We just returned from a week-long trip to Colorado with my two teens, ages 15 and 13. Teenage-hood has been looming largely in our home for a few years, and every time we travel with our kids, I’m reminded of how differently we should approach our family vacations now. It’s a bit of a battle because my husband tends to go full-blown “Clark W. Griswold” when it comes to our family vacations. Bless his heart, he has visions of nonstop adventure, nonstop quality time, and nonstop memory-making for our trips, but in reality, there is some give and take that comes with sharing your vacation with teens.
If you have one last hurrah planned before school starts, or if you’re already planning your holiday travels, here’s what I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) about traveling with teens:
Don’t Overbook Yourselves
Sure, go crazy and book activities and other fun things while on vacation, but also plan a little downtime. Love it or hate it, teens like time to themselves, and being stuck with the family for an extended amount of time can exacerbate the eye rolls and unwillingness to cooperate. So, if you can plan a morning or two that allows for sleeping in or an afternoon or evening spent back at the hotel/Airbnb, etc., with nothing planned—trust me—your teens will repay you by being much happier and willing to go along with whatever family adventure awaits the next day.
VRBO or Airbnb over a Hotel
Speaking of spending time back at the Airbnb… in case you haven’t noticed, your teens are probably the size of full-grown humans by this point, so they tend to take up more space in the world than they used to. That said, a traditional hotel room with two queen beds and one bathroom just won’t be as comfortable as it was when the kids were tiny. I highly recommend going the VRBO or Airbnb route when traveling with your teens. With a rental house or condo, you’re likely to have space so your teens can spread out and possibly even have their own bedrooms. You’ll also get multiple bathrooms and a kitchen which just makes everything easier.
Prepare for Longer Mornings
And speaking of multiple bathrooms… this family vacation was the first that we’ve taken since my daughter started caring about her appearance. As a result, in order to get up and dressed in the morning, she needed extra time to work on her hair and do her makeup. So, plan for this and encourage your teen to manage their time wisely to account for primping. My daughter set an alarm in the mornings so she would have enough time to do what she needed to do before we left for our daily activities. It was also great having multiple bathrooms in our VRBO so we could all get ready simultaneously.
Embrace Later Bedtimes
I remember many a dark night in a hotel room with toddlers who went to bed at 7:30 p.m. My husband and I would have to sit in the darkness and find something quiet to do while the babies slept. I do not miss those days. However, now that my teens regularly stay up later than I do, we can plan activities late into the evening. The only caveat is that now I need a nap in order to hang, but that’s ok.
Embrace Longer Stretches of Driving
Gone are the days of road tripping with newly potty-trained toddlers who need to stop for a bathroom every 34 minutes. Now, likely the only one who will require potty breaks is Mom. Embrace being able to go for longer stretches on the road and getting to your destination much more quickly.
Good Snacks Are (Still) King
Remember when you had toddlers and you would pack adorable little snack packs for them to make the trip exciting and to keep them occupied? Little known fact: your teens love this too! Pick up some special treats for them and pack a little snack pack for them. I love putting these together for my teens and being thoughtful about the little things that will delight them.
Spring for Larger Beds
As referenced above regarding hotel rooms, your teens are likely full-size now and can’t go back to sleeping comfortably on a questionable hotel sleeper sofa or tiny trundle bed. Check that where you’re staying has good-sized beds for your kids. Believe me: good sleep is just as important for teens on vacation as it is for little ones, and trust me, you DO NOT want tired and cranky teens ruining your fun.
Double or Triple Your Food Budget
We grocery shopped a few times on our trip and ate out a lot too, and I was astounded at how much food my kids ate on this trip! Not only did they eat large quantities of food, but their palates have also matured so that they were interested in ordering more exciting items on the menus. (My formerly picky daughter ordered and ate escargot and lobster ravioli at one restaurant!) It’s not a bad idea to set a budget beforehand and discuss it with the family.
Audit What They’ve Packed to Wear
Call me a control freak, but I wanted to double-check what my kids had chosen to pack for our trip. Our trip required clothing for cold temperatures as well as swimsuits and shorts, so it was a tricky packing task and I wanted to make sure that everyone packed enough to be comfortable. The good news is that they did a great job, but it eased my mind just to make sure.
Yes, you’re funding this vacation, but let your teens have a voice in what activities are planned. In fact, get them involved in the planning of the trip. Teens see the world through different eyes than we do and they will undoubtedly have some good ideas about things to do and see along the way.
It’s hard to let go of expectations and adjust to a new normal for family vacations, but I’ve found traveling with teens to be so much easier and more fun than traveling with little ones. Getting out, seeing the world, and removing ourselves from the stressors that await us at home and at school helps to strengthen our bond as a family and allows us to get to know one another on new and different levels. Bon Voyage!