As a parent, traveling with teenagers can be a daunting task. Can you already feel their eyes rolling? 🙄You may be thinking…Will they have fun? Will they complain the whole time? Will you regret going? How do you balance choosing what is the right trip for everyone in the family? Any of these questions sound familiar?!? With a little bit of planning and a lot of patience, you can make traveling with your teens a rewarding and memorable experience.
Here are 7 tips for enjoying travel with your teenager.
1. Involve Your Teenagers in the Planning Process
When you involve your teenagers in the planning process, they will feel like they are an equal part of the family helping to make decisions. I like to start this process when we are early on, still deciding on our destination. I come up with at least two different ideas and present them to the family, not just my husband. I openly share not just the good stuff of all options but things like cost, travel time, basically the pros and cons of each. This is a great learning opportunity for your teen to better understand what things cost, travel times, and all of the things we think about when making a decision. I am super passionate about our teen being a part in this decision making, I feel it has made a huge difference in our vacations and the excitement leading up to them.
Not only will they learn a lot being a part of the planning process, but it helps them feel a part of the trip and helps build excitement. Continue that involvement as you plan out activities for your trip and let them have some say in what they would like to do. This can be overwhelming, so I like to put together a list of choices versus just throwing a guidebook at him to look through. Again, helping him think through pros and cons – if we do this, there’s no time for that. If we pay this much for this activity, that is our budget for the day and no money for that other tour you want to do tonight.
We also encourage him to search for things he loves and where to find them. For example, he is a sneakerhead so in a big city we may ask him to research the best sneaker stores, read the reviews and map them to see if there are any nearby. Then we would reward him by checking out one or two. If your teen is into music and plays an instrument, you could have them search music stores or live music in the area. Think about what your teen loves and how that may translate into something for your trip.
2. Give Them Some Independence
Teenagers value their independence and giving them some freedom during the trip will make them feel more involved and respected. Set some ground rules but let them explore on their own if you can. Obviously, this will depend a lot on where you are traveling, the age of your teen and your comfort level. This could be anything from allowing them to go to some shops alone, do a walking tour without you or even just letting them stay in the hotel room while you and your husband have dinner alone. When we cruise, we give our teen a little more independence than we would normally on land in a big city or another country.
If your teen is like mine, he hates surprises in his schedule. Don’t assume that just because you reviewed the entire week’s schedule before you left that they remember. I like to review the next day’s schedule with everyone (this helps hubby too!) the night before. This is a great time to take a pulse of the group to see how tired everyone is, if they’ve discovered new things they want to check out, etc. See “Be Flexible” below.
4. Be Flexible
Things might not always go as planned, and that’s okay. Be flexible and adaptable to changes. If your teenager is not interested in an activity you had planned, find something else that they would enjoy. As Ross on Friends would say, “PIVOT”! I have to admit, this is the hardest one for me. I am a planner at heart and LOVE travel planning. It is a bit painful for me to cast aside something I’ve been planning for weeks or months, but I’ve learned it is totally worth it. If something isn’t working, you need to make a change or you will all be miserable. Sometimes it means breaking up your group – maybe it’s time for dad and the teen to go check out that submarine museum and mom checks out the local coffee shop. Not everyone has to do everything together all the time.
5. Give Them (and you) a Break
Traveling can be exhausting, so make sure to give your teenagers some time to relax and unwind. Whether it’s a few hours in the hotel room or a day at the beach, letting them take some time for themselves will make the trip more enjoyable for everyone. Even small breaks in a coffee shop or local bookstore can be super restorative. This can also be an hour you allow them to use their devices to connect with their friends at home. By the way, breaks are great for mom and dad too!
6. Don’t Skip Food and Rest
Just like at home, skipping meals or having a bad sleep schedule can ruin a teen’s (and your) day. Just like when our teen was little, I keep snacks with me at all times.
We love to encourage our teen to try new things when ordering at a restaurant when we travel but sometimes it isn’t a winner. We either break out a snack or look for a quick food option for him to make sure we don’t end up with a hangry teen. Otherwise, he would probably always order something “safe” so he wouldn’t end up hungry. This is how we ended up at a McDonald’s in Barcelona AFTER we had already had dinner. He loved the prawns he had but it wasn’t enough, and he didn’t care for the other items. McNuggets to the rescue!
Sleep is so important, and I struggle with this on vacation. I don’t want to miss a moment and have a tendency to overschedule. When we cruised the Mediterranean last year, I had us booked on a walking tour the day we flew in from the U.S. to Barcelona. Dumb dumb dumb. This ended up being a good example of pivoting and communicating – instead of going through the motions and doing the tour because we were there and it was booked, we jumped in a cab and headed back to the hotel for a nap because we were all exhausted. If I had stuck to my initial plans and forced everyone through it, it would have not just impacted us that day but probably the next few days because we would’ve been so tired. Not to mention the tired and hangry teen we would’ve had to deal with.
7. Use Their Talents
Most teens are tethered to their phones. Why not use all of that technology talent to help with the trip and at the same time, teach some valuable travel skills? We like to give our son tasks like being in charge of the map for where we are going and help to lead our walk there. You could ask your teen to research lunch options nearby or order your Uber. These are great ways for them to help with the trip, use their technology skills and learn some travel / research skills as well.
Traveling with teenagers can be an amazing experience if you involve them in the planning, give them some independence, communicate, are flexible, give them a break and prioritize food and rest. With these tips in mind, you can make sure that your next family vacation is a success!
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