Travelling with teens
Travel concierge: Travelling with teens
Globe and Mail
Question: “My sons are 14 and 16 and it’s increasingly difficult to find vacations for us all to enjoy together. Any suggestions for trips that teenagers – and their families – can enjoy and any strategies for making trips with teens work?”
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 (www.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 teen-friendly US destinations including West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort and Ohio’s rollercoaster-packed Cedar Point amusement park.
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,” says Prater. “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 (www.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 that seem attached like limbs to their adolescent masters. “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 wi-fi and no phone service. Unplugged vacations are a good thing for everyone – even adults.”
And while Lane agrees that teen sulking or volcanic tantrums are par for the course – “the ‘quiet game’ still comes in handy,” she advises – 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.”
Next week: “We’d like to take our new bikes for a great off-road trip somewhere in the US. Any suggestions for areas/regions to hit the trails?”
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