A common mantra in family travel circles is that you get 18 summers with your kids. That is, you have 18 summers before the leave the nest to plan vacations that will offer parent-child bonding and create lasting memories.
As the kids grow into their teen years you feel that 18-summer clock winding down. And the ticking gets louder with every eye roll and “are you kidding me look” they give you when you suggest a vacation idea you think they’ll like.
What I’ve learned from talking to other parents of teens is that one way to make the most of your vacation time with teenagers is to build your plans around an activity rather than a destiny, and give them lots of buy-in.
One New York City dad I know, built vacations around snowboarding lessons in Vermont in the winter and surfing lessons in Southern California in summer.
He said, “It beats sitting together around a hotel pool while my kids do their best to pretend I’m not there.” And, he added, sharing these experiences gets the conversation flowing about all sorts of things they might not get to talk about otherwise.
If you want to try this kind of vacation planning with your own picky, moody teenagers, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your teenagar’s summers with you.
7 Tips for Planning Awesome Vacations With Teens
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1 Pick something new to everyone
Unless your teens have clearly expressed interest in your favorite pass time, look for activities that are new to both you and your kids.
This puts you on equal footing, which makes for more of a shared experience. It also gives you the chance to struggle a bit together and laugh at each other.
Seeing you fumble a bit actually helps to break down some the usual parent-teen barriers.
2. Don’t be imposing
Planning something new to everyone helps you to avoid the temptation to trying teaching your kids about something you’re interested in and alerady very good at.
Yes, sharing something you love with your growing teen or tween sounds like an idyllic family bonding activity. In truth your kids will roll their eyes in a way that says, “Oh Geez, Dad’s trying to teach us something again.”
Teens don’t want their parents teaching them things (unless it’s their idea), If you go this route, chances are they’ll resist and you’ll all wind up back at the pool, buried in your screens.
If you’re determined to try, at least get their buy-in. Ask them if they’d be interested in it. And be prepared for a flat-out “no.”
If you want to persist, ask them what would get them interested in it. And listen carefully to what they have to say.
Also ask them what they think they won’t like about it. And just sit on that for a bit. Using that info when you start planning your trip will help more than trying to dissuade them of their concerns on the spot.
Finally, ask them what a vacation built around your chosen activity might look like. It might mean a shorter camping trip than you have in mind, starting your golf round later in the day or finishing your fishing earlier than you normally would.
And you’d be smart to let them choose some other activities to mix in with the main one.
If you have only one teen, consider inviting a friend. Everything is more fun with another kid along.
Finally, if your teens give your favorite thing a fair shot and decide they don’t like it, be willing to accept that. And let them suggest something else do do for the rest of the trip.
3. Follow your kids’ interests
If your teens have something they’re passionate about, let that activity drive your vacation plan, even if it’s not something you normally gravitate toward.
I know a set of parents who aren’t especially into baseball but their kids are big fans. Their family had a series of amazing, memorable road trips built around visiting every major leage baseball stadium in U.S.
Tagging along to ComicCon or an animé-inspired trip to Tokyo might not turn you into a fan yourself. But it might help you appreciate what it is that they like about it. And you’ll probably score some points by showing a genuine interest in their interests.
Tween Traveler has started to propose vacations built around her interests.
She pushed for the London trip not long ago because the city was a key setting in several of the book series she was reading at the time. It turned out to be one of our favorite vacations.
Both our trips to London and Edinburgh included Harry Potter-inspired activities. And we tracked down a lot of the British baked goods we’ve seen and wondered about while watching British Bake-Off together.
4. Let them learn from someone else
Remember, just because you want your teenager to learn skiing or golf or rock-climbing or basic cooking skills, it doesn’t mean you need to be the one to teach it to them.
In fact, it’s better if you don’t.
Particularly if you’re already 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 the activity on their own terms and timetable.
It will also level the playing field a little bit skillwise. They’ll gain some confidence and be more eager to do it again, this time with you.
5. Be a good sport
Do you have a family of Type As who all thrive on competition with one another?
Probably not. So don’t try to outshine your kids. If it’s something you’re already good at make a point of not outdoing them.
And don’t pout if they turn out to be better than you at pottery making or cooking or whatever else it is you choose to learn together.
6. Get creative
Brain storm with your kids to come up with activities it would be cool to build a trip around and how you would go about it.
Learning to surf, or rock climb or going geocaching all sound amazing… if your family is fairly daring and active.
You can also have a goal to carry you through several trips: Aim to do a movie location tour in every major U.S. city or to visit every major national park.
Give your teens the freedom to suggest a real bucket list vacation.
If it’s a trip that you’d have to save for, consider this 1, 2 or 3-year saving plan. Teaming up on to meet ath goal might be a bonding experience in itself.
7. Think long term:
Once your whole family has decided it likes skiing, golf, biking or cooking lessons, that activity can be the building block for vacations and bonding time for years to come; maybe even long after those 18 summers are gone.
Since Tween Traveler was Tiny Rich and I have had a trying out activities we like that could be the building blocks for vacations for our family for years to come.
So far, horseback riding and snorkeling were failures. Cross-country and downhill skiing were surprising successes.
Tween traveler is happy to go kayaking and paddle boarding as long as we do the rowing. So I'd say the jury is still out on those.
We all seem to enjoy sailing but haven't done it much (note to self: Plan a vacation around learning to sail.)
Bike riding got a slow start but Tween Traveler has grown to love it and our middle-aged parent bodies do pretty well with it.
Rock climbing has been and will remain a dad-and-daughter activity.
But all of our brilliant ideas aside, the next awesome vacation activity will no doubt be one that our teen comes up with herself. Or one we come up with together.