July 8 2015

Traveling with teenagers can be amazing fun, if you plan your trip wisely

Traveling with your teens can be amazing fun, if you plan your trip wisely. (Photo Credit: C Laroye)

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first. Fact: traveling with teenagers can be fun.

Yes, it’s true. Whether by car, ship or plane, exploring your backyard or wandering around the globe with teens can be much more fun than toodling around with a toddler in tow. No diapers, on-the-floor tantrums, or naps required. I’ve lived both realities, and honestly, I love (and prefer) traveling with my teenaged sons. The great news is, teens actually like to be with their families too.

New research from UK-based Mintel shows that despite the perception that teens’ lives revolve around their friends, 67% of American teens say they enjoy spending time with family. The statistics may refer to an American example, but it’s fair to say that Canadian youth are also happy to enjoy quality family time, both at home and on the road.

Here are some of my favorite tips and ways to plan successful trips and holidays with your teenagers.

Engage Teens in Holiday Planning

This may seem like a no-brainer (duh!), but it can be hard for parents to let go of organizational control and encourage group decision-making on vacation style and destination choice. After all, you’ve been making decisions for your kids since before they were born, why stop now? I’ll tell you why; because an unhappy teenager on vacation will kill whatever trip joy you’ve planned, and burn your hard-earned vacay budget.

Older teens are desperate to be treated as adults, so sit down, have a chat, and ask some questions about what they’d like to do and where they’d like to go. Their answer may pleasantly surprise you and fit right into your own summer vacation plans. Or their proposal could be tweaked into a compromise that allows everyone to get something out of the holiday plan. Engage and empower those exploding brains, and reduce those eye-rolls down to just a few (maybe none!) per day. You may even get a ‘Thank you, Mom/Dad.’

Choose Activities Wisely

You know your children better than anyone. Do you have adventure-seeking, roller-coaster-loving girls and boys? Do they prefer shopping, museums, or eating out?  Would they love a horse-back riding ranch vacation, or all-inclusive resort? Do they still light up about the House of Mouse? While a ‘surprise’ activity may work on a family holiday (cheese-making in Wisconsin, perhaps?), the best trip style success lies in planning activities that will engage and excite your teens. Half of the joy of travel lies in the anticipation of the journey, and looking forward to enjoying the activities and places on the itinerary.

If you’re in doubt of what they’d like to do, ask. If your teenager is dying to visit Harrods in London and it’s in your power to make her dream come true while on your European tour, do it. If your sons have requested a visit to Banff, Alberta, as their ultimate destination this summer (as ours have done) a road trip vacation plan is born. Of course, not every teen travel wish can be granted, due to budget, time constraints and family obligations. But it’s important to help your teens understand that aspect of travel planning and compromise too. Big ticket trips are worth saving and planning for in advance, and that’s a great travel and life lesson in itself.

Traveling with teenagers who kick some parent behind on the Grouse Grind, Vancouver

Kicking some parent behind on the Grouse Grind, Vancouver. (Photo Credit: C Laroye)

Plan Some Downtime + Schedule Smart

A go-go-go holiday is exhausting for everyone. Don’t over-schedule and cram each day with things to see and do, without also scheduling quiet time and downtime for everyone. If you have typical teens that like to sleep in, minimize your early-morning museum visits. If your teen is a night-owl, allow them some latitude to stay up late, keeping in mind that they may need to get up early, once in a while.

Loosen the Apron Strings

Teens love exploring their boundaries, and a little freedom goes a long way. Your teenagers will enjoy some time to themselves to chill, relax alone, or with friends. They may not want to accompany you on every little outing, so give them an option to stay behind in the hotel room or campground now and again.

If you’re comfortable with their maturity and ability to find their way around, let them explore the amusement park, museum or medieval town on their own, or with a sibling or friend. They’ll appreciate the freedom, and have some bragging rights when they get home. Remember to travel safe: be sure to go over your meeting points and time expectations before everyone scatters. Teens need to know their parameters and meet your expectations in order to earn the privilege again in the future.

Control the Technology

Connectivity is key for teenagers. Their love of WiFi is astounding; it’s truly like a part of their body. While we might like to shut off all access to devices while on holiday, we do have to recognize how important staying in contact with friends is to your teenagers. However, this doesn’t mean they get to be on their devices for the entire holiday. Discuss and negotiate how much time they’ll be able to spend on their phones/tablets. Find the middle ground as best you can. Your teens may be pleasantly surprised that living and enjoying real travel moments beats scrolling through them on screen. (Also, if traveling abroad, low quality and high cost of WiFi access may become your best travel buddies.)

Travel with Friends

Teens love their friends. If you can, embrace their peers and invite their BFF along for the ride. Or better still, plan a trip with another family with teens to increase the fun and share the trip planning load. Your traveling gang of teens may leave you in the dust on that hiking trail or beach, which may well result in your uninterrupted enjoyment of a book, or catching up with your own friends over an adult night-out. A serious travel win, in my book.