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Survival Guide for Traveling with Teenagers....
You CAN have fun!

by Mitch Kaplan

It may seem self-contradictory - traveling with your teens. After all, the last place they seem to want to be is with you. But, despite their ambivalence about associating with parents, they welcome the chance to explore, to expand their own horizons, to do "cool" things and to meet people. Indeed, travel surveys show that the number one thing that adolescents like about traveling is making new friends.

Involve Them in Planning Decide where the vacation will take place. Then bring your kids into the planning process. Arm them with material about your destination - brochures, books, maps and websites - so they'll feel like they have enough information to be taken seriously. Look for pop culture landmarks--movie locations, fashion palaces or music venues or sports events. Answer their questions. Teenagers are particular and want to express their opinions; they appreciate being able to influence the planning process. Often they'll offer a great suggestion or an activity that you hadn't considered. The getaway is much more enjoyable when everyone wants to be there.

Serve Their Interests Make sure the pilgrimage takes you to a special point of teens' interest (a certain skateboard shop, MTV Studios). That will make the whole trip "worthwhile." And, they thrive in safe, explore-it-on-your-own situations like Colonial Williamsburg, Ocean City (Maryland or New Jersey), Disneyland or Disney World. Self-contained resorts that offer teen programming also work well. Smugglers' Notch in Vermont, for example, offers adolescents a wonderful combination of organized activities, close (but not too-close) supervision and a cool place to hang out.

No Fools, They Don't try to convince these savvy kids that they'll have more fun with you than they will with their friends. They won't. But if you offer them the possibility of doing things they might want to tell their friends about later, they'll be interested.

Can I Bring a Friend? This is touchy. In the end, it depends on the friend. If you know and trust the friend, and know the friend's family, chances are you'll do alright. If you decide to take the friend along, set some grounds rules first: who pays for what; a review of your vacation planning; any special areas of behavior in which you expect cooperation; etc.

Night Moves Sure, sure - your body can't make the late-night scene so readily anymore. But, a vacation provides a great time to go with your teenager to a music club or a midnight movie, or on a moonlight hike. Go to the theater or the ballet; check out a jazz club. If your other kids needing earlier bedtimes, take turns with your spouse on going out at night with the older kids.

Give Them Options You don't need to go everywhere with everyone. If your younger child wants to go see the dinosaurs at the museum, split up. Dad and son see the dinosaurs, mother and daughter shop or take in a movie or a play. If you have a teenager who wants to sleep-in, let him snooze late a morning or two while you and the younger siblings and take a walk or hunt seashells. But, set a wake-up time the night before to minimize the early-rising grouchies.

And Give Them Freedom Adolescents are programmed to push away from you. Choose a vacation spot that is safe and controlled enough to allow them to wander or spend time with other teenagers. Not possible? Look for an afternoon or evening at a controlled hangout place like a mall; even major cities like New York City offer such alternatives - Chelsea Piers, for example. Give them the night to themselves at a waterpark or amusement park. Send them off to the ranger campfire when at a national or state park; sign up beach vacationers for an afternoon's surfing lesson.

Headphones Yes, those things can be annoying. But, headphones allow teens to create their own space even when they're with others, and that can be a safety valve. But, try to agree before the trip on some parameters. One we've have employed is "no singing out loud while listening to the 'phones." Non-headphone time should be stipulated, as well, so you don't begin to feel as if they're being used to keep other family members and the trip itself at a distance. If you're traveling by car, take turns choosing the radio station or CD.

Don't Make Your Teenager the Built-in Baby-Sitter Yeah, sure - you want a night to yourselves. But, keep those situations to a minimum and, when you do have "parents night out," make it special for the kids, too. Let them order videos and room service, for example, or participate in age-appropriate hotel programs.

Let Them Shop Look for street markets and vintage stores. Spend time in surf shops, skate shops and record stores. If you go to places like these with your teenager, you may find that the conversation there flows much more easily. Or hit the outlets - many a summer vacation has included a day of back-to-school shopping.

Just Say Yes to at Least One Big-Ticket Excursion Yes, that tour may look expensive. But, many of these offerings, typically available through the hotel sports desk or concierge, provide memorable and important experiences that parents cannot offer by themselves. A raft ride, a desert jeep tour, a kayak and snorkel trip, a horseback trail ride - each took us far into the country we were exploring, and each was worth every cent. Or let the teenager sign up for a lesson, like surfing, sailing, rock-climbing.

More Survival Tips here.

...... Mitch Kaplan is the author of "The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids," a contributor to "The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids," and the author of "The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach" and "The Golf Book of Lists".

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