get coconuts," she says.


A director of, Leah Squire, says Club Med is one of the most popular options for families with teenagers, as they can go off and learn skills such as sailing, golf, tennis, water skiing or circus acts.

Skiing holidays are popular for the same reason and Squire says the northern hemisphere ski season is the most convenient, as it fits in with Australian school holidays.

Other ideas include cycling holidays, barge holidays and houseboat holidays, all of which can offer a good combination of activity and everyone having their own space.

Squire says teenagers can still enjoy kids' clubs if there is a dedicated teens' club and cruise lines are particularly good at catering for this age group.

Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, which will arrive in Australia in November, has facilities including rock climbing, ice skating, mini-golf and a basketball court, along with teen lounge areas and a disco.

MTA Travel's Leanne Flanagan-Smith warns that many teens will still baulk at kids' clubs, even if they are specifically designed for older ages.

She recommends more adventurous holidays, such as Africa, South America and Asia, or skiing trips.

"Skiing is always a great option for this age, as they can be off doing their own thing with some independence during the day and come together as a family in the evening," she says.

Monique Perrin says it is important to think about the changes older children are going through.

"When your job is to grow more independent from your parents, hitting the tourist trail with them can seem like the ultimate regression," she says.

It is crucial to involve teenagers in the planning stage and a more structured holiday can help.

Perrin's suggestions include travelling to a destination that uses a language they are learning at school and signing up for a voluntourism project in an area of interest, such as animal care.

You might also consider letting your teenager bring a friend along, so they have someone to go exploring with.

"It's a safer way for them to spread their wings and is a great way for you to learn more about your kid's social world as well," Perrin says.

Wendy Buckley says the teenage years are the prime time for her "one day on, one day off" family travel rule, in which children's choices and parents' choices are alternated to accommodate everyone's needs.

She says children are often surprised at how enjoyable the "parents' day" is, but at the very least know that being dragged through a museum will be offset with something fun the next day.

Buckley also recommends that teenagers be required to make a contribution to the cost of the trip, either through paid work or by forgoing a regular treat to help save money.

"They should be given responsibility to contribute; then when they're on the trip they appreciate it far more," she says.

Let's go, grandma

Multigenerational travel has been the biggest trend in family holidays in recent years, with grandparents increasingly joining family trips or taking their grandchildren away to give the parents a break.

Organising a trip for such a range of ages can require some thinking, to ensure children won't get bored and grandparents won't keel over with exhaustion.

Wendy Buckley, of Travel with Kidz, says cruising is one of the most popular options for multigenerational holidays, with baby boomers drawing their children and their grandchildren into what they enjoy doing.

Cruising also has the benefit of being pre-booked and pre-paid, which makes it stress free, she says.

The general manager of Travelscene American Express, David Padman, says renting a holiday house — either in Australia or overseas — can be another easy choice.

Rail journeys are also a good option, with destinations including Africa and Canada, while a "camping" holiday using holiday cabins is a cheaper option closer to home. Padman says it is important to choose a destination that has something to interest everyone and to make sure everyone has their own space and "down time" during the trip.

If you haven't done a multigenerational holiday before, Padman recommends a test run, such as a day out with all the family, before you book a big trip.

Dreading the flight?

If you're looking for a helpful crew when flying overseas, it seems the old rule of choosing an Asian carrier still carries weight. Asian airlines took out eight of the top 10 positions for the best cabin crew category in this year's Skytrax World Airline Awards, which were the result of more than 18 million passenger surveys. Assistance to families with children was one of the factors used to assess airlines, along with general staff attitudes and friendliness. Malaysia Airlines grabbed first place, with Asiana Airlines second. Other Asian carriers in the top 10 were Singapore Airlines, ANA All Nippon Airways, Thai Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Cathay Pacific and Hainan Airlines. Angela Fisher, of the Travelscene at Hills Travel Centre, recommends booking flights that depart at kids' sleeping times, so you don't have to keep them entertained. "Kids get bored and irritable too easily in confined spaces," she says. "Fly through the night instead."