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Ask FamiliesGo!: Our Teen Doesn’t Want To Go On Family Vacations

Ask FamiliesGo!: Our Teen Doesn’t Want To Go On Family Vacations

The Question: How can we convince our teen to want to go on a family vacation?

We’ve booked a winter family vacation at an all-inclusive beach resort on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico for our family. Our 16YO has told us we are boring and vacations are boring and we’re mean to make him go. We can’t leave him home for ten days. Is there a way to make him go willingly on a family vacation? 

The Answer: You can make it work!

This is a frequent dilemma for parents of teens. You’re relishing all the quality family time you can get before they head off to college, and opportunities for family travel become less certain. But your teen has decided that spending a week in close confines with his parents and perhaps younger siblings is cruel and unusual punishment. 

family jumping happy
How parents envision family vacations…

So how do you avoid both not caving in and canceling a vacation all the other family members want to take, and not having Grumpy Gus ruin the trip once you’re there?

On this trip: Stand firm and trust he’ll come around

Since the trip is planned and imminent, your best bet is to trust that he isn’t that determined to be bored and unhappy. 

bored teen
And how teens envision family vacations

Explain to him that you want this vacation and time together and you can’t leave him home. So he doesn’t have a choice about going with you. 

Explain further that you hope you can all enjoy your time together. But if he wants to spend ten days sleeping in the hotel room and sitting on a lounge chair with headphones on while you snorkel, swim and climb Mayan pyramids, he’s free to do that. And this is the hard part: Really mean it.

Set a minimum requirement for interaction with you: lunch and dinner together and daily afternoon ping pong, for example. And set a maximum amount of phone time so he has to look up and see what’s happening around him once in a while.

One thing in your favor: Resorts typically have unlimited supplies of the three most important teen food groups: fried food, soda and ice cream. Sleeping in and having all-day access to junk food might be enough to warm him up to this vacation.

Chances are he will sleep a lot because that’s what kids do in their teenage years. But playing the loner with headphones will get boring after a few days. 

do not disturb
Do not disturb: Most teens’ favorite vacation activity

There’s a good chance that seeing other people having fun on their paddleboards and snorkel excursions might convince him to join you on some of these outings. 

Two things you can do to warm him up to the trip: Find out if the resort has a teen lounge. And if they do, do your best to get him to pop in on the day you arrive. He might find other teens to hang out, or at least commiserate with during your stay.

Also, send him to a website like Viator and out him in charge of finding excursions and activities for you. The Yucatan has impressive eco-adventure parks, underground pools to swim in (cenotes), Mayan ruins to climb and a huge reef for snorkeling. Seeing some of these opportunities might get him a little excited. 

More Resources:
• My Mayan Riviera Bucket List With Kids
• Costa Maya and Cozumel: A one-day action plan with kids

On future trips: Plan ahead and well

Get early buy-in on vacations with teens

For the next vacation, most parents recommend giving teens a say about where you go and responsibility for planning part of the trip. 

They might surprise you and suggest some far-flung locale they saw in a movie or a text book. Or they might repeatedly ask to go to the Universal Studios theme park. 

“I have to bite my tongue at what my teens sometimes choose—Disney World is not my thing, but it’s still theirs. But it mostly works,” says family travel writer Sinead Camplin. 

london eye
Your idea of sightseeing…

If they don’t have destinations in mind, brainstorms activities they want to do or would like to try.

“We’ve had tremendous success in traveling with reluctant teens by finding common interests. We pick an activity before a destination. For example, our entire family loves live music. So a trip centered around a concert has been a huge hit for every member of our household. We also have traveled for sporting events and beautiful snorkeling spots,” says travel writer Julie Thorne at More than Main Street 

If they’re dying to zip-line, start looking at Costa Rica. If they love hiking, have them research national parks

If they’re interested in food, have them help find cities with great central markets or tons of food trucks. We took a cooking class last summer during out four-day visit to Venice and all the people in our group were families with teens.

Some parents have told me that ski trips have been reliable go-to vacations through the teen years. And they can easily make them enjoyable for younger siblings, too. 

“My two teens are very different people with totally different tastes and activity preferences. We plan far in advance and each person contributes ideas or else they don’t get to complain,” says food-and-travel writer Marlyn Jayme Schotland at Urban Bliss Life

Give teens their space

Remember when your kids were little and you were ecstatic to have even a few minutes of time to yourself on your vacation? Now your teens want their space, too. Letting them have it can be a win-win situation and one of the upsides of traveling with teens.

“We definitely build a decent amount of alone time or general free time — for them and for us — so that nobody gets burned out on together-time,” says Schotland.

teen on phone
Your teen’s idea of sightseeing

With a resort, ski mountain or cruise ship, it’s easy to let everyone in the family go his or her own way for part of the day, and there’s a chance your teen might meet other teens.

On other types of vacations, book a hotel or vacation home that gives them their own space when you can.   

Make a point of giving them time to themselves at your lodging, too (especially if they don’t have their own space).  Do a morning visit to a museum they have no interest in or enjoy happy hour cocktails for two before meeting up for dinner. 

Even on a busy city vacation, set aside chill-out time and hotel-pool time. 

Let them discover your destination on their own, too. On our London vacation, whenever we visited a market, like Camden or Spitalfields, we’d split up to explore on our own and meet up at a designated time. We almost always had a good find to share with the others.

Let them explore the neighborhood around the hotel or rental on their own if they want to. How much further afield you might let them go depends on their age and city-savvy and whether they’re alone or with another teen. 

Have a screens policy, too, whether it’s no phones or a set amount of phone time. We don’t pay for roaming when we travel beyond the U.S., which limits our teen’s phone use to when she has access to hotel Wi-Fi. They’ll complain at first, but they’ll engage with where they are more and faster when they have to look around.

Call In reinforcements

Several parents advocate bringing a friend along. Kids are more likely to go off on their own with a companion and are more likely to be excited about both the planning and actually going.

“If your teen is having a great time on vacation, does it really matter if most of it is without Mom and Dad?” one parent asked rhetorically.

family bonding time
Your idea of quality family time…

Bring-a-friend situations work best when you know the friend and their parents well.

You want to have some sense in advance of their quirks as well as how experienced a traveler and how independent they are.

Plan to explain matter-of-factly the details and costs, what you will be paying for and what the other family would be contributing. 

At a minimum plan on covering lodging (the kids will definitely want their own space), local transportation, most meals and activities the kids don’t have a choice about doing. 

It’s easiest to bring a companion on a cruise or to an all-inclusive resort because most of your costs are fixed and known in advance. 

teens on phones
And your teen’s idea of quality bonding time

You can always travel with another family with kids the same age as yours, too. As long as the kids know and like each other, they’ll want to hang out together. And they might actually look forward to the trip.

Have a Question About Family Travel? Email it to Eileen at FamiliesGo! and she’ll answer it in a few days’ time. 
See more Ask FamiliesGo! questions & answers.

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a reader asks what to do when their teen is reluctant to join a family vacation. familiesgo! gives its best advice.