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6 Tips for Summer Road Trips With Teens

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If you have teens, you know what I mean. Planning a summer trip – a road trip no less – is a feat of great courage when you have teens in tow. We planned a grand tour of the Southwest this summer, and applied six good tricks we’ve learned to keep everyone happy inside the car and out.

1. Plan The Trip As a Family

We travel a great deal, and love experiencing new destinations as a family. We let the kids pick one or two activities they really want to experience on each leg of the trip. Take it from a confessed over-planner, the prior days of control over the travel itinerary go out the window when the teen years hit. We let them choose some of their own adventures on this recent road trip, and we get better and happier results (and photos without stubborn frowns or forced smiles). Added plus: if they don’t like the experience, they are now old enough to realize they can’t blame you for making them do it!

2. Balance The Trip With Adventure and Chillaxing

Even though the instinct is to plan activities every day to make the most from visiting a destination, we’ve learned to balance those adventures with some relaxing ones as well. When in Arizona, we spent a full day exploring the famous red rocks of Sedona on a fun Pink Jeep Tour through the boulders and canyons, followed by dinner and an evening stargazing tour to view the constellations. Our kids were kept happy when the next day we went to Enchantment Resort & Spa for a luxury experience with amazing massages, and then on to lunch and some leisurely lounging by the pool.


3. Plan for Downtime and Sleeping In

Teens need a lot of sleep – no surprise there. We’ve learned to cool our parental jets and spend mornings together at the gym or breakfast while the kids sleep in. Not every day needs to be filled with adventures that require 6 am wake-up calls. On a recent trip to Santa Barbara, we scheduled a bunch of fun sightseeing for late morning, which allowed the girls time to slowly rise, easing their way into a morning schedule that included some texting and Facetime sessions to maintain those important connections at home. The activities that followed were so much more relaxed and fun for us all.

4. Manage Screen Time

Speaking of screen time, our family has pretty strict policies on when and where we can use our devices (parents included since we have to set the examples). Telling the kids in advance when phone are allowed – and when they are not – manages their expectations and avoids a big tussle when you see that tell-tale glow after lights out. When our girls know the rules, they rarely break them. *Caveat: on long drives, we do sometimes allow them to use their phones for music or photos, as long as the cell and wifi service are turned off.

5. Give Them a Debit Card

Long ago we got into the habit of buying the girls a small token to remember each trip, and that ritual soon turned into something bigger than we intended. Shopping sprees and outings to buy specific vacation items were eliminated when the girls were mature enough to handle debit cards. Now we pre-load the card before getting on the road, telling the girls how much they have to spend. It’s up to them to remember to bring the card (no card = no purchase), budget their purchases carefully and manage the balances to determine if they can afford that special thing they just MUST have. Added benefit: helps those math skills!

6. Compromise and Negotiation

Our girls are learning the fine art of negotiation, as we discuss how to balance the activities they want with those the adults are planning. As we finished a great Papillon Helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon and headed the car towards Las Vegas on historic Route 66, I wanted to stop along the way to take in the enormity of Hoover Dam. The kids did not. We reasoned that a short stop at the Dam was only a few minutes out of the way, and then we could spend the rest of the afternoon with icy drinks in the Paris Resort's sweet pool. They agreed, and everyone was a winner.


The most important thing to remember is that this is everyone’s vacation. The kids are not just along for the ride – they are active participants and deserve to have a good time, whatever that looks like for them. When the whole family participates in the vacation planning at some level, the experience seems to go much more smoothly and peacefully.

We’d love to hear your tips too! If you have any good ones to add, please comment here and we’ll include them in the next round-up.

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