Travel tactics: Mastering the family vacation when you have teens

Embarking on a family vacation with teenagers can sometimes feel like navigating a maze blindfolded. As a parent, you’re torn between excitement for the journey ahead and the inevitable eye rolls and sighs that may accompany your well-intentioned plans.

As we all start to plan our summer vacations, fear not, as I am going to try and lend a helping hand. With a dash of humour, a sprinkle of dad wisdom, and a pinch of patience, you can turn your family vacation into an unforgettable adventure for all.

I just want to note that I only have a year of experience when it comes to traveling with teens and our trip to New York City last summer for the most part had no issues with the typical teen characteristics. But for those who are really looking for some help, let’s dive into some tried-and-true tips for making those teenage family vacations truly memorable.

family trip with teens

Mastering the family trip with teens

  1. Involve them in the planning process: Your teens might just surprise you with their travel savvy. Before booking flights or packing bags, gather the family around for a planning session. Let them have a say in choosing the destination, activities, and even accommodations. Involving them in decision-making not only fosters excitement but also ensures that everyone’s interests are taken into account. Consider sitting down with a map or browsing travel websites together to spark ideas and discussions. This collaborative approach sets the tone for a vacation where everyone feels invested and engaged from the get-go. While my wife and I still have the final say, we have included the boys a lot more in the planning stages, especially on the where. For example, now that boys are older, we can’t just go to a rental in the woods and expect them to have fun. They need high amounts of stimulus and activity. Probably why our New York trip last year worked out so well. That being said, we are not ruling out relaxing, do nothing vacations. They will figure it out.

  2. Embrace the tech: Smartphones and tablets are a staple of teenage life, so why not put them to good use? Encourage your teens to research attractions, restaurants, and local events using apps and websites. You might be amazed at what hidden gems they uncover. From crowd-sourced review platforms like TripAdvisor to travel planning apps like TripIt, technology offers a wealth of resources for crafting the perfect itinerary. Just remember to set some boundaries to ensure that screen time doesn’t overshadow family time. Consider implementing designated “tech-free” periods during meals or downtime to encourage face-to-face interaction and foster deeper connections. In my experience, the tech takes care of itself on vacations. Downtime like waiting at the airport is fine. But at least with our boys, if we are experiencing a new city or having fun on a new adventure, they forget all about their devices other than the part of taking photos or videos. Then when it’s chill time back at the hotel, they get their fix of TikTok or video games.

  3. Flexibility is key: Plans are made to be broken, especially when teenagers are involved. While it’s essential to have a rough itinerary, be prepared to roll with the punches. Teenagers are notorious for their ever-changing moods and interests, so be flexible and open to spontaneous detours. Embrace the unexpected and let serendipity be your guide. Who knows, that impromptu detour to a roadside diner might lead to the best pie you’ve ever tasted or a chance encounter with a local musician. By relinquishing control and embracing the unknown, you open yourself up to a world of unexpected adventures and unforgettable memories. I don’t even see this as a teen thing. You need to be able to be flexible when on vacation. Sometimes the weather is just bad. Sometimes the thing you want to attend is full. Sometimes someone will eat too much and just feel like crap. It’s all about making the most of the adventure and not getting too bummed out if things don’t go 100% as planned. To be honest, in my case, our teen is much more flexible than I am. I am the one that will get a bit annoyed when plans change, not so much him. There is a lot to learn from your kids still.

  4. Find common ground: Despite the generation gap, there’s bound to be some overlap in your interests. Seek out activities that cater to everyone’s tastes, whether it’s hiking in nature, exploring historical landmarks, or indulging in adrenaline-pumping adventures. Shared experiences create lasting memories and strengthen family bonds. Consider brainstorming a list of activities that each family member would like to try and look for opportunities to combine them into a cohesive itinerary. For example, if your daughter is into art while your son is a history buff, consider visiting an art museum with a special exhibit on ancient civilizations. By finding common ground, you ensure that everyone feels included and valued throughout the vacation. When we were in New York City, we really tried to cater to the boy’s interests. Anime stores, thrift shopping and new food options that we don’t have in Canada were high on the list. This made the boys more likely to be interested in what the parents wanted to do like wander around Central Park and take in some of the historical vibes of the city. When traveling with teens, it’s really key to make it a fun time for everyone and not just dictate what the plan is.

  5. Create space for independence: Teenagers crave independence, so give them the freedom to explore within reason. Whether it’s allowing them to roam around a new city solo or giving them their own budget for souvenirs, empowering teens to make choices builds trust and confidence. Consider setting ground rules and safety precautions to ensure their well-being while still allowing them the freedom to spread their wings. For example, establish a designated meeting point and check-in times if they’re exploring a new city on their own. By striking a balance between freedom and responsibility, you provide your teens with the opportunity to develop crucial life skills while still feeling supported by their family. Using the New York example again. We did not let our teen run wild even though he really wanted to. But I did take him out at night to experience Times Square. We did leave the boys in the hotel on their own while we went out for a drink. Those small things help them gain independence and have a bit of excitement. It also creates a comfort level for the future for both the parents and the kids.

  6. Don’t underestimate the power of food: A well-fed teenager is a happy teenager. This is a good tip in general, but especially on trips. Keep the gas tank full and things will go a lot smoother. We try to encourage our kids to embrace the local cuisine and try new dishes. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than watching them eat chicken tenders everywhere. Food has a magical way of bringing people together and creating moments of joy, so don’t skimp on the culinary adventures. Research local eateries and food markets ahead of time to discover the best spots for sampling authentic dishes. In New York City we kind of revolved our day to day activities around food and what food was next. Thankfully that was pretty easy to do in one of the tastiest cities there is. But I really do recommend doing research ahead of time. Consider organizing a food tour or cooking class to immerse yourselves in the local culinary scene and learn more about the culture through its cuisine. By prioritizing food as a central aspect of your travel experience, you not only satisfy your hunger but also nourish your soul and create lasting memories around the dinner table. Who knows, you may add some new regular meals to the rotation once you are home.

  7. Capture the moments: Encourage your teens to document their travel experiences through photos, videos, or journaling. Not only does this preserve memories, but it also provides a creative outlet for self-expression. Our teen took a lot of photos in New York City and was quite proud if the “cool” shots he was able to get. Definetly memories to look back on. Invest in a durable camera or smartphone case to protect your devices during outdoor adventures and sightseeing excursions. Consider creating a shared photo album or blog where each family member can contribute their favourite snapshots and stories from the trip. By documenting your travels together, you create a tangible record of your shared experiences and create a treasure trove of memories to look back on for years to come. I would also add, include them in what photos you will share on Instagram or with family.

  8. Laugh often, laugh loudly: Traveling with teenagers isn’t always smooth sailing, but it’s these moments of chaos and hilarity that make for the best stories later on. Embrace the mishaps, roll with the punches, and remember to laugh often. From missed flights and lost passports to language barriers and cultural misunderstandings, every travel hiccup is an opportunity for growth and bonding as a family. This is easy to say and hard to do. After getting off a flight once, we realized our oldest had left his phone on the plane. It was highly stressful and not fun at the time. But the memory is something we all look back at now and laugh. Instead of getting bogged down by the inevitable challenges of travel, approach them with a sense of humour and resilience. By laughing together in the face of adversity, you not only defuse tension but also create enduring memories that will be cherished for years to come.
family trip with teens

So to wrap this up, traveling with teens may present its challenges, but with the right mindset and a sprinkle of humour, it can also be an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience for the whole family. So pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready for a journey filled with laughter, love, and unforgettable memories. After all, it’s not about the destination, but the journey along the way. Happy travels.