Hold the sighing and the eye rolling! We’ve got some great tips to help make that summer trip with teens not only bearable, but a great trip filled with happy memories. And no, it does not entail giving them a fully loaded electronic device so that they can be on social media all day.
1. Research, research, research.
Start your planning early! Get the kids involved in the process. We start planning our summer vacation in January. It helps fight winter blues. We start by spending several Sunday afternoons combing through travel sections of our local bookstore calling out places we want to visit. Look at maps together to see where each of these places are located and what makes the most geographic sense. Once you narrow down continent, country and city (or cities), bring home one or two of those travel books to keep as a reference. Over the next few months, watch movies set in your destination of choice and read as a family, at least one book set in the city. Living in NYC, we usually have access to at least one restaurant featuring the flavor of the region we are planning to visit. Whether it be southern food or Bosnian food. If your restaurant choices are more limited, plan a fun family dinner at home trying out some of the flavor in your own kitchen. Armed with a little information and expectation, your teen will be excited about travel and much more engaged when he/she feels like it is their trip as much as it is yours.
2. Schedule downtime
Remember that what you view as valuable, together, family time, your teen may view as a complete invasion of space and privacy. Giving your teens some scheduled downtime will help them be more engaged when you hit that art museum later in the day. We try to break the day into chunks of organized activity and “free time”. Think, “you do this for me and I do this for you”. If teens know you are trying to work with them, and they will get some scheduled time for themselves, they will be more likely to cooperate (and maybe even participate!). This downtime could include time on a device, (which can be done while parents are soaking up the atmosphere at a cafe), or perhaps a little swim. We have managed to find someplace to swim in just about every city we have ever visited. Either a public pool, a hotel pool, or a swimming hole is almost always an option in the summer months. If you are traveling in winter, consider a hotel with an indoor pool. It’s remarkable what 2 hours in a pool or swimming hole can do to a teens attitude.
3. Makeshift scavenger hunts
Nothing gets a teen interested more than a little competition. Here’s their chance to finally show how smart they are – sometimes smarter than their parents! Scavenger hunts can be played (or invented) just about anywhere.
Here are a few ideas:
- Upon arrival in a new place, find the nearest newspaper kiosk and purchase a bunch of post cards of local attractions. Younger teens can be rewarded for pointing out the place on the postcard as you wander a city. Older teens can be given a map and can be rewarded for reading the map and leading the family to the attraction on the post card.
- Or, before you leave, Google the place you are visiting and ‘scavenger hunt’. It is surprising how many cities have objects that are specific to that city that can be fun to search for. For example, Zagreb, Croatia paints designs on their local water fountains and Siena, Italy has 16 little neighborhoods – each with a different symbol. It is a fun competition to see how many of these items can be spotted.
- Finally, Geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon that exists in so many cities. It’s super entertaining for teens to spend an afternoon searching for little gadgets or clues left by others from all over the world.
All of these hunts can be rewarded with souvenirs or financially. Financial rewards are perfect for the next point.
4. Give them some financial independence.
The key word here is independence. Because, let’s face it, that is all they really want. When teens are responsible enough to manage some money at home, they can manage it on the road as well.
Give your teen some walking around money (or have them earn it) so they can buy that trinket or that snack that caught their eye without having to come and ask you for it. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, just enough so there is a feeling of independence.
If you are traveling abroad, financial independence has the added benefit of forcing your teen to learn a little about currency exchange as well as how to communicate in another language.
5. Relax and be patient!
You may be ready to slip into vacation mode as soon as you lock your front door and head for that plane, train, or automobile. Give your teen some time to mourn their separation from their friends. Your teen may take a little while to come around but if you follow these tips, before long, he/she will surrender to the experience and might even have a few good memories to bring home!
See our post about packing tips for teens here!