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Travel With Teens: Plan Activities First

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I had a conversation about family travel recently with the Dad of two teenagers. He told me that rather than starting his family vacation planning by picking a destination (as most of us do), he comes up with an activity that he and the kids can enjoy doing together and then looks for a place—often not far from home—where they can do it comfortably and affordably. Among other things, they’ve traveled from New York City to New England to learn snow boarding and took surfing lessons in California.

explore great ice skating rinks on vacationHe said it beats sitting together around a hotel pool while his kids do their best to pretend he’s not there. And, he said, sharing these experiences helps them to relate to each other and gets the conversation flowing about all sorts of things they might not get to talk about otherwise.

This is an effective way to travel with tweens and teens,  and I’ve already begun to think about what would make this kind of trip work well. Here are a few tips:

Tips for Activity-Based Vacation With Teens

Pick something new: This dad tends to look for activities that are new to both him and the kids. I think this is ideal because you’re on equal footing, which makes for more of a shared experience and breaks down some the usual parent-kid barriers.

go rafting with your teen for a real adventureDon’t be imposing: If you have an activity that you’re passionate about and want to share with the kids, ask them if they’re interested in it before you whisk them away to spend a week doing it.

Let them learn from someone else: If the activity is new to the kids and you’re already fairly adept, consider giving them the opportunity to learn the basics on their own from someone other than you. This gives them the chance to discover and appreciate it on their own terms and timetable.

Be a good sport (unless you know for a certain that you have a family of type As who thrives on competition): Don’t constantly try to outshine your kids and don’t pout if they turn out to be better than you.

teens explore American history in Yorktown.Get creative: Think beyond ambitious sporty pursuits. You can also tie a vacation around art, cooking or sand-castle building classes if that’s what your family is into. Or build a road trip around a favorite food, European castles or a family favorite book, movie or  TV show.  Think of a “Sound of Music” tour of Salzburg or a “Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland.”

• Let the kids suggest an activity: I know several parents who have had amazing, memorable road trips mapped around baseball stadiums because their kids were fans.

a family that skies together stays togeherThink ahead: Kristen Haiijer wrote for FamiliesGo! about the rewards of a family ski vacation. Her kids are young enough that she’s been able to introduce them to an activity she’s passionate about and turn them into enthusiasts.  Skiing will probably be a bonding activity for them far into the future.

We’ve had a mental a list of activities that Rich or I (or both of us) have wanted to do with Tiny Traveler that could be the starting point for trips to a variety of interesting places. A few we’ve already begun:  camping, horseback riding, cross-country and downhill skiing,  kayaking, paddle boarding, bike riding, sailing. A few—snorkeling, trekking, yoga (me) and rock climbing (definitely not me)—probably need a few more year.  And I’m pretty sure TT will have her own vacation ideas ideas around her interests, like cooking (maybe a Great British Bake of tour of the U.K.) and American history.  Then we’ll follow her lead.

Tell us what vacation activities you’ve most enjoyed sharing with your kids and what activities you look forward to trying out with them.

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