From the moment we take our first wobbly steps, life is a journey and we are never standing still. It seems perfectly apt that travel plays a big part in it for many of us, but as we grow older our priorities change.

We start off wondering where the next ice cream is coming from; at some point that morphs into ‘where’s the ice in my cocktail?’; next, we’re worried about whether the ice is safe to drink; finally – if we’re lucky – we get to see an iceberg or two.

The travel experience evolves with us, and some might even find that it comes full circle...

Toddler twins eating banana on picnic bench
Enjoy the halcyon years of no planning and no paying for your hols... in retrospect © Jade Brookbank / Getty Images

Family travel

Here’s a funny truth about childhood holidays: no matter how much soggy camping you are forced to endure, how many bad hotel buffets you encounter, or how big the family feuds that erupt along the way, the bad bits all recede into the rose-tinted sunset of youth.

There’s no control (‘Why have we come here?’), but also no saving, no planning and no responsibility. In years to come, you'll look back on these trips with affection. They are where some of your most vivid family memories are formed, albeit sometimes for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, the destination is unimportant – so much so that the annual holidays blend into one. This is especially true if you go to the same place every year.

Friends laying on paddle boards in ocean
At last: not a parent in sight © Colin Anderson / Getty Images

Teenage kicks

An unhealthy cocktail of exams and hormones can only mean one thing: letting loose. Ideally, the mayhem takes place as far away from the parentals as possible; a desire to just ‘get away’ – without them – becomes a need, and inevitably this ignites a passion for travel. Funnily enough, your 10 best mates have had the same idea. You never thought you’d be getting back in that family tent, yet there you are with your wolf pack pitching up of your own free will.

Liberal parents might even sanction a flight somewhere like Spain (Magaluf?), Florida (spring break!) or the Gold Coast (schoolies!), but ultimately the location isn’t that important. Your liver may be pickled and your skin a new shade of cerise, but you’ve experienced a rite of passage.

On the bus to nowhere
Bum around as you seek enlightenment © Dejan Suc / Getty Images

Going solo

The highs and lows of teenage trips are a learning curve, and now you’re all grown up and truly independent. Better invest in a backpack. What was once defined as a holiday starts being referred to as travelling.

This is a light-bulb moment: it’s now feasible to go away for longer and make it sound like you’re doing something life-affirming. For many, that’s actually the case. During these solo months (possibly years), teaching in India, learning to surf in Australia, or tracking turtles in Costa Rica take top billing.

Round-the-world-travel is a life challenge. It’s sold as The Big Trip – and indeed it is. It might involve bumming around too poor to do much, working in a bar, or picking some godforsaken fruit until your fingers bleed but, whatever happens, it is still enlightening. Bucket-list historic monoliths and natural monuments rear at every turn along the way: travelling is awesome.

Back view of backpacker
The pursuit of a unique travel experience might take you to the end of the road © Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Twenty-something travel

Time to find a job. In the process, there is a mildly disturbing revelation that most people of your age have had similar travel experiences and ‘done’ the same countries. Hill-tribe trekking in Thailand? Check. Hiking the Grand Canyon? Check. Bungee-jumping in New Zealand? Check.

One-upmanship spurs you to spend the rest of the decade pursuing unique travel experiences during annual leave. Holidays aren’t always enough. You might catch yourself saying, ‘Boss, I’d like to take a career break and I might not come back…’

Dirty squat type toilet
Once upon a time, this would have been... bearable. But not anymore © Photoraidz / Getty Images

You, but upgraded

More money, more problems, as the saying goes. The more you earn, the less time you seem to have to spend it. Cue extravagant weekends away and short trips during which you seem to do very little, but inexplicably spend as much as you did on that epic month backpacking around Borneo in your early twenties.

The problem is, having a bit more money in the pocket has taken the shine off that US$5 dorm bed and squat toilet. Yes, you sometimes long for the freedom of the backpacker life, but the air conditioning and taxis soon remind you of the perks that come with a bit more cash.

Will you soldier on with a toddler in tow, or succumb to the lure of the kids' club? © Moment / Getty Images

Midlife crisis

You, plus one. Or possibly plus two. When kids come along, the world spins on its axis and your centre of gravity shifts. Keeping balance becomes a bone of contention. Nappies, food, transport and sleeping arrangements can be a logistical challenge – to put it mildly – that conspires to thwart your best-laid travel plans. Is this the end of travel as you once knew it?

Some soldier on, while others succumb to the lure of beach villas and kids’ clubs. Travel is harder now – that’s a given – but the big surprise is that it opens up a world of opportunities to mingle with the locals in a completely new way.

Mother, child, and grandmother running on a beach
Time to call in reinforcements © David Aaron Troy © Getty Images

Family travel, the sequel

With kids in tow, reinforcements are needed. Round-up siblings and their tribes, cajole parents into joining the party and get the travelling circus on a plane: multigenerational holidays are one of the most sensible ways for growing families to enjoy a break.

You probably won’t make it far, but savour the thought of a night out alone in a foreign city and the warm embrace of a siesta. That is, unless the parents have the audacity to escape alone. That cruise to Antarctica you’ve been eyeing up but couldn’t dream of taking? They’re on it, and they’ve taken your inheritance money with them. Let’s hope they see an iceberg or two.

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