More than a decade ago, our young family embarked on our first travel adventure. Our boys were just 8 months old and 2 years old at the time. We packed our double Graco stroller, a suitcase full of diapers, a sippy cup or two and off we went. We spent a month in Greece navigating the cobble-stoned streets of Athens and island beaches. Did we face challenges? You bet’cha! It was exhausting and wonderful all at the same time, sort of like that early morning pilates class you almost pressed snooze on.
Now those same two boys are in their tween and teen years. We have continued to travel the globe together and have explored 27 countries in the past 12 years. While many things have gotten a whole lot easier, it would be a lie to say that now travel is just easy-peasy all the time. Challenges still present themselves. A family trip without any trials at all simply doesn’t exist. Have you heard the quote, “Nothing easy is ever worthwhile”?… Well, traveling with kids (of any age) certainly fits under that umbrella. Each stage has its own challenges and the tween and teen years are no exception. Learning to adjust and be flexible with each new phase has allowed us to embrace and especially celebrate our boys as they grow.
Like a rite of passage, we have now traded in those sippy cups and diapers for body odor, a good dose of eye-rolling, and acne. But we’re happy to report that family travel is still alive and well in our tribe. Keep reading to find out what we’ve learned, how we’ve adjusted and why we choose to travel with our (big) kids.
1. Get buy-in
As the boys have grown physically, so has their desire for their opinion to be heard. It’s important to involve everyone in the decision making process for your next family trip. Your teens will be far more interested in the destination and the things you’ll be doing and seeing if they have had a part in choosing it. It may not be practical to let them choose every aspect of your vacation, but figure out what parts they can have some control over. Consider having a family planning meeting. Have travel brochures, maps and websites ready to view to get everyone excited and find out what they’re most interested in. Consider letting each person in your family be in charge of a whole day.
2. Let them pack
Give them a suggested packing list, and then leave them to it. If you’re a control freak like me, this will be hard one. I often care too much about what clothing shows up in family pictures and whether or not everyone will have what they need. But packing for a trip is a great way for your tween and teen to make some of their own decisions, learn responsibility and also face the inconvenience of not being prepared if they didn’t bring something that was on the list.
3. Give them freedom
Teens naturally start to separate themselves from their parents a bit and this is no cause for alarm. It’s a natural part of maturing and growing up. So for some kids, the thought of a family vacation in which they will spend every breathing moment of every single day with their parents and siblings may sound like torture. Recognize they need some privacy and time to themselves and build that into your plans.
4. Be flexible
As parents it’s easy to get caught up in the expectations you have for a family vacation. You may be dreaming of long walks on the beach, educational museum tours or gourmet meals at cute sidewalk cafes. Learning to let go of your expectations will put everyone in a better position to have a good time. Parenting in general requires flexibility and traveling with adolescents does as well. After all, the whole point of the family trip is to make lasting memories together. It’s the little moments, the laughter, and the conversations that matter. It’s not the to-do list of the top 100 things to see at your destination that really matters after everything is said and done.
5. Get some sleep
Let’s face it, teenagers need a lot of sleep. If you have a teen, you already know they have this amazing ability to sleep until noon on the weekends. So when you go on vacation, don’t expect them to bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn ready for the day. Realize that early morning is not their best time of the day and minimize early morning commitments. In fact, because your tweens and teens are probably better at night, take advantage of this new freedom. It means you can plan on those late night meals, shows and activities.
6. Book bigger spaces for bigger bodies
Choosing the right accommodation for your growing family is also key in traveling with tweens and teens. Bigger bodies need more space. When our guys were little it was much easier to squeeze into a single hotel room with two queen beds. They would sometimes share the same bed or one would sleep on a folding cot. Those days are pretty much over now. In a pinch, we can make it work, but we find that if we can get a little more space, everyone is more comfortable and sleeps better. Getting more space might mean booking two hotel rooms with an adjoining door or booking a suite, both of which can more than double your cost. My favorite way to get more space is to book a private residence through an online website like Airbnb or HomeAway. We have been very pleased with some of the spacious homes and apartments we have rented in recent years.
7. Allow digital diversions
This is a contentious topic for parents and teens in general and no less debated when it comes to travel. We live in a digital age. From toddlers with their iPads to teens with their iPhones, we are a generation addicted to our technology. And parents, if we’re honest, we are really no different. When it comes to how much screen time you’ll allow your tweens and teens to have while traveling, I think a position of moderation is best. To completely ban it would back-fire and cause your adolescent to resent the family time you have so carefully planned. After all, the world will surely end if they can’t have some time to be amused at stupid Youtube videos or post an insta-story. On the other hand, to open the flood-gates and not impose any restrictions at all, would leave them to their virtual world, completely ignoring the people they are with. You would miss opportunities for conversations during meals, evening card games and more. Consider having an open talk before leaving on the trip. Explain that you are looking forward to this vacation time and the memories you can make as a family. Decide together what a reasonable amount of screen time looks like.
So yes, it is true that nothing easy is ever worthwhile. That’s true of your health and fitness, it’s true of parenting in general, and it’s certainly true of traveling with your kids. But embrace this unique opportunity that you have and the moments you can share. Before you know it, they will fly the coop and family vacations will be a thing of the past. We can count on one hand how many years we have left exploring, adventuring and vacationing together. There may be eye-rolling and a tug-of-war for independence, but we’re going to keep our travel stories booming until the day they march out the door and off to college. So what are you waiting for? Gather those tweens and teens of yours and hit the road.
About Dianne Sivulka
Dianne Sivulka is a former teacher who became a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler. Today she and her husband are traveling near and far with their boys every chance they get. She writes about educational travel tips at ourEDventures. Follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.
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