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Why Travel With Teens?

Travel with TeensAttitude with a capital A, sullen silence and mono-syllabic conversations are only half the fun of traveling with teens. Add to this the pungent aroma of smelly socks (travel with teenage boys), or being locked out of the bathroom for hours (travel with teenage girls) and you might wonder if family travel is such a good idea during this chaotic/self-absorbed adolescent stage.

Is it worth all the patience required and money it costs to travel with teens? Yes. Why? Travel can expand and renew communication within the family and provide a stimulating way to spend time together as your teens approach the age when they will leave the nest. And a lot of teens are fun companions and have loads of energy for activities!

But how do you travel so everyone enjoys it and you don’t come home with a head of gray hair and an unhappy/belligerent kid?

When considering a trip with teens, there are three basic principles to keep in mind: Involve them, burn calories, and negotiate.

Involve your teens in the travel planning process from the very beginning. If you present several vacation ideas and they help make the decision and pitch in with the planning, then they share responsibility for the success of the trip. Many of them are savvy enough to do detailed research on the Internet where there is a plethora of travel-related information. The library and bookstores are filled with guides, magazines, videos, brochures, foreign and language tapes that will make your kids feel more familiar with the place they are traveling. While researching a vacation, they’ll learn geography, how to read maps and guidebooks, how to make a budget (very important), and what resources are available and where.

Consider trips that appeal to their interests – do they want to learn how to surf, sail, horseback ride, learn about the Navajo Nation, or dig for artifacts? A friend of mine in New York, Jo Yohay, told me a story about an adventure she shared with her teenage son, a budding backpacker and naturalist: “We signed on as volunteers for an expedition to study monkeys on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. Wearing hiking boots and field pants, we flew south alongside straw-hatted sunseekers on their way to beach bungalows. Our destination: a dorm-style field station where we’d sleep in bunks and wash out muddy socks in a worn-out sink. What I loved was the chance it offered us to be equals – not in the usual parent-child context – but as team members, ready to roll up our sleeves and learn side-by-side.”

Like Jo, you can tailor your vacation to your teens interests or to who your teen is becoming. For example, if your teen is interested in marine life, get certified together and go on a scuba diving trip. Make it a surprise graduation present from middle or high school. Kids can get certified starting at 12-years-old.

Paddle boarding in Santa Barbara, CATeens need to burn calories! Boisterous, hormone-driven kids thrive on daily physical activity. Sports-oriented vacations channel your teens’ abundant energy, and provide opportunities to acquire outdoor skills, make new friends and build self confidence. Amazing things happen on active vacations – mom learns to belay while the kids learn to rappel, or the whole family bikes together, until the big hill leading to the pass, and then the kids will leave the “old people” in the dust… unless you and your spouse are in fantastic shape (keeping up with the kids can be the incentive for going to the gym before a family vacation!).

On any trip, keep in mind that a tired teenager is a kid that won’t get in trouble and you won’t have fret about their whereabouts as much. Better to have them pooped out in the tent, cabin or hotel room at night than out looking for excitement. Teens are also more civil after exercise!

“We took our eleven-year-old nephews backpacking in Yosemite for seven days and we packed food for a week,” relates Keith Walklet. “It was gone in THREE days! Every other word out of their mouths was ‘When do we eat?’ Don’t underestimate the appetite of a teenage boy.”

Negotiate — trade activities and interests. “Mom really wants to view the Matisse exhibit so how about in exchange we’ll take you to the Pearl Jam concert tonight?” OR: “We’ll sight see in the morning and shop for you in the afternoon.” Give them slack. At times let them stay up really late to watch a movie or read, then sleep until noon. Don’t be the trip dictator! Let them make restaurant choices too.

Tips for Traveling With Teenagers

When traveling to several locations, try to stay at least four or five days in one place, so your teens have a chance to meet other kids, adjust to the area and find their way around the vicinity. Then they get a feeling of orientation and independence. Have them memorize the name of your hotel (or the address of your lodging) and give them a hotel business card to keep in their pocket.

City visits with heavy cultural emphasis can be boring for teens. London is an exception, as there are some wonderfully hip places that both parents and teens will find interesting. Any vacation spot where there aren’t other teens will be unpopular. (Forget the visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s retirement spot in Florida, even if you think the beach is spectacular.)

Many parents find that by the time their kids become teens they are burned out from long road trips and will

After a strenuous hike up the Inca Trail above Machu Picchu, we're taking it easy. refuse to do extensive car trips anymore. If your vacation plans include long drives, consider buying or borrowing a small TV and VCR that will plug into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter.

Dining at five-star restaurants is a waste of time and money with teens (unless they want to become a chef or have a highly developed palate). And if you are required to wear a tie, they won’t like it (you may not either). Consider taking them to one fine restaurant per trip as part of their culinary education.

Have each teen bring a personal tape or CD player with headphones and extra batteries. Agree before departure on where, when and how often they may plug in.

Bring a deck of cards, backgammon set or other games you can all enjoy that gives you a relaxed evening activity together.

If you are traveling abroad with a teenage girl, this is a good time to talk about the many different come-ons of sexual predators.

If you are in a safe place and you trust your teens’ common sense, give them the freedom to explore. Remind them of the buddy system: No one should go anywhere — outhouse, cafe, beach — without a buddy, whether it is a sibling, parent or friend. Be sure they know and agree to their curfew.

Remind them that when traveling, they are ambassadors in the world and should be extra respectful, helpful and polite to everyone they encounter (including their parents!).

If your teens take off on their own, remind them it is important to be cognizant of the hour of sunset. All over the world, towns and neighborhoods that are filled with activity during the day can empty out once darkness descends. Neighborhoods that have been active and safe during daylight hours are not necessarily so after dark.

Roll up your sleeves and share a volunteer vacation with your teenager. Dozens of non-profit groups offer fascinating trips for paying volunteers in the United States and abroad. They run the gamut of scientific, environmental, educational and social-service expeditions. Because group leaders are on hand to teach skills and monitor progress, volunteer vacations offer an opportunity for parent and teen to participate as equal learners on a team.

Consider letting your teens invite a friend to join you on short vacations, such as car or camping trips.

And perhaps the best bit of advice: Remember what you were like as a teenager and how you wanted to spend your time on vacation!

Recommended Teen Vacations

Worldwide Family Adventures

From zip lining and kayaking in Costa Rice, snorkeling on a reef in Belize, to cruises in the Galapagos, or rafting down the Colorado River, it is important to choose a company that specializes in family travel. My husband and pre-teen daughters and I traveled on a safari in Tanzania with Thomson Family Adventures, a company devoted exclusively to family travel. Our African Safari was a high quality adventure. We photographed the Big Five, camped in the Serengeti, stayed in luxury lodges and had a trip of a lifetime.  The founders, Rick and Judi, are parents themselves and know how to visit fun, interesting places with children where everyone can feel safe and welcome.

Let's get outdoors! Photo credit: Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, Paul Zizka

Let’s get outdoors!
Photo credit: Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, Paul Zizka

Take the family to the Canadian Rockies.

.Canoe on a lake, hike the best trails, see elk, mountain goats and bear, or horseback ride through rushing streams. End your day with a luxurious log cabin experience at a backcountry lodge. Click here for my favorites.


Check out dude ranches in Wyoming at and Colorado at

Dude Ranches offer more than horseback riding. A ranch that will appeal to teens should have lots of other sports activities, such as water skiing, tubing, tennis, archery, riflery, fishing and river rafting. On one summer vacation at Colorado Trails Ranch, located near Durango, my kids and I sampled all the activities, from river rafting to riflery. They rode horses and went tubing (with other kids their age and a counselor) while I read my book in the hot tub. They remember their new friends and getting crazy – plastering the counselors with flour during the “kids rodeo.” I relished the rest, relaxation and superb cuisine, as well as the varied activities. It was a perfect family vacation for bonding. Other guests at the ranch included single parents with their kids and grandparents “treating” their grandchildren to a real western adventure.

Look for a ranch that separates kids into age groups, so teens can interact with their peers. They need their own activities as well as a separate place such as a game room, where they can hang out and play ping pong or shoot pool. For further information on Colorado Trails Ranch, call 800-323-3833.

American Wilderness Experience provides information about many ranches and outfitters in several western states; contact at 800-444-0099.