We just returned from a lovely vacation with the kids, which included 2 tweens and a teen. There were eye rolls, there was much sighing, and there was texting in the middle of the ocean. But in between, there were moments of bliss, family bonding, and memories captured on camera forever.
Travel takes on a different hue as kids get older. They're less excited about a week at the ocean and more concerned with a week away from friends. They want to pack and plan and make decisions for themselves while you already have a dream vacation in your head. True happiness falls somewhere in the middle.
With a little advanced planning and a slight shift in thinking, you can have amazing vacations with teenagers in tow — eye rolls and all. Here are 10 tips for traveling with teens and tweens.
Traveling with Teens and Tweens
- Provide a packing list, but let them handle it. They want to pack; you want to be sure nothing is forgotten. Compromise by providing a list of everything they'll need for your trip, then be okay with them forgetting things. They need to express their independence and ownership over their belongings. Let them, but provide a little guidance for them to fall back on. (And double check anything truly essential, such as medications.)
- Involve them in planning. As you plan your itinerary, ask older kids for input. If you find two similar routes for a road trip, let them choose which direction to take. Including their interests and opinions as you plan will ensure that they feel valued.
- Assign seats. Whether you are driving or flying, choose the arrangement that will feature the least amount of bickering and clash. In our case, that means tweens in the middle, teen in the backseat, with the annoying little sister as far away from the boy as possible. Plus, with assigned seats, you can avoid the seat calling that will ensue every time you get back to the car.
- Earbuds for everyone! I'm a big fan of limiting screen time, but this does not apply to long road trips. Bring your devices, but wear your earbuds. This avoids the clash of sounds from various games and stops the fight over who picks the music. Plus, you won't have to hear any of it!
- iTunes and Redbox are your friends. Little kids need new games and coloring books for the road. Big kids want new music, apps, and movies. Give them a small iTunes gift card to load new things to their iPods or iPhones, and grab new movies from Redbox before you leave. You can even stop along the way to return and rent new ones at just $1.20 each.
- Take the silly pictures. Your chances of getting good family photos on vacation drop significantly with each year into the teens. Snap away at the funny faces, give them the chance to take self-portraits, and step back to photograph from afar. Some of my favorite teen vacation pictures have been taken from way behind when they don't even know I'm looking.
- Accept the eye rolls. They'll complain; they'll pretend to be irritated; they'll roll their eyes. But in 20 years, the stories will all be about how awesome that trip really was.
- Allow for downtime. When they were younger, the kids needed a break from vacation for naptime. Now, they just need an hour away from their annoying parents. Take a break, give them some downtime, and the rest of the day will be that much better.
- Keep in touch with friends. O.M.G. Do you really expect them to go a whole week without talking to (insert friend here)? Feel free to limit texting, phone calls, and social media while you're on vacation, but provide a window for them touch base with their friends. It will give them some time to complain about you instead of to you.
- Let go. You're never going to have the picture perfect vacation that appears when you first start planning. Let go of that vision and enjoy the vacation you will have. Your teen will still be a teen. Your tween will still struggle between kid and young adult. Roll with it, and have an awesome time!
More Tips for Traveling with Kids
- 7 Tips for Road Trips with Kids
- 5 Tips for Traveling with Children
- Vacations for Kids of Varying Ages and Interests
Heather Sokol is mother to four amazing, active children. She’s a little bit crunchy, always opinionated and sometimes speaks geek, but not fluently. She just translates for her geeky husband and partner in life, parenting, and Studio 27. Heather writes based on her own life experiences, which turns into a variety of topics from dating the hubby to girls’ night to family fun, and everything in between.