Family vacations when I was a teen involved me sullenly avoiding eye contact and sneaking off unannounced whenever possible. Little has changed – apart from most kids’ limpet-like attachment to their gadgets – but many parents now have better strategies for ensuring trips don’t dissolve into hormonal sulk fests.
“I’ve always included my children in the planning stages,” says family travel blogger Tonya Prater (thetravelingpraters.com). “When they were small, I’d present choices and they could voice the options they liked. As they got older, I’d give them more responsibility – choosing attractions or planning an entire day of the vacation.”
The approach gives teens that all-important ownership of a situation they crave – as well as relieving some preparation pressure from parents. “If things don’t go as well as planned, they won’t place all the blame on you.”
Sleeping arrangements are also key. “Large suites are preferred or vacation homes, which allow teens – and parents – room to relax in their own space,” says Prater, who recommends roller coaster-packed Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio.
Planning, of course, is only half the battle. You’ll still have to deal with your spotty sprogs on the road.
“Like small children, teens need to be well-rested and well-fed. But that’s where the similarities end,” Prater says. “Teens need more freedom and they also like knowing what’s going on at all times. Share the itinerary with them before you go so they know what’s expected of them.”
But should treating them differently extend to letting them do their own thing? Age and maturity are key, according to Prater, but some types of vacations make letting teens off the leash easier. “On a cruise, we allowed ours to choose what they wanted to do so long as they met us for dinner or activities we wanted to experience together.”
Family travel blogger Shannon Hurst Lane (travelingmamas.com) agrees about the efficacy of cruises, but adds her own road-tested suggestions.
“Teens often like cities such as Boston, New York and New Orleans due to all the activity,” she says, noting that outdoor adventure trips are also popular. But the elephant in the room when it comes teen travel? Gadgets. “Have you ever tried parting a teenager from their phone? They need their gadgets,” she concedes.
Scheduling device-free periods or diverting attention with activities can work, she says, but it’s better to remove the potential battleground from the equation. “My biggest secret to getting teens engaged on vacations is to take them places with limited or no WiFi and no phone service. Unplugged vacations are a good thing for everyone – even adults.”
Lane agrees that teen sulking or volcanic tantrums are par for the course – “the quiet game still comes in handy,” she advises – and adds that some families allow teens to bring friends to keep them company. “I’m not opposed to this if we’ve rented a beach house or there’s plenty of living space. But just be aware it can distract from family bonding.”
For Prater, the bottom line is parents should chill out a little when vacationing with their gawky offspring. “Don’t expect perfection from them and don’t allow irritations to fester. Family travel is about building relationships and creating memories,” she says, before adding her golden rules: “Pack extra chargers for the electronics – and remember that chocolate makes everything better.”
For Lane, the potential irritations of tripping with teens shouldn’t stop anyone from taking the plunge. “Make time for a one-on-one trip with them. If that’s not possible, devote individual attention with your teen away from the rest of the family during your vacation. They’ll be leaving for university before you realize it, and those opportunities for just listening to them will have passed you by.”
OUR READERS WRITE
- Ski vacations all the way. I still go on annual ski trips with my folks – a 20-year tradition that started at age 14. @Tours_By_Locals
- We had two wonderful and memorable vacations with our boys. Here’s why they were successful: 1) the boys had their own space (we were never control-freak helicopter-pilot parents); 2) a variety of activities and lots of physical activity; 3) really good research with advance booking to ensure we got to do the things the boys asked for. Rob Lowry
- At 18 I went on a family cruise. I thought it would be lame but I loved it. I got to do a lot of my own things. @ladyestrogen
- It’s always good to travel somewhere with other kids their age around! @GrilleYVRI
- Italy is a winner with teenagers. We did Venice, Florence and Rome. Our “kids” were amazed by the recognizable places – and loved the serendipitous finds: parks for Frisbee next to Venice Biennale; hiking through Franciscan vineyards and people-watching while sitting on the Spanish steps. Add in a week on the Amalfi Coast to recharge the batteries before coming home. Stan Blade
- Allow them time to get over jet lag #BigMistake2012. @Lorelei_Canada
- I will be taking three grandchildren age 10, 13 and 15 across Canada on Via Rail. Lloyd Spalding
- A cruise is a great way to give everyone space when travelling with teens. My 15-year-old son said our cruise was the best family holiday ever. @sandyhermiston
- Nothing that requires waking up early. Keep a balance of touring and resting. Ask your teens to help with planning. @DrDeborahFisher
- I’d recommend active adventure holidays that keep teens and adults challenged and entertained while also educating about cultures. Recommended destinations: Croatia, Greece, Belize and Vietnam. @bikehiketravel
- Go somewhere with no mobile phone coverage! @NorthBCwoman
- Cruises are a surprising choice but a big hit for teen-clad families holidaying together. Hot tip: walkie-talkies! @tripalong
- Anywhere in Hawaii! Beach, surf, sand, shopping – and many hotels offer teenage kid clubs. @TravelHackingCa
- Mauritius is good. Almost every resort has a gr8 teens club which keeps ’em entertained day and night. @Travelwrite1
- Thailand for beaches, water sports, riding on elephants, markets, etc. @StanleyParkFan
- I’m in Costa Rica right now. I’m not doing either of these myself, but I think teens would love ziplining and learning how to surf or waveboard. @elizalor
- Guided multiday hikes! Parents are still young and teens love challenges. There are loads worldwide, but www.sydneycoastwalks.com.au is great. @tara_g
- Destination idea: Charleston, South Carolina. Historic, walkable, near beaches, great food and people. Love it. @BD_CommBeat
- Taking teenagers to Rome makes the Roman history from their textbooks come to life! @TheRomanGuy
- Let them help with planning and navigation. Let them choose destinations even if these are different from parents plans and ideas. My parents let me choose Vegas even though they hated it @TinyHelmets
- At Le Royal Monceau [a hotel in Paris], we offer free DJ classes for teenagers! @LeRoyalMonceau
- How about L.A.? City trips always gives a breadth of options. Thinking: bike riding along Santa Monica pier and dinner. Plus: cheap air fare. Always a plus when travelling with the family. @crystal_kwon
- I’m taking mine to Maui in three weeks. Wish me luck! @orallyCoralie
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