These are tried and true ways to rock travel with teens in tow.
Oh. My. Gawd. Seriously. Mom. Stop. Stop it.
Eyes roll. Shoulders shrug. Backs turn. Feet shuffle. A few paces away. I do not know you. I am not related to you. Maybe even hoodies pull a little lower over faces. Or beanies down. Heads definitively away. Buried in phones perchance? Anything to disassociate themselves. From YOU.
Traveling? With teens in tow? Ever felt like you are suddenly the most embarrassing person on the planet to your teens? Uh. Every day. Oh! You too? Welcome to the club. It’s fun here. Especially when you put teens in a situation that takes them ever so slightly outside of their fragile comfort zone. Immediately that propensity by parents to perpetuate gross affronts escalates. Like instantaneously. Upon landing. (Sometimes even while you are still in the air getting there.) Anytime you maneuver your offspring outside your bubble, there is potential to exasperate. Both you. And your teen.
BEEN THERE DONE THAT
Stop trying to speak the language mom. Stop pretending that you know where you are. Stop taking pictures of me. I mean it. STOP. NOW. Stop telling everybody everything about us. I just told them we live in Denmark, not our social security numbers. MOM. They don’t care.
Um. But I do. I’m engaging here. Interacting with the locals. They asked anyway. And they can decide if they don’t want to make small talk with me by their own selves. Just like you. My dear teen.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always like that. But it definitely has been. On occasion. Or two. Or more. Who’s counting? Not me. But here’s my math. (Maths if you’re British.) Currently living under my roof are two full-fledged teenagers and one trying to keep up full blooded tween. I will have a good five to six years in this zone with all three smack in the middle of this age group. And a good five years after that until they’ve all graduated through teendom. Yay me! How ’bout dem apples.
(P.S. I love my teens. And my tween.)
REASONS TO TRAVEL WITH YOUR TEEnAGE CHILDREN
A million and one posts have been written advocating travel with your children. Start them young and I concur. It’s cheaper. They take up less room. They’re somewhat containable. They don’t have opinions yet. Terrible two’s don’t count. It’s a great time to travel with your littles. When they are just that… little. You know, soooo – by the time they are teens turning into young adults, they will be perfectly compliant, capable and confident traveling companions. Right? Wrong. Sorry.
Take your teens traveling and you can possibly exacerbate, irritate and otherwise aggravate your humans in their already volatile state. Those humans that you brought into your own hearth and home. Hormones are real people. Learning to navigate their effects while outside your comfort zone can be chaos. But for all the potential pouty faces, mood swings, general apathy and outright egregious offenses to their newly emerging independent identities – I’m here to tell you that traveling with teens can be amazing. I promise.
TASTE THE RAINBOW – TAKE YOUR TEENS TRAVELING
Teens are interested. (When you figure out what interests them.) And interesting. Truly. Teens have enough life under their belt to be able to make comparisons and understand contrasts. Teens are smart. They know things. They know A LOT OF THINGS. You don’t need to tell me mom. And when they share those things – when you let them – you both can learn.
Teens notice things. When you encourage them to look up from their screens. And it’s probably not the same things that you notice. It is fun seeing the world through their eyes. Through their filters. You, as the ever protective parent, will still be surveying the area like a ninja anticipating all potential threats, danger zones and subway gaps. They, on the other hand, will be the first to notice the cool guy with the colorful hair and anywhere that sells ice cream. Oh! Yeah. That is cool. I will continue to advocate travel with your potentially temperamental teen. But there are ways to make it easier. For you. And your teen.
TEN TIPS TO MAKE TRAVELING WITH YOUR TEEN AMAZING
I can assure that all of the following tips on how to enjoy traveling with your teen have been field tested. Thoroughly. We have experienced lots of trials. And errors. Every moment of every trip has not gone swimmingly. But that’s just life with a teen. And tweens, to be honest. It’s a gentle balance of lowering expectations while raising them at the same time. Let me explain.
1. Engage them in Travel planning
From the very beginning. Gone are the days that you can pick, plan and push your own agenda and expect perfect happy compliance. Believe me. I learned the hard way. Ask them where they would like to go. Make a list. A family travel wish list. Make sure to include potential activities that might interest them while in each location. Give them an idea of budget. More often teens have grandiose ideas of what travel means – being honest about costs can keep expectations in check. Let them suss out what costs what and then prioritize which activities hold highest interest. To them.
2. Keep them up to date on travel plans
Once settled in on a setting and some activities to pursue, keep them posted on what is happening when. If your teens are like mine, surprises can be upsetting. And they get a little suspicious. Wait, wait. Woah mom. Where are you taking us? Is this another one of your just one more block to see some old painting? Where are we going? Mom?! I hear that one a lot.
Let them know the plan for the next day and what is set and where there is wiggle room for improvising. I am not a scheduled person per se and travel with much more free flow without kids along. But I have found from first-hand experience that meandering seems meaningless to teens, without some sort of structure.
3. Balance between cultural and physical activities
My kids’ eyes start to glaze over when I mention the idea of stepping inside one more beautiful church. True story. I was literally told – after four days traipsing all over Rome, upon arriving in Florence – that I was allowed to take them to one church that day. One. OH, THE PRESSURE. (Side note – did I tell you I studied Italian Renaissance art at uni? I did? Then you understand how difficult that ultimatum was.) But I give. They give. It’s a balance. And just as I’m not interested in (or able to afford) ziplining through the jungle or scuba diving reefs every day, one church it is.
4. KEEP THEM FED
This seems simple. You’re a parent. You have always worried about providing well-balanced meals to help your children grow up healthy and strong. Don’t forget this on vacation. I’m serious. It’s easy to do. You get carried away with what to see, how to get there, what you are doing (having a great time of course because you have engaged your teens and kept them informed) that you forget to eat.
You are ok. You can handle it. Even if you feel a little famished, you don’t let it influence your perception of a place. But they do. Low blood sugar in hormonal teens is a very bad combination. Keep healthy snacks in the day pack to bridge gaps between meals. Everyone will be more receptive to that medieval castle’s display of gilt chalices that you are dying to get to. If they aren’t hungry. Don’t make your teen hangry. It’s not pretty.
5. Work With Their BiorHythms
Make sure they get enough sleep. My teens are notorious night owls. And they definitely sleep in. I programmed them well. From the beginning. Or maybe it’s genetic. Who me? *Wink, wink. But sleepy teens are about as much fun as hangry teens. Again. This seems straightforward, but if your teens naturally sleep in, don’t plan to take the first tour across town. Resistance. Push back. Humphing. Nobody likes humphing. Let them sleep. Go get a coffee with your partner, pick up some healthy snacks. Come back and then start the day. Less humphing. Usually.
6. Let them connect
Living in Copenhagen, my children all have phones. In Denmark, and Europe in general, children are afforded a greater independence and autonomy. My children make their way to school and activities on their own. I feel safer that they have a phone with them. With the phone comes social media applications. Kids want to connect. Let them. Not all the time while traveling. But give them some space and time to share their experiences with their friends.
When you are traveling together in close confines with the entire family jammed in a rental car or sharing a hotel room, that private space that teens crave can be lacking. Make sure your accommodations have wifi, or that you have a huge bank for data. Giving our teens some time each day to plug in and tune out or snap with friends seems to recharge everyone’s batteries.
7. Use technology to enhance travels
For teens who can’t live without the tether of their technology, give them a task. Download site specific apps and put them in charge. Many cities have apps that make public transportation tolerable. Download before you go and let them help with train routes.
Encourage them to search for what interests them and guide you to it when in town. Do you have a sneaker-head in your house? Have him look up where the local shops are and save them in Google Maps. (You can download specific areas to use offline.) Then let him take you on a tour to find them. We saw parts of Paris that I have never seen this way. He felt empowered. We enjoyed the enthusiasm.
8. Don’t ask for a selfie
But let them Snapchat away. They don’t want to associate with you – remember? This tip applies to photographing your teen anywhere in public in general. Nothing annoys my teens more than – hang on wait – let me get a picture of you guys! Wait, let those people leave, no, move over, stand this way, hang on, right…. THERE! In bodies that are changing and growing and taking up more space, being singled out and made to feel even more conspicuous as you attempt your perfect family Christmas card shot can feel like their seventh layer of hell. If you have a selfie taker and they are willing to take selfies with you – then, lucky you! If you don’t – don’t force it.
9. Arm them with cultural information
Teens can feel massively conspicuous in their own skin. Bodies growing at exponential rates, voices changing, hormones raging. Taking them to a foreign country, or even to a different city or state, can make that feeling grow by a factor of ten. Helping them blend in by understanding some background about where you’re headed will help. Give them a few phrases in the local language. Yes. No. Please. Thank you. No thank you. Excuse me. Start there. Helping them respect the culture you’re visiting will make them feel more comfortable and open to experiencing.
10. Respect their perspective
Your teens aren’t you. What? I know. Hard to believe. But get over it. They aren’t. They have opinions and feelings and approaches to life that you may not understand or even agree with always. I have to consider three very different approaches from my three very different kids. What is deemed a parental offense by one, may not bother the other. What one is willing to try, may mortify the other. Trying to be conscious of these differences is important. Challenging. But important.
Other Travel Bloggers with Teens Offer Their Tips
HILARY GUDGEL FROM HILARY STYLE ME
Hilary is a blogger currently living in Southern California with her two teen boys. She has taken them across Europe and Asia and has learned her own ways to engage them when traveling.
We all know teens can be a fickle bunch, so how do I get my 14-year-old to go with the program when traveling? Of course, every teen is different, and it changes by the hour, but here are a few of the tricks up my sleeve. Empower them! Give them the guidebook and ask them to choose three ideas that specifically interest them, then make sure to actually do one of them. Teens love their phones, ask them to use Yelp or other Internet tools to locate a good restaurant in the area, find out when the train is leaving or look up other information related to the day’s agenda. Visit somewhere related to their current studies! It’s always fun to be able to say, “Hey! I’ve been there!” when they return to school. When all else fails, appeal to their childish nature… Good Luck!
PHOEBE THOMAS FROM LOU MESSUGO BLOG
Phoebe has been traveling the world since she was 10 days old. Since then she has lived in 9 countries and traveled to 65. She has been taking her children along traveling since they were young and her 17-year-old has now been to 32 countries and her 11-year-old to 26. They have spent time on four continents and currently live in the Côte D’Azur, France.
Travelling with teenagers can be lots of fun, honestly, you just have to have the right expectations and work around their rhythms whenever possible/practicable, while taking into account the rest of the family too of course.
Here are some of the things we do in our family to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. Take a friend! Friends are so important to teens, way above family, that bringing along a friend if at all possible, changes everything (we do this a lot for day trips or weekend breaks).
Accept that the mobile phone will be omni-present and don’t fight it (too much!)
Try not to plan too much in any one day, allowing for down time in cafés with wifi, parks to lie in the sun etc.
Try not to have too many early starts – but when unavoidable accept that the teen will sleep on the tour bus/in the train and will not look out of the window marveling at the view but will therefore be on form for the actual visit/event later.
Allow independence, whether this means leaving the teen at the hotel/apartment for some time alone or letting them go to eat/shop without adults every so often.
Eat a lot! Teens are always hungry and get as grumpy as a toddler if not satiated. Accept that you can go to less “authentic” restaurants every now and then such as a burger chain, don’t get hung up on always having to eat local. After all eating MacDonalds on the Champs Elysée in Paris is an experience in itself even if it’s not one you’d ideally have!
Try and avoid queues – pay the extra for fast passes or research ahead of time the best way to avoid long lines as teens and waiting do not go well! Remember it’s their holiday too and hopefully it’ll be a great success.
CLARE THOMSON FROM SUITCASES AND SANDCASTLES
Clare is a former travel writer for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in England. Although her adventures may no longer include backpacking for six months in India, she believes strongly that traveling and culture with kids can be fun. Her two boys are just entering the teen zone, but Clare realizes the importance of engaging them from the beginning when talking travel.
My tip for travelling with teens is to get them as involved as possible with the planning so that they feel included when choosing where to go and what to do. Get them to do their own research about your destination and ask them to suggest places they’d love to visit – whether it’s a tourist attraction, a restaurant or a specific shop. When you’re there, let them take control by guiding you to their chosen sights and explaining what’s so special about it.Downtime is really important to teens so always factor in enough time for them to flop in your hotel or appartment before heading off on another family activity. And finally, try not to get too wound up when they revert to stroppy teen mode when they’re tired or hungry!”
HAVE TEENS WILL TRAVEL
I hope this list helps and encourages you to take your teens traveling. Been there done that? Have other ideas to engage and interest kids in this age group? I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments below!
Know someone who is about to tread in this teenagedom territory? Tell them about these tips.
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