“Mom, do we have to go on vacation? I want to spend my summer hanging out with my friends.”
“I’m not staying in the same room with you guys, Dad snores.”
“Do we have to go to the beach? It’s so boorrring.”
Vacations with my kids used to be so much easier. When they were younger, we’d plan a trip – any trip – and my kids were enthusiastic, eager to hop in the car or on the plane (regardless of how long the trip was), and they never had an issue with our destination or what we did when we got there. It didn’t matter if we were darting out for a quick ski trip over a long weekend or heading out for a 10-day cruise in the Caribbean, they were “in.”
Boy, have things changed.
Now that my kids are teenagers, launching a shuttle to the moon would be an easier task than planning a vacation. They each have strong opinions about when we should go, where we should go, how long we’ll be gone, where we should stay and what we should do while we’re there. In fact, just rounding them up at the same time and navigating around their schedules has become such a challenge, it’s a miracle we go on any vacations at all.
After taking countless trips with my three kids, I’ve figured out that packing a very large chill pill, a sense of humor and a few sanity-saving tips is the key to a successful vacation with teenagers. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned that might help make your next family vacation stress-free, peaceful and more enjoyable for the entire family.
Get Their Buy-In
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about traveling with teenagers is that they love being in control of their own time and schedule, which means the second you start dictating what, when and where, the more likely they’ll be to push back. Before you even begin planning a vacation, get their buy-in. Chat with them about their upcoming plans, how they feel about going on vacation and which destinations appeal to them. The more input they have in the early planning process, the less resistance you’ll face and the more enthusiastic they’ll be about the entire vacation.
Get Them Involved in the Planning
When your kids were young, chances are you planned your vacation itinerary from beginning to end without much input from your kids. And, they were fine with it. Now that they’re teenagers, however, they want a say in how they spend their days. Avoid a battle of the wills and give them a sense of ownership throughout the vacation by getting them involved in the planning. Allow them to choose activities or excursions that appeal to them including doing the research about the various options that are available, the planning and the booking. Another great way to get them involved is to make them the designated photographer, navigator or restaurant chooser. The more decisions they’re allowed to make, the more in control they’ll feel and, in turn, the more enthusiastic they’ll be about the family’s daily itinerary. Plus, if you’re the designated vacation planner in your house (like I am), you might find their involvement and help a welcome (and much-needed) departure from the stress of planning the entire vacation yourself.
Set Clear Expectations
When planning a vacation with my kids, I make it a point to communicate with them up front about what to expect on the trip. If the vacation is going to be a leisurely trip with plenty of relaxing, unstructured days where the family just goes with the flow, we talk about it in advance. If, on the other hand, it’s a new destination we’ve never traveled to before and we’re determined to fit in as much sightseeing and activities into our trip as humanly possible, I give my kids a heads up on that as well. Teens can be very fickle and… well, moody. One minute they might be on board with a full day of activities, the next they’d rather spend the day doing nothing except hanging out by the pool, which means the more you lay down expectations in advance, the better chance you’ll have of getting their buy-in and the less mumbling and grouchiness you’ll have to deal with in the long run.
Give ‘Em Space
If you have a vision of spending mounds of quality family time together on your vacation, think again. Teens need space, lots of it. For starters, if the travel budget allows, book a separate hotel room (adjoining rooms work great), or rent a condo with extra bedrooms so your teen can hunker down in their own little corner of the world after a full day of family time. Plus, considering the fact that most teens are night owls, they’ll appreciate not having to deal with “lights out” long before they’re even sleepy and you’ll appreciate not having to deal with them texting their friends until 1 o’clock in the morning. Also, keeping safety in mind, give them the opportunity to venture away from the family occasionally to go to the pool alone, explore the local shops or take a walk on the beach, for instance. The more “pockets” of freedom they have throughout the vacation to chill out, chat with friends or just sleep, the happier they’ll be.
Take Your Teen’s “Natural Rhythm” into Consideration
We all know how much teenagers love their slumber. Given the chance, my kids would sleep until noon, especially in the summer. Knowing that moving the Rock of Gibraltar would be a far easier task than getting my kids moving by 7 am, we avoid planning early-morning activities and excursions at all costs, unless of course, we’re prepared to deal with a grumpy teenager all day. Trust me, I’ve been there. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is worse than dealing with a tired, grumpy, moody teenager. Steer as clear as you can from the moody teen snakepit when planning your trip by taking into consideration your teen’s natural rhythm. If your child is one of the rare ones who relishes in getting a jump on the day, go ahead and get the whole family off and running by 7 am. If, on the other hand, you have a teen who can’t seem to get moving until mid-morning, you might want to move your plans back a couple of hours to give them a little extra time.
Don’t Freak Out About Occasional Screen Time
We all know how much our kids have to have their screen time. And, as much as you’d prefer to have them leave their cell phone at home or back at the hotel so you can enjoy their undivided attention and perhaps a little more eye contact, you’ll have a far happier child on your hands if you refrain from freaking out every time they glance at their phone. Chat with your kids in advance and encourage them to “live in the moment” by putting their cell phones away while the family is together. As long as they know they can catch up on all their phone calls and texts later in the day without you pitching a fit, the more likely they’ll be to act responsibly and tuck it away in their pocket so everyone can enjoy special family time.
Give them a Budget for Souvenirs and “Stuff”
It’s tradition. Every time we travel somewhere on vacation, my kids buy a souvenir. Whether it’s a new t-shirt, a trinket from a local seller or a new hat, offering your kids a small stash of cash to buy a few things on their vacation is a fun way to get them excited about the vacation. Plus, their purchase(s) will also serve as a nice remembrance of the trip.
Pack a Sense of Humor and a Chill Pill
The next time you head out on vacation with your teenager, don’t forget to pack a sense of humor and a big chill pill. Things happen, which means you need to be prepared to expect the unexpected and go with the flow. Even though you might have to navigate around your son’s mood one day or adjust the day’s plans due to your daughter’s awful period cramps, take it in stride. These days and moments with your kids are fleeting. Soon enough they’ll be off on their own raising their own family and you’ll be longing for these crazy, tumultuous vacations. Relish in the special moments, regardless of how insignificant they may seem. It may seem far off in the future, but one day soon enough, these treasured family vacations will all be a distant memory.
"Today, I will live in the moment. Unless, of course, that moment becomes unpleasant, in which case, I'll take a nap."
Article originally posted on Raising Teens Today