The lessions we learned when travelling with our teenage daughter and son:
Involve your teen in trip planning – involving your teen in trip planning is key.
Even though your son or daughter will likely respond with a casual “whatever,” it’s important to include them in the trip planning process. Just like adults, teens want to be heard. And the more they’re involved in the early stages, the more likely they will be engaged and the less likely they are to complain during the trip.
This is also a great opportunity for kids to learn about compromise. Our children and us discuss locations, things to do, costs, methods of transportation and so on. In fact, they usually picks our next destination themselves. If either one of us has a particular interest, then we pay attention to that as well during the planning phase. For instance, this year we celebrated my birthday in Paris, and when we were in Rome, we made a point of visiting the Pantheon because it had been featured in one of my son’s favourite video games.
Use packing to teach accountability – let teens be in charge of packing their own bags; it teaches accountability and the importance of planning ahead.
So many parents pack for their teen in a panic: What if they forget their toothbrush, their underwear, their iPad? But part of growing up is learning accountability. Will the world really end if they have to buy a new toothbrush or, heaven forbid, endure a morning with bad breath? (I see the self-proclaimed control freaks wincing at this notion.)
On the other hand, my son has a tendency to forget important items, which often ends up causing both of us some frustration. Packing is a great time to teach your teen the value of planning and generating lists. Sit down with your kid and have him or her come up with a packing list. That way, things don’t get left behind and travel days are much less stressful.
When they want to pack too much, just remind them they are in control of their bag, which means they will be carrying it through the airport, lugging it to the car, and pulling it into the Hotel. If you are flying, make sure they understand that bags need to be under a specific weight. If they need to make adjustments, it’s better to let them make those decisions. It’s all part of the growing up.
Plan for downtime – downtime is crucial for teens, even on holiday.
When travelling with teens to a new place, there is an incredibly strong temptation to rush about and not miss anything. However, a jam-packed day of sight-seeing just doesn’t work for teens.
Most teenagers sporadically get into hermit moods when they need their space. You may want to spend time together, but your child will be happier with some time alone during the journey—or at least time when they aren’t constantly on the move.
Deal with screen time – fact: teens are glued to their phones. Give a lesson in compromise by working with your teen to decide when and where screen time is appropriate while on vacation.
It can get frustrating always looking at your teenager’s face over some sort of electronic device. On holiday, some parents encourage their kids to leave their electronics at home. But I’ve found this is another opportunity to teach compromise.
Work out periods of time when screen time is acceptable. On the airplane, the train and long bus rides, why not let them disappear into their devices? It will make getting their attention much easier later on. For gamers, work with them to come up with times like these that are a win-win for everyone.
After all, it is their holiday as much as yours, and you’re never going to convince them to ditch the digital world entirely.
Photograph like a teen.
Your child may take 20 selfies in five minutes, but that doesn’t mean they will pose graciously for you when you want a family picture. Usually the first few times will be met with cooperation, but after that, expect “the look.”
If you have a surly teen, try to restrict the number of photos you take with them. Make sure they are really worthwhile shots, in worthwhile locations. Alternatively, you can invite them to join you in a selfie. This works better than other methods because they understand the value of selfies in social media, and generally are happy to lend their cool factor to your profile. It is even easier to capture a photo with your teen if you have them take the photo with their own device, allowing them to edit and post it on their own social channels.
Teens don’t always share our penchant for history and culture. After spending a lot of time in South America, we began to hear “More ruins?” in an exasperated tone. In Thailand, it was “Another temple?” After a few months in Europe—“I’m tired of churches and castles.”
Again, this is where compromise comes into play. If we spend a day doing mostly things we are interested in, the next is all about them. While visiting Ecuador, we spent one day visiting cathedrals, churches, cemeteries and local markets—not exactly riveting attractions to a teen. The next day was theirs, and they opted for a lazy day, which meant we didn’t see the outside of our hotel room. At Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, they stayed at the historic hotel while we went out to see the sights. Other times, they will tag along and hang out outside the “boring” church/castle/temple while we go exploring.
Compromise with food – don’t stress if your teen is not as eager to try new foods as you are. Even hamburgers and hot dogs can turn into memorable meals when ordered in other countries.
For many adults, one of the joys of travelling is experiencing new food. Any time we are heading to France, we dream of the fabulous wine, baguettes, cheese and crêpes. When looking at a menu with items such as tongue tacos, however, my son will sigh and tell people, “My dad will eat almost anything.”
Most of the time they can find something to satisfy their finicky appetite, but sometimes they just wants something that is familiar. While watching your teen eat macaroni and cheese in Thailand may make your inner foodie weep, give the kid a break and withhold that “but-you-can-get-that-at-home” plea on occasion.
Expect post-trip abandonment – teenagers may run off to spend time with their friends once you return home, but they’ll always cherish the times you spent travelling together.
Don’t take it personally when you return home and your teen quickly puts distance between you—it doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy the journey. At this age, their world revolves around their peers. It’s all part of stretching their wings as they prepare to leave the nest.
We have had plenty of lovely talks with college-age adults who reminisce about how they complained almost non-stop during family vacations, but add that those times remain some of their favourite family memories.
Someday your kids will thank you. It may not be until they’re 23, but it will happen.