The Ages & Stages series:
Traveling with a Child 4 to 5 Years
Your child becomes more of a travel partner at this stage. He’s able to better grasp the concept of your trip from start to finish, and has the patience required at times for sitting still or standing in lines. He may take pride in packing (and rolling!) his own suitcase or packing his backpack with toys and books for the flight, and he may also enjoy being in charge of his own camera (we’ve found a $10 digital camera from the drug store is much preferred over a disposable camera they may use up in the first 10 minutes). Gear needs are at a minimum now, enabling you to travel lighter than you have since becoming a parent!
Where to go:
If you want to do an extended trip overseas and/or take advantage of cost savings of travel in shoulder seasons, this is your last chance before the school calendar complicates travel and you face the need to make up extra schoolwork during your off-season travels (Hurry! Go far! Go wide! Look at our Family Travel Destinations Index for inspiration). If you have extended family overseas, this may be the easiest and least expensive year for your family to go visit for some time.
Your child will be better prepared now for a trip to the BIG amusement park, but make sure he understands he will spend some time waiting in lines for rides, and forewarn him about minimum height and age requirements that may still prevent him from enjoying some “big kid rides.”
He is also reaching an age of awareness where some background may be appreciated when traveling to or through areas of interest (e.g., when the pilgrims arrived here a long time ago…or when the mastodons grazed here…). For travel abroad, he may enjoy learning some words or phrases ahead of time to use at your destination, and may also take more of an interest in the local customs and modes of transportation. Head to the library for destination and history books written with kids in mind (see some of our favorites for Paris here), and take advantage of kids programs and special activities at museums where you’ll travel.
Your child is getting too big for most toddler travel beds, and you’ll have to start getting accommodations with an extra bed or the option of a rollaway (usually around $10 extra, though you sacrifice a lot of space in the typical hotel room for it). An easy solution may be to use a sleeping bag on the floor, though this all depends on where you will be staying. If your child is still an active sleeper (a.k.a. fall risk), an inflatable bed rail may be very helpful in taking advantage of existing beds where you stay (see more in Travel Beds and Sleeping Solutions in Travels with Baby).
Collecting souvenirs as you travel (pine cones, coasters, wildflowers, ticket stubs…) and creating a travel scrapbook for your trip may be a fun project and creative outlet for your child. If she’s not much for writing yet, have her make a daily drawing in a visual travel journal you’ll treasure for years to come.
Best bet vacations:
From here on out, your best bets for family vacations will be based on your child’s individual temperament (see the award-winning Temperament and Travel series) and your own family’s interests. Enjoy!
<– See previous installment, Planning Tips for Travel with a Child 3 to 4 Years
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