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Writer Ellen Himelfarb and her daughter Camilla near their home in London.Justin Griffiths-Williams/The Globe and Mail

When my teenage daughters and I talk – which is rare these days – we often fantasize about travel. I say fantasize because, well, COVID-19. But also because their wish list is nearly impossible: Paris with friends? Not while you’re still a minor. Australia? Good luck, mate. Japan? Call me when you win the lottery.

After an inhuman spell in isolation, many teens are aiming high. Though, when you peel back the long-haul ambitions inspired by shows such as Gossip Girl, Emily In Paris or Midnight Diner, they really just want some level of freedom in the company of friends. Until we let that happen, they’ll settle for us.

“Freedom” could mean any number of things for those of us suddenly facing “normal times” as parents of teens. To that end, I’ve begun researching and asking friends with slightly older teens what I can expect from my restless, recently unlocked daughters and how others might navigate travelling with and without theirs for the next several years.

What I’ve learned is that wherever they’re growing up, a lot of teens are just like mine: They think big. But when school’s out, will they actually want to get out of bed? It’s debatable. I could start easy and send them off to a local music festival: an affordable and loosely supervised toe-dipping exercise that, in my circle at least, is considered teenage nirvana. Ultimately, though, my instinct has always been to aim beyond our backyard, for situations that are sometimes unpredictable, where the program isn’t sorted like laundry on the bed.

We all know travelling can be a salve for teens with anxiety. According to the National Institutes of Health in the United States, nearly one in three of all adolescents from the ages of 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. So, anything that gets them out of their room, a claustrophobic friendship group or their parents’ control improves balance, teaches responsibility, gives them an element of control. Even a weekend in Halifax or Victoria can seem as far away as Japan for a first-timer.

The family-travel writer Alyson Long says escaping their comfort zone has done wonders for her two teenage sons, helping them develop a world view independent of what teachers or newspapers tell them. “And I think it’s good for kids to know more than what they’re told,” says Long, who’s behind the World Travel Family blog.

Claudia Laroye, a Vancouver writer who chronicles her movements on Claudia Travels, says her two sons, now in their 20s, got their first tastes of freedom on school trips. Then, at 14, each son took a “skip-gen” trip with her in-laws. Her eldest chose Peru, hiking a portion of the Inca Trail solo while his grandparents took the train, and caring for his grandfather who succumbed to altitude sickness in Cusco.

“He had to step up more than planned,” Laroye says. “But he’s grown to appreciate that – solidifying bonds with that generation without his parents’ interference.”

The boys graduated to AirBnbs in Whistler, B.C. and Portland, Ore. One nearly missed Christmas when his car broke down in Kamloops, B.C. “These things happen,” Laroye says. “From a parental point of view, you’re letting go. But you could also argue things can happen when they’re out at the store.”

True. Now, what if your kid won’t get out of bed in the first place? Start getting them involved at the planning level.

Laroye targets apathy with power-sharing. “It’s important to sit down as a family and plan out the trip,” she says. “What are we absolutely going to do together? When are we waking up early, and when can you sleep in? Give them a stake in where you’re going and what you’re doing.”

Brenna Holeman from Winnipeg, a solo traveller since her teens and author of the blog This Battered Suitcase, suggests fighting ennui with the outdoors.

“The hashtag #vanlife has really contributed to this desire to escape to nature,” she says. And though capturing that exhilaration on Instagram or TikTok can be half the fun, “kids I’ve talked to are turning away from social media, getting off their phones. They don’t want to be filming all the time,” Holeman says.

Parents could see them off at a local beach to camp, swim and cook outdoors, then let them build up to a hotel the next city over, she says.

“You go through a natural shift just driving 100 kilometres,” Holeman adds. “In Canada, we have some of the world’s best scenery, unbelievable campsites, yurts, cabins to rent. We have more cities than Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, more nature than Banff and Jasper.”

Some of us needed this time trapped on our side of the border to realize that.

I find it especially comforting, because I can imagine the day my kids decide that the further from home the better.

Long knows the feeling: “It’s going to be awful because I’m probably going to lose them,” she says. “Just like I did to my mum.”

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