Family travel is an evolving art. There is no better travel tool than experience, but as kids grow older, there’s a natural progression in the hows, wheres and whens of traveling as a family. Trouble is, it’s sometimes hard for parents to grasp until they find themselves on a family trip that doesn’t quite go the way they hoped.
A good family vacation should have something for everyone, including parents. When my girls were infants and toddlers, I looked for and traveled to places that had a family-friendly culture. We spent three weeks traveling through Japan, armed with kids’ backpacks and train tickets, and it seemed as though everywhere we went, people smiled and made a fuss over our girls.
When the school-age years came, I looked for destinations I thought would be entertaining and enjoyable, while at the same time trying to sneak in a little learning on the sly. We splashed our way past castles along France’s Dordogne River and explored Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, the last cave in Europe with multicolored cave paintings that’s still open to the public.
When we needed a true relaxing vacation, we successfully tested resorts with long lists of fun, family-friendly activities and kids’ clubs, like the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach, California.
Families often talk about how much easier traveling is when kids get older and you can leave all the baby gear at home. And though it’s a definite turning point, allowing most families to travel lighter and smarter, in my experience the biggest family travel transition occurred when my kids became teenagers.
Teenagers have an often undeserved negative reputation as difficult travelers. Don’t get me wrong, I agree they have their moments, but if you can stop and put yourself in their shoes it’s often fairly easy to see where they are coming from.
As a teenager, my oldest hit a point where it seemed she had lost interest in traveling. (I wasn’t the only person who noticed. My very smart tween daughter, I think, was actually the first person in the family to unofficially acknowledge it, jumping at every opportunity to travel with me and without her sister.) The change of traveling heart also coincided with starting high school.
Turns out she still loved to travel, she was just being a bit more choosy. Knowing that missing school was now much harder, she was determined to make every trip count. And it’s worked for her and the rest of the family. She didn’t stress out or complain about missing school or friends for a trip to the Florida Keys that took us to Cheeca Lodge.
A small number of steps can make a big difference in your next family vacation with teenagers.
Don’t just spring a trip on teenagers. Talk to them before you book and let them have some input. I’m not saying they get to decide the when and where, but letting them be involved and make some choices fosters a sense of ownership and excitement. It can be anything from activities and tours to picking the restaurant the first night you’re in town.
On a family trip to Santa Cruz, I was thinking of planning an activity the night we came into town, but after my daughter checked out the Hotel Paradox online, she asked if we could just relax at the hotel and enjoy what looked to be a great nighttime pool. We did, and she was spot on.
Don’t schedule their days from start to finish. Teens don’t need or want their parents to try and fill every minute of their day. This is one of the biggest differences between teens and the school-age set. Whereas younger ones seem to thrive going from arts and crafts to scavenger hunts to puppet shows, teens are happy to do a lot of what can seem like nothing.
Walking the dog isn’t the most popular chore at my house, but at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello, my daughter was all smiles after spending more than an hour walking Canine Ambassador Monte around the hotel property.
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Don’t start every day at the crack of dawn. Sleeping in is one of the best things about vacation. If your kids are sleepers, give them some time to do it. I’m a morning person, so this one was tough for me, but I’ve learned to cherish the “me” time. I do things the rest of the family probably won’t want to do, like go running to explore the area, watch the sunrise or walk on the beach.
Staying somewhere with plenty of wiggle room, like Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, makes sleeping in easier. Since the family isn’t jammed into one room, early risers are less likely to wake everyone else.
Give them room to roam. Obviously, when you select your destination and hotel or resort, safety plays a factor. But when I make a reservation, I try to get as many details about the property’s grounds as possible so I have an idea of how much freedom my daughters will have once we arrive. This doesn’t mean resorts have to have security guards everywhere. At Yasawa Island Resort & Spa in Fiji, within hours of your arrival, a majority of the staff will recognize your child and most likely even know her name. I would have no worries about leaving a teen by the pool while parents are on paddleboards. It’s a resort where teenagers can wander freely with watchful, caring eyes everywhere.
Let them have space away from the family. Don’t be offended if your teenager makes a new friend and wants to leave the rest of the family in the dust. Be open to compromise, and allow for some joint activities in your comfort zone. The rooftop pool at the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara is a perfect, safe setting for new friends to hang out.
Don’t unplug them completely. It seems even in the most remote locations these days, you can get internet access. Encourage the kids to enjoy a break from their phones and other electronic gadgets, but don’t take them away completely. If you let your teen use popular social media like Instagram and Snapchat at home, don’t change the rules on vacation.
On a trip to Costa Rica, my daughter was the first one ready for dinner. While waiting for the rest of the family in the reception area of the Laguna Lodge, she had a full conversation with a friend on vacation in Lake Tahoe, California. Yep, even the jungle has internet.
Have any tips for traveling with teens? We’d love to hear. Share and comment below.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Virtuoso.
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