Vacationing with Teenagers

Summer is rapidly approaching, and many of us are considering vacations. The only problem for many families is that parents aren’t sure they want to spend an entire week traveling with an eye-rolling, attitude-copping teen. Don’t bail yet! Traveling with your teen can be a great experience, if you just follow a few guidelines:

Let your teen have input.

From the very start, parents should involve teens in the vacation planning. Where you are going and what you will be doing when you get there are all important things that need to be decided upon. It helps a lot if you can think of trip planning in new terms: you suggest an itinerary but your teen has veto power. Find compromises wherever you can, because ultimately, everyone will be happier. For example, if you want to sit by the pool, but your teen wants to play in an arcade, then find an all-inclusive resort or cruise that takes both of these desires into account. Staying at a location with lots of attractions nearby will save you a lot of frustration and could potentially offer your teen some independence to do some things by themselves. If your teen’s number one priority is to go to the amusement park, make a deal with them to go if they will do something that you want to do on a different day. You can even consider having your teen plan out a day trip for the family. Show your teen how to use the Internet or a guidebook to find activity options and then commit to doing whatever your teen chooses for the day.

Avoid repetition.

Teens like variety, so make sure you mix things up on your trip. Don’t make an entire trip about one thing, such as visiting ancient ruins. Even if your teen is fascinated the first day, they won’t be happy two days later if you keep seeing different versions of the same thing. After spending a week in Arizona visiting Sedona and the Grand Canyon, my daughter famously complained that she spent her entire vacation “looking at rocks.” Do different types of activities on your trip. If you go to a museum one day, go on a hike the next.

Get good WiFi.

This one can’t be emphasized enough. The first question most teens ask about any hotel isn’t: Does it have a pool? What are the dining options? It’s always: Does it have good WiFi? Teens will likely log on to the Internet immediately after setting down their suitcases. If your WiFi is poor, you will get an earful of complaining for the entire week. It’s important that you prioritize WiFi in your bookings and bring LOTS of chargers for every device, OR that you give your teens plenty of warning that this is an electronic-free vacation and discuss how they can adjust to living a week without social media. If you are allowing electronic devices on the trip, make sure you discuss ahead of time any restrictions on screen time.

Give your teen the responsibility of having a trip budget.

Souvenirs and other purchases to keep the kids happy can quickly add up. That’s why it’s a better idea to give your teen a budget and let them make the decisions. Vacation is the perfect time to instill good spending habits and teach the life skill of budgeting. Determine if you will be giving your teen some spending money or not. Have your teen determine their total spending allowance for the trip by adding his or her own money to whatever amount you have decided to provide. Have your teen determine their priorities for spending during the vacation, such as buying tokens for arcade games or purchasing a t-shirt. Then have them research how much each of these priorities will cost. Subtract these things from the total amount they will have. If it doesn’t seem like enough, encourage your teen to earn additional money before the trip.

Give your teen the responsibility of his/her personal items.

Your teen is old enough to pack for a vacation. First, ask your child to write down everything they need or want for the trip. Review the list and add items you think they have missed, and talk to them about items you believe are unnecessary. Then give them appropriate luggage and a deadline for the packing to be done and ready for you to check – preferably a full day before vacation. Suggest your teen bring their list with them so that, when they are repacking to return home from vacation, they don’t leave any personal belongings behind.

Avoid rigid schedules.

Honestly, do not try to schedule every day when you’re traveling with teens. A jam-packed day of sightseeing just doesn’t work for adolescents. They’ll probably snooze through that walking tour of Rome you planned. They will wake up “not in the mood” for the waterpark. For a teen to really enjoy a vacation, they need plenty of sleep, no early rising, and some downtime. Remember that, to your teen, sleeping in might be one of the most important parts of the vacation. When you can, allow them this luxury. Perhaps you can agree that half of the days can be scheduled while the other half are free for them to approach the day how they want. Or maybe you can agree that everyone can do what they want in the morning (e.g. parents go to the spa while teen sleeps) and you’ll do something together in the afternoon.

Set the rules before you depart.

Your vacation should be a time to have fun and relax. The best way to make sure that your trip will be a great memory maker is to have clear communication between you and your teen about your expectations of their behavior before you leave on your trip. Items to discuss include times that your teen will be able to be on his/her own, curfew, and when everyone needs to be ready in the morning.

Allow everyone to indulge a little.

Lightening up is an important part of vacations. Although some rules are important, now is not the time to be overly critical or nit-picky. Think of the privileges you allow yourself on vacation – a little more dessert, staying up later, a little more TV, etc. Relax some of the less important family rules to give your teen some of those same indulgences. If you let some unimportant things slide you will have a better chance of keeping the peace and having everyone stay in a good mood. When fights or attitudes flare up, try not to dwell on them, but quickly move past it.

Let your teen bring a friend.

If you can arrange for one of your teen’s friends to join you on vacation, that can help keep your teen excited and engaged, and likely offer you more down time. If you decide to let them bring a friend, then set up a meeting time with the friend’s parents. Be clear about where you will be, providing an itinerary and contact information in case of emergencies, and also about what you expect from the friend – spending, packing, behavior, etc.

Final thoughts…

Despite the possible hurdles, you can make a family vacation with teens memorable and fun. Remind yourself that your teen will never be this age again and that, before you know it, they will soon be out on their own. Look at your kids with fresh eyes, notice what excites them, and be amazed at what they can do. The right attitude – yours and theirs – will ensure a wonderful adventure.

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