Thinking about taking a trip with your teen or tween? Not sure how they’ll respond to your travel plans? Scared of what they’ll be like on the road, away from their friends and comfort zone? Trust me, you’re not alone.
As frequent travelers with both a teenager and a tween, we’ve witnessed the good and all the bad when traveling with someone whose moods and hormones can fluctuate like a duck on a pogo stick.
The good news is that you can travel with a teen!
Benefits of traveling with a teen or tween
Mood swings and occasional disdain aside, teens can make great travel partners. Not only are they now better at communicating, they can sit still for hours and can better occupy themselves during extended travel or down times. Some can even tolerate museums, art exhibits, and even enjoy the odd architecture tour, which is something we dreaded when our kids were younger.
Teens and tweens can also better create and hold onto memories than younger children can.
We’ve traveled with our children since they were babies, and it always surprises us of what they do and don’t remember about our previous travels. We’ve definitely discovered that they retain way more now, as well as better understand the cultural and historical significance of the places we often stop at. They even sometimes surprise us with their knowledge of certain events and people that made a landmark important in the first place.
Another big plus of traveling with teens is that teens and tweens can generally do the same physical activities we as parents enjoy, such as extended hiking, ziplining, biking, waterslides, and even going on scary amusement park rides.
Travel memories with your teen
I can now look back at certain moments of my childhood with a certain clarity. That’s right, I can remember in perfect detail what that 14 year old teenage me was thinking as I walked into a Disney theme park and compare it to the first time I went when I was only seven. I can even compare it against the 21 year old me’s thoughts as well.
To say that my memories and mindset were in vastly different places would be an understatement. I was at a different place in my life at each age. Not only were my expectations and enjoyment different, but I was different both physically and emotionally.
Trust me, you probably don’t want to know exactly what’s going on in your teenager’s head, however, if you realize that they’re their own person and have their own thoughts, expectations, problems, likes and dislikes, you’ve just discovered the best secret to successfully traveling with a teen.
Why you should travel with a teen or tween
As I get older, I realize I have years of my childhood where I have no significant memories, outside of a few school events or family emergencies. I’m guessing this is common for most of you. We often don’t remember the day to day events of our past and really, why should we?
The fact that I can remember our family trips so vividly is important because it not only gives me glimpses of my past, but helps me realize that the memories my kids carry forward likely won’t be the hours of video games we’ve played together, or throwing the ball around in the backyard or the neighborhood hikes, but of places and events so out of the ordinary that they create a time stamp of their past.
The reason I say that is because even though our teens and tweens are constantly marching towards adulthood, the memories they look back upon will likely determine how they move forward.
Isn’t a memory of shared time, exploration, discovery, adventure and culture one of the best gifts a parent can give their child?
Don’t believe me? In terms of travel, many families will look back at shared trips with a certain fondness, even though regular day to day family life was a struggle for them.
I think the reason for this isn’t the location or sights you see. Often, just the fact that you spend quality time with your teen, experiencing things together, trying new things, getting out of your normal habits and putting their enjoyment occasionally over your own, creates these lasting memories. The rest is just a bonus.
Understanding your teen
Every time I go back to Disney Parks as an adult, I’m reminded not so much how it’s changed, but how I have changed over the years and what my mindset was each time I went there.
The first time I went at age seven, my family took three weeks off and we all drove down to California to check out Disneyland. I can still remember most of the rides and the thrill at being at my first true amusement park. To say it was magical would be an understatement.
Fast forward seven years and now I’m walking into Disney World in Florida for the first time. Considered the jewel of the Disney empire, what did that 14 year old have to say as he crossed the fabled gates? “Ugh, how long do we have to be here?“
So what had changed? The park still had its familiar castle and rides, it had characters I grew up with both old and new, it had everything I remembered from that first visit and much more.
The difference was obviously me. I was going through the awkward growing pains of adolescence. Yup, I was in my teen years.
To make matters worse, I was there with my cousins who were so excited to be there that they could barely contain themselves. The moment we walked in they were literally vibrating with enthusiasm.
My parents, who were supportive as usual, couldn’t understand why I was so bitter. The truth is, even I didn’t know why. They had just spent a small fortune flying with a teenager out to California, and tickets to theme parks aren’t cheap.
I’m not exactly sure when or why it happened, but somewhere that day the unhappy teen cynic that I had become took the day off and I ended up enjoying myself no matter how hard I fought against it. Some might say that it was just the magic of Disney, but given the right circumstances, it could as well apply to any place in the world.
So, what can make even the sourest teen laugh out loud in delight? Well, let’s go over a few suggestions on travel with teens and let’s find out.
Tips for traveling with teens and tweens
Now that we have a teenager and tween of our own, we’re constantly trying to figure out new ways to appeal to their likes and dislikes, and also keep the whole family happy and entertained when we travel. If you have a tween or teen of your own you’ll understand. If yours aren’t there yet, just keep some of these travel with tweens and teens tips handy. You’ll thank us later.
Keep your teen informed
The most important thing we’ve discovered when taking either a teen or tween someplace down the street (or anyplace in the world for that matter), is to give them options and keep them in the loop. Younger children are often happy to just follow along, but teens like to know what’s going on.
Don’t worry about giving them too much information (unless they ask for more details), but make sure they know what’s going to happen beforehand.
Yes, your first instinct might be to skip talking about the two hour bus ride you all have to take, or the overly long airport connection you’re going to have to sit through, but all that’s going to happen is they’re going to resent you once it happens. Give them the info beforehand and tell them that it’s required to make this trip happen.
If your child understands it has to happen regardless of anyone’s choice, they’re more likely to go along with it and hopefully make peace with it before it even begins. There’s also the added bonus that they’re now in the adult loop, which is what most teens crave for anyway.
Telling them beforehand puts them in the right mind space and lets you prepare for possible fallout before it happens. Having a plan to tackle inevitable boredom with video games, books or pre-downloaded Netflix movies isn’t a bad idea either.
Get your teen on board
If you want your teen or tween to feel like this trip isn’t all just about what you want, get their input in the planning stages. Everyone is much more likely to go along with a plan they helped establish.
It doesn’t mean giving in to every one of their demands, but give them options and let them choose from what you find acceptable. If they really don’t want to go, give them a small win by letting them choose the restaurant you’ll eat at that night or picking out the next movie you all watch together.
It doesn’t have to be much, but teens often feel like they have no control over their lives, and often rightly so. If they feel like they can control one aspect of the trip, it should help with the rest of it.
Let your teen help plan the vacation
Want to get your teen excited about your next trip? Give them some material to research before you leave, whether that’s a guidebook, a YouTube video or a couple websites for them to peruse.
YouTube videos are a huge hit with our kids. We often search for videos of the places we’re thinking of going to, and watch them as a family.
Given a little nudge, you might be surprised what interesting research your children do on their own. Whether they read about it in school, have a friend who talked about it, or whether they saw it online, searching for a few answers to a question they have about a place can lead to a desire to find the answer out themselves. This desire can even lead to excitement and that’s the best any parent can ask for in regards to their teen.
Give your teen some space when you travel
Nope, not talking about Space Mountain (but that is an awesome ride for teens), the trick is to give your teen and tween room before and after the days major events. Whether you’re checking out an amusement park, walking through ancient cathedrals or hiking the alps, everyone needs a little time to decompress after a long day of seeing the sites.
Whether that means getting them their own room or just upscaling your accommodations for a bigger sitting area, we’ve found giving our teenager space to relax and unwind pays for itself in peace of mind for everyone.
Tip: At this point in their lives, teens are going through changes, both physically and emotionally. Give them a chance to recharge their batteries at their own pace and they won’t be such a drain on yours.
Split up the group occasionally
It hurts me to say it, but the truth is, not everyone loves roller coasters and not everyone likes magical rowboats. If you find yourself traveling with two or more children of different ages, their interests might not crossover so well. Accept that and split the group up as needed to keep everyone happy.
If you do split up, arrange meet up times so you can swap parents and make sure to choose some activities you’ll all enjoy together so you can make family memories you share. Travel means different things to different people. It only makes sense that your growing children have their own passions they want to follow too.
Let the older kids play
This one is hard for most of us to accept, but your older teen is almost an adult. If they’re comfortable exploring an area on their own, and it’s safe, let them. Just make sure that, as above, you have pre-determined times and places to meet up so you can all have some shared memories as well.
This applies to major sites and activities, as well as amusement parks. Smartphones make it particularly easy to regroup later.
We used to travel with walkie-talkies when the kids were younger. When one of us went to run an errand or take the kids to the beach or someplace similar, it made splitting up into teams so much easier to regroup after.
Schedule some down time
After traveling to more than 30 countries with our children, often for months at a time, the one thing we always make sure to do is schedule in some down days. Whether you’re visiting Disney World or Universal Studios with your teens, exploring quirky and unusual things to do in London, checking out the Louvre in Paris, or gallivanting around the Galapagos Islands with your tween, everyone gets burnout eventually.
When you’re tired and cranky, standing in line or waiting around in the sun can make a good day become a bad day. Unless you’re a family whose members all have extremely high energy, don’t schedule something for every second.
Instead, enjoy a day off in the pool. Hit up a spa while letting your teen get a few solitary hours full of gaming, watching YouTube, reading a book or even checking out their social media and chatting with friends back home. It will go a long way to making every memory a good memory and the holiday a success.
These days, we’d rather miss out on an “OMG, we have to see this while we’re here” place than overburden the family. If it’s high enough on the list, it will happen regardless and if it’s not, there’s always next time. For us, the flow of travel is often more important than the destination.
Choose your destination carefully
Your children are getting older. Soon they’ll be traveling on their own. Try to pick out places today that you’ll all enjoy experiencing.
If you crave a tour of Ireland’s pubs, or a quiet remote island getaway, it might be prudent to visit those after the kids have moved out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit certain places, it just means that you should consider what your family members will get out of the trip as well.
This realization has rearranged our travel lately more than anything. When our kids became teens and tweens, we realized that it opened up a lot of possibilities that we didn’t have when we traveled with young children.
For one, we can now go enjoy a parent’s night out since our kids are old enough to safely stay on their own for a few hours. We can now do activities that the kids were just too young to take part in like ziplining or mountain climbing. We can visit places we held off because the thought of little ones zooming around gave us panic attacks before we even got there.
On the down side, traveling with teens can get expensive quickly, since in most places they’re charged full adult fares. Don’t even get me started on their much bigger, and more expensive, eating habits. All these combined made us realize that traveling with teens is different than traveling with younger kids, but can still be just as rewarding.
Make your own memories
One of the biggest reasons people travel is to make new memories, to include special places and events that stand out from everyday life.
That’s why it’s just as important to not only see something you’ve only seen in print or online, but create a few strong memories to stay with you long after your trip has ended.
The truth is I’d rather have a single great shared memory of specific time and place with my teen than a jumble of memories all intertwined.
As an example I’m going to go back to the very first time I visited Disney when I was seven. After a very long day of rides, getting autographs signed and watching all the shows, my father and I were feeling burnt out. My older siblings wanted to go on a few more rides, but we needed a break.
My mom decided to take my brother and sister on a few of the bigger rides while my dad and I hung back. It turns out that my sister got motion sickness and my brother lost a shoe or something. It’s not my memory but it is one forever shared by my mother and her two tweens.
My memory is of my father and I stealing away into one of the little bakeries and each having a huge $5 piece of chocolate cake with a little blob of ice cream on it. Seeing this is well over 30 years ago, that was a lot of money for a piece of cake regardless of where we bought it.
The kicker? I can clearly remember my dad looking down at me and saying itwas worth it. To this day, I have yet to taste a chocolate cake that was as delicious and rich as that cake was and, for all the fun and excitement that day brought, that specific memory is still the most vivid of that entire trip and one of my most cherished.
Enjoy the moment
The fun part about when you travel with teens and kids in general is that you never know which moment will be the memory everyone keeps. For you, it might be having that perfect croissant while looking up at the Eiffel Tower with your children at your side. For your teen, it might be standing in line at the airport when someone’s bag failed to show up and their dad chewing out the poor baggage handler.
Teens have their own view of the world, and their own take on what’s important to them. Don’t be afraid to listen to them, they might shed light on things you’ve never thought of and have ideas you’ve never dreamed of.
Just realize that they’re people too and what’s important to them is what’s important to them. Understand that and you’re on your way to having one of the best trips of your life and a shared memory that will last forever.