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
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.
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
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.
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
...... 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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