At home and abroad, teenagers tend to get a bad rap. However, I absolutely love traveling with my teens. Having successfully graduated from the stroller-using, nap-needing, peek-a-boo-playing age, my teens are excellent travelers, full of curiosity, enthusiasm and only the occasional eye-roll.
Traveling through Europe with teens — with all its history, culture, and cuisine — comes with its own set of considerations, of course. After spending several weeks in Italy and France, I’ve rounded up my top tips for not just surviving, but truly enjoying Europe with teens.
Our teens were pretty savvy travelers before their first trip to Europe, and I knew it would be important to involve them as much as possible in our travel days. Before our trip, we decided on a set allowance for our kids during our travels. This spending money wasn’t just for souvenirs, but also for snacks, public transit and other necessities. Our teens took ownership of the Metro map in each city, taking charge of both navigation and ticket purchases … a skill I wanted them to learn, but that also made them feel important and trusted. They selected their own treats from bakeries and street vendors, and helped us shop in grocery stores and markets.
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Good news! Unless you’re willing to shell out the dough for an international data plan or card, your teens will be in ‘airplane mode’ in Europe. We found this to be a wonderful opportunity to teach them what life was like in the Dark Ages (just kidding … the Paris catacombs did that for us!). We explained the family rules for data usage before leaving home, so our teens were aware of the cost of roaming and texting, and made sure to give them moments of Internet binging too: we stayed in apartment rentals with WIFI, and allowed our teens relaxation time in the evenings when they could text friends and watch their favorite TV programs. This time allowed for some normalcy during a vacation spent in countries with different customs and different languages.
My teens know that when in Rome, we’re going to visit a lot of museums and historical sites. But everyone needs breaks from Renaissance art and cathedrals, including Mom and Dad. On our first day in Rome, we walked through Villa Borghese, the city’s biggest green space and park. We didn’t anticipate a return visit, but surprisingly found ourselves returning to this leafy green oasis several more times. We ‘wasted’ silly money renting roller blades, bikes and Segways for our boys in Villa Borghese, and were rewarded by their childlike laughter as they played in the park to burn off energy each afternoon.
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What do teenagers love almost more than anything? Other teens! One of our favorite moments in Paris came about unexpectedly — while strolling around Champ de Mars waiting for our entry time for the Eiffel Tower, our boys came across a pickup soccer match on the wide lawn overlooking the tower. When they were waved into the game by Parisian teens, they looked to me, wondering if playing for a while would interfere with our schedule. It did, but I didn’t mind; the half hour they kicked the ball around under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower became a highlight of their trip. These types of experiences can’t be planned, but you can make room for them by being open to detours to the day’s itinerary.
I don’t know about yours, but my teens eat a lot, and the European fine dining scene just isn’t meeting their current needs for calorie consumption. Accepting that there’s a time and a place for everything, I decided to reduce the number of elegant meals we enjoyed in Paris, Florence and Rome, opting for lots of street vendor food and hole-in-the-wall cafes instead. It turned out to be all kinds of awesome. We found tiny trattorias with soccer matches blaring from the TVs in the corner and crepe stands run by cheery expats.
Since most European hotel rooms sleep only two or three people, we opted to book full apartments with kitchens instead, which allowed us to save money and spread out, and cook some meals in. Our teens loved exploring local grocery stores, marveling at the different brands and ingredients found there. Note: Keep in mind that the legal drinking age is lower in Europe than in the U.S.; make a plan as a family for how you’ll handle this with your teens.
Above all, enjoy your time with your teens in Europe. While traveling with them, you’ll find yourself in a front-row seat as they discover new cultures, taste new foods and learn that the world really isn’t too big for them after all.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Whitley.
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