My husband and I don’t have kids, so we’ve never done any traveling with children in the traditional sense, but we have been host parents to foreign exchange students, so we’ve learned a bit about traveling with teenagers. Teens are at an interesting stage in their lives—they’re old enough to be independent but still need supervision and guidance to a certain extent. And though there is the possibility that they may be mortified to be seen with their parents (or host parents), chances are they’ll appreciate the value of the traveling experience if not today, at least at some point in the future.
If you’re debating about whether to travel with teens, the very best advice I can provide is YES, DO IT! But if you need some help working out the nitty gritty details on how to make it work, here are our best tips:
> Involve them in the planning process. Ask your teenager where he or she wants to go and what he wants to do. This can be a very broad question, and the response ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ is likely, so it may be better to narrow down the destination or type of trip and then provide options. While planning a trip, find out what kind of activities your teen is interested in (i.e. camping, hunkering down in a vacation rental, doing more adventurous activities). Once you’ve narrowed down what type of trip you’d like to take, ask what your teen would like to do and provide options instead of leaving the question open ended. When we had a free day during our Spring Break trip to Southern California, we didn’t just ask our student and her friend what they wanted to do, we provided them with options. In the end, your teen has input within the confines of a trip that you ultimately plan.
> Invite a friend. When I was in high school, I was invited on a week-long summer trip with a friend’s family, and I remember enjoying it because we not only got to have a vacation but because it was like an extended sleepover. There’s only so much a teenager can talk about when hanging out with Mom and Dad, so let your teen invite a friend. This has many advantages: Teens are more likely to be interested in the trip if they have a friend with whom to enjoy it. If your teen wants some alone time to explore, you’ll feel better knowing there are two of them together. If you tag team with a few other sets of parents, your teen can travel and you don’t always have to spend money to send yourself too.
> Give your teen free time. Don’t try to cram too much into a day. Running your kids (teenagers or not) ragged will only create a cranky family dynamic. Let your teens sleep late on a couple days of your vacation, and feel free to take an afternoon off. Also, if you feel comfortable, let your teen explore on his or her own, and agree on a meeting time and place in advance. Confined spaces like theme parks are good places for this kind of arrangement. Plan on checking in every few hours, even if it is for a headcount and to make sure everyone is doing well before going your separate ways again.
> Encourage creativity to capture the trip. Some teens like to write, some like to draw. Whatever your teen likes to do, encourage the behavior as a way to capture the trip in order to revisit it later. Buy a fresh journal for him or her, or help set up a blog. The students we’ve traveled with like to take photos, which is probably one of the most popular ways to capture the essence of a vacation. Take the time to slow down and let your teens do what they need to in order to remember the moments they’re experiencing.
> Choose family-friendly accommodations. Let your teen have his or her own room, if appropriate. Even better, look into snagging a vacation rental so everyone can have a little more space. If you’re stuck at a hotel, choose one that has a pool, ping pong tables, lounge space or some other kind of diversion built in to it. Bonus points if you’re within walking distance to a movie theater or mini golf course.
> Take advantage of student discounts. Make sure your teen packs his or her school identification and ask about discounts for students or teens everywhere you go. Every little bit of money you can save on entrance fees will be well spent to feed your growing teenagers at lunchtime!
> Have fun. Don’t take the trip too seriously. Your kids are older now, so there’s no reason to be helicopter parents or treat them like young children. Enjoy leisurely conversations over dinner. Encourage them to try new things. Be mindful that they’re still kids in a sense, but they’re growing up fast. You won’t be able to have travel experiences like these for very long, so take advantage of them while you can.