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How To Plan Vacations Your Teen Wants To Do

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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.

He said it beats sitting together around a hotel pool while his kids do their best to pretend he’s not there.

And, he added, 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.

I thought this was a great idea for traveling with teens who have begun to grow reluctant to go on vacation with dear old mom and dad.

I’ve already begun to think about what would make this kind of trip work well. Here are a few tips:

explore great ice skating rinks on vacation

Tips for Planning Vacations 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. It gives you the chance to laugh at each other and breaks down some the usual parent-kid barriers.

• Don’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.

Or better yet, ask them what would get them interested in it and follow from there. 

go rafting with your teen for a real adventure

• Let them learn from someone else: 

Remember, just because you want them to learn the skiing or tennis or rock-climbing, doesn’t mean you need  to be the one to teach it to them.

Particularly if you’re adept at an activity, give 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.

It will also evel the playing field skillwise, giving them confidence and make them more eager to learn more from you.

• 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 at whatever it is you’re doing.

• Get creative:

Think beyond active and sporty pursuits.

You can also tie a vacation around art, cooking, food tours, or sand-castle building classes if that’s what your family is into.

Or build a road trip around 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.

teens explore American history in Yorktown.

Or maybe have a goal that can carry you through several trips: Some families try to visit every major national park.

Maybe you want to visit all of of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses or eat dim sum in every Chinatown neighborhood in the U.S.

• 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.

Even if you’re not really into what they want to do, keep an open mind. They might get you to have a newfound apprecation for baseball or comic books.

Give them the freedom to suggest a real bucket list vacation, like an African safari, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, or biking through Tuscany.

• Think long term:

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.

a family that skies together stays togeher

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:  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)—need a few more years. 

And Tween Traveler is starting to have her own vacation ideas for trips that suit her interests.We might take a British Baking class one day or build road-trips around American history or Harry Potter.

If she has a good idea, 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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