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Traveling with teens and traveling with toddlers isn’t so different. Both have energy to burn, tend to want to nap when you’re ready to move and require a constant stream of snacks and activities.
But it’s not all hard times.
Having my teens along on trips has meant trying activities that I would have never attempted without their push — sometimes literally. (Bungee jumping, anyone?) Desserts become mandatory, days start later and comfort zones suddenly come with bendable limits.
There is no question that when it comes to planning, having teens on a trip will change things. No longer children but not quite adults, their needs are specific, and travel planners looking to ensure a family trip goes off without a hitch would do well to keep that in mind. The good news is that once you win over the teens, you’ll win over the entire family. Happy teens mean parents can relax and enjoy the trip, too.
These tips, gleaned from experience, will help to ensure you’re putting together the kind of vacation that will impress and entice the teens before the trip begins — and turn them into travel fans when it’s over.
Skip the Museum, Hit the Streets Advisors often think the best way to expose a family to a city’s art treasures is through a traditional museum. For many teens, just the mention of a museum outing is enough to cause eyes to glaze over.
Instead, select tours that can offer some history while also showcasing art and the outdoors in a way that will resonate with rebellious spirits.
In Johannesburg, South Africa, the Past Experiences Street Art and Graffiti walking tour is a partnership with local communities. Guides showcase the street art, murals, graffiti and architecture of this vibrant city. Similarly, on the Where the Wall tour in Bristol, England, teens can snap photos of original Banksy murals while also learning about the history of the destination. And because guides are used to school groups, they know how to keep teenagers engaged.
Don’t walk when you can ride Young travelers like to move, and any tour you can offer that swaps two feet for a set of wheels is bound to get their attention. There’s something about the freedom of individual mobility that can turn a sullen teen into a happy participant. Options range from Segway tours to biking outings. If a tour is too long, consider providing options for bite-size activities that are close to the hotel so that families can easily call it quits if the fun starts to wane. Taking advantage of local skate parks (with rentable blades, bikes or boards) will ensure that some energy is burned.
Hands-On Learning Wins the DaySkip the school-like lecture, and book activities that offer education through experience. From surfing lessons in California to pizza-making lessons in Italy, teens will be more likely to participate if it seems fun and unique. The fact that they will also be learning about the area’s history and culture is a secret you can share with their parents.
Shake Up Their Culture OptionsTrying to incorporate cultural activities into a family trip with teens can be tough. And donning a suit and tie isn’t often high on vacation wish lists. Instead, consider options that play to their pop-culture leanings. With the popularity of the play “Hamilton,” an upcoming exhibit in Chicago next year that focuses on the play will likely be a hit. Parents who want to work in some Shakespeare should consider an in-the-park version in the summer months over a traditional production. Pointing to popular movies and television shows that are filmed in a destination (whether through official tours or just providing a map that outlines cool spots) is another great option for keeping destinations interesting.
Hands-on cultural activities, such as cooking classes, are better for young people.Credit: 2018 Getty Images
“Insta-worthy” travel moments are important to teens.Credit: 2018 Getty Images
Make sure teen travelers have plenty of opportunities to pursue their interests on family trips.Credit: 2018 Getty Images
Book unusual tour options whenever possible.Credit: 2018 Getty Images
Families bond when adults also participate in activities.Credit: 2018 Heather Greenwood Davis
Teens like to travel with people their own age.Credit: 2018 Getty Images
Make It Insta-Worthy This generation of digital natives is online. Instead of fighting it, offer up opportunities for them to participate in the day’s activities while also recognizing that they’ll want something they can share with friends, fans and followers. Consider including suggestions of “Insta-worthy” spots along with the itinerary you provide. Many cities now have giant sign statues or outdoor sculptures that people can pose with. One example: In C.S. Lewis Square, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, you can strike a pose with Aslan, a fictional character from “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series, in the city that was the birthplace of the author.
While many of the spots where teens will want to strike a pose are likely in or near places you would recommend families visit anyway, highlighting them on a list is similar to the scavenger hunts you might provide younger kids. And teens will have an extra reason to be interested, while parents can dig deeper into the area’s other gems.
Give Them SpaceYes, this is a family trip, but teens who aren’t used to spending 24 hours a day with their parents may start to get irritable quickly. Offer up options from the beginning that will give them a safe, easy way to take some time for themselves. All-inclusive resorts that offer age-appropriate teen clubs are one option. On group trips involving multiple families, consider implementing teen tables at one meal per day so young people get a chance to get to know each other. Cruising is another great option: Ships are big enough to offer some independence without the concern that anyone will stray too far.
Increase the Food OptionsTeens and snacks go hand in hand, and nothing will send a family trip off the rails faster than a grumpy, hungry teenager. While adults can manage their emotions in between meals, kids often can’t. Consider having a snack basket on a bus tour, arranging for snacks to be in a hotel room on arrival or building the food right into a touring option. In Chicago, the Pizza City USA tour takes in four pizza parlor stops with plenty of samples. Families get a history of the city and teens are kept full and satisfied. On an excursion with Vancouver Foodie Tours through Granville Island market, teens and their parents will love the connections made while tasting a variety of snacks from the many ethnic groups that call the city home.
Booking families on an organized food tour isn’t your only option. Including a list of local grocery stores or cool local snack options can really help families help themselves.
Safe Adrenaline BoostersSometimes the difficulty with planning family travel is that while teens are looking for opportunities to get their endorphins going, parents aren’t necessarily as keen on that goal. Help parents get onboard by pointing out that joining teen-focused activities can really help strengthen family bonds. Build in options that seem dangerous but have safety measures parents can trust. Coasteering in Wales, waterfall climbing in Jamaica, dune boarding in Namibia and ziplining in Costa Rica are all great outings whose risk factors can be mitigated by choosing great outfitters. Providing parents with information on company safety will help to put minds at ease.
Cruelty-Free Animal InteractionsTeens are savvier than ever: They understand the problems with riding elephants or swimming with captured dolphins, and ignoring their concerns can prove disastrous. Instead, opt to include opportunities for wildlife interactions that have taken those kinds of issues into account. Sanctuaries offer a chance for a do-good interaction and learning experience. Safaris keep the wild in the wild. And trips that encourage snorkeling in areas where marine life can be observed — but not disturbed — will keep you in teen travelers’ good graces.
The DetailsPast Experiences Street Art and Graffiti www.pastexperiences.co.za
Pizza City USAwww.pizzacityusa.com
Vancouver Foodie Tourswww.foodietours.ca
Where the Wall www.wherethewall.com