Touring with Teens

International travel can be an exciting adventure or an unsettling challenge, depending on your perspective.  We come back from our adventures with wonderful stories and mostly good memories – even from our teenagers.  Believe it or not, teens can enjoy the family vacation.  In fact, the time that you spend together during your travels may give them cherished memories for years to come.  The best way to ensure a great experience for everyone is to plan with your older children in mind.

Here are a few ways to involve your older kids and make the family trip fun for everyone.

  1. Involve older children in the planning.  It’s probably best not to start out with a world map and ask, “So, where do you want to go?”  You might get some interesting ideas that way, but an archaeology expedition to Mongolia might not be your idea of a good time.  Instead, present family members with three or four options and discuss the various possibilities.  If you’re stuck for ideas, pay attention to what your children are studying and find out what interests them.  Would they like to visit a castle, a music festival, or funky street markets?  You’ll probably have to make the final decision, but if you’ve considered available time and your travel budget when pre-screening, the family should be able to come to a reasonable consensus.
  2. Check out your library.  Once you’ve decided on a destination, you can create interest by checking out a few books from your local library, but don’t make it a research project!  Most libraries have a decent travel section, and many publishers have user-friendly guides that are full of colorful photos.  Dorling Kindersley’s travel books and the Fodors “See It” guides are especially appealing for teen-aged travel planners.
  3. Start with a plan.  Don’t count on your teen to make a detailed itinerary, but she can help by making suggestions.  To avoid being scolded for forgetting your child’s favorite pair of jeans, ask him to make a packing list.  Many good examples can be found on the internet and easily modified.  Teens are usually pretty computer-savvy and can do online research or type up a schedule.
  4. Travel with teens in mind.  Museums and art galleries can be interesting, but kids are intrigued by the unusual.  Try visiting a theater or fashion museum, touring an historic ship, or exploring a science museum with state-of-the-art interactive activities.  Pay attention to your teen’s interests and use these as your guide.  Shopping can also be a fun experience and it doesn’t have to be costly.  If you’re visiting another country, a trip to a street market which sells everything, an athletics store featuring sports team paraphernalia,  or the cosmetics section at the local drug store can provide interesting souvenirs.  Instead of the obligatory T-shirt, try out a clothing retailer like H&M in Europe for reasonable and hopelessly trendy finds.
  5. Hop on, hop off.  Kids who aren’t used to public transport have a great time hopping on the subway or using the bus to get across town.  Taking public transportation can be tricky at first, but don’t be afraid to ask personnel for information about payment, departure times or destinations.  Riding on the bus or tram gives you a chance to take in the scenery and get a flavor of the local population.
  6. Get the Soundtrack.  We have a tradition of finding new music or making a playlist for each trip that serves as the “soundtrack” and brings back good memories for years to come.  You can choose new release or compilation that everyone likes, or use international travel as an opportunity to discover local artists in the countries you visit.  Large music stores like Virgin or HMV usually provide listening stations where your kids can sample the latest tunes.
  7. Dining out.  Invite your teens to try the local fare, but don’t make it an issue if they prefer to stick to standard favorites.  No matter where you travel, you’re sure to find simple foods like chicken, potatoes, pasta or bread in one form or another.  If you aren’t fluent in the language, be sure you or your teen know a few food terms or you might be in for an interesting surprise!  If your teenagers are culinary adventurers, have a great time and eat like the locals.  Many European department stores have affordable restaurants, and you’ll often find a café in the larger parks.  Alternatively, bakeries and delis offer a tempting array of picnic ingredients.
  8. Save your memories.  A small diary or sketchbook is a great bon voyage gift.  Find a book that’s light and sturdy and can be carried easily in a jacket pocket or backpack.  Moleskine makes great journals and sketchbooks in a variety of formats and other diaries have maps or travel motifs.  Encourage your kids to take photos or collect postcards.  Save tickets, travel passes, wrappers, brochures and maps for scrapbooks.

Traveling with teens can be trying or it can be a delight.  When children are older, you can travel light, share some of the responsibility and visit places that parents of toddlers don’t dare to go.  Enjoy the time with your teens.  Even if you face a little resistance now, your grandchildren will probably hear stories about your fantastic adventures!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. adventurousandrea
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 10:46:31

    What fun ideas! I don’t have children yet, but when I do, I hope to raise them as global citizens.


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