6 Tips for Traveling with Surly Teens

Posted by Katie Hamlin on November 19, 2009 at 10:55:43 AM EST | Post a Comment
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Who doesn't occasionally fantasize about being whisked away to a far-flung destination on someone else's dime?

A teen, that's who.

Granted, this phenomenon is not universally exhibited by all teens; some love to travel and are more than happy to do so with their parents. But for others a week or two spent away without friends, Facebook, and texting marathons can seem interminable. Some teens take to pouting, whining, and sulking to insure that everyone remains aware that they are unhappy. Parents eager to not do battle with their teens every step of the trip are wise to address the problem before ever leaving home—but how?

Fodor's member grucci recently asked fellow travelers in our Forums for tips about making a large family trip to Italy more appealing for a 16-year-old teen girl who's reluctant to go. As expected, members' responses varied widely; some argued that teens shouldn't be catered to, while others offered up suggestions and compromises that worked for their own families.

We've added some of their suggestions and thoughts below. Some travelers even shared how their own childhood travel experiences have shaped the way they travel with their teens now. Do you have a similar experience or tip to share?

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6 Tips for Traveling with Surly Teens

1. Put the itinerary in their hands

As all trip planners know, there's nothing more frustrating than choosing sights, activities, and restaurants in advance only to have members of your traveling party complain that they would have done it differently. With this in mind, turn over parts of your vacation itinerary to your teen (and their younger siblings, too). By delegating some of the planning responsibility, you give your teen a way to contribute to the trip and in the process develop a greater knowledge of the destination. It's also not completely your fault if everyone has a bad time!

From the Forums: "I took my 15-year-old daughter to London & Paris...I gave her control of our daytrips from London... She also requested that we visit Disneyland outside Paris. Some might say that was a waste of time/money. But it was an interesting cultural lesson. I allowed her to pick which shows we saw in London... and so on. I tried to strike a balance between stuff I wanted to see/do & stuff she wanted to see/do. That way she felt more included & in control sometimes, instead always being told how she was going to send her time." —halfapair

2. Enforce some level of "unplugging"

How much access you give your teen to their daily digital crutches is up for debate. If you're going abroad, you'll most likely want them to shelve their cellphones. Last spring the New York Times reported that teens were sending and receiving on average 80 messages a day, and sending a text internationally certainly isn't cheap.

Staying stateside? It might be worth restricting phone calls or texts to just at night or another specific time. Keeping in constant touch with friends can be an unwelcome distraction for everyone on the trip. While your teen may not like being forced to disconnect, they may secretly thank you for giving them a break from their 24/7 social lives.

From the Forums: "Do not take a computer for her, because she will be on facebook the entire time. You may find that it takes a week to acclimate her to life without a cellphone. Our kids have withdrawal symptoms for four or five days, then emerge from their electronic cocoon and become fully functioning members of the family again." —trickiewoo

3. Consider your hotel's creature comforts

Some hotels are more teen-friendly than others. Is the hotel known for being family-friendly—or does it cater more to business travelers? Are there public spaces that your teen can hang out in? Does it have a cool pool? If you plan on camping out (and your teen is not the outdoorsy type), maybe you can bookmark the trip with overnight stays at hotels that you'd think that your whole crew would like.

From the Forums: "When we traveled with our teens we would stay at hotels with pools, internet, big screen TVs—even if the Bryce Canyon was only a mile away with authentic and rustic lodging. Better to spend the day hiking with them and watch them dissolve into their gadgets in the evening than to not go at all or listen to them whine all day. Others here will disagree—and maybe this attitude comes from being dragged to remote fly-in fishing camps so my father could relax and fish—with nothing for kids and teens to do." --gail

4. Give them space away from the family

Typically your teen spends much of their day out of your watchful eye; trips that involve constant togetherness can fray nerves (including your own). Depending on your destination, it may be possible to let your teen spend some time discovering the surrounding area on their own. They may even have something to say to you over dinner!

Not sure they're ready for heading off solo? Look for a local class that they may like or schedule in time where they can do some exploring with just one parent or sibling.

From the Forums: "Nonetheless, I think planning some activities for her away from the villa and the omnipresence of relatives is an excellent idea. The only highlight in the above-mentioned trip was when I was allowed to drive someone's car over to a dude ranch and go horseback riding (by myself) for a couple hours." —artsnletters

From the Forums: "If she's in school and will be missing classes for the duration of the trip she may be asked to keep a journal or make a scrapbook of her trip. You may want to be sure she has her own camera to record her impressions. If your villa provides cooking lessons, maybe you could sign her up along with others close to her age. And, yes, young Italian guys are dreamy and they love American girls, so keep an eye on her." —Betsy

5. Remind them that it's your vacation too

Well, this may not be the most constructive piece of advice—but it bears remembering. At a certain point, the whole family shouldn't have to suffer because of one malcontent.

From the Forums: "On one vacation I had no interest in and was in a seriously awful bratty stage, my parents said "Ok, it's our vacation too and we'd like to have fun. You can sit there and sulk but that's your loss. Get up and get in the car so we can go to the waterpark or we can all sit here in this hotel room all day and look at each other... no books, tv, cards or anything." I got in the car, quit being a snot, and had a heck of a good time. It doesn't work for every kid but it might be worth a try." —Iowa_Redhead

From the Forums: "It's no one's job to make her have a good time on a vacation. If she is bored, then she is a boring person. If she misses her friends, then she should make new friends, write postcards, learn a new language or bond with her extended family. It's a perfect time to learn that there is a world outside herself and that she has a familial responsibility to help keep the vacation enjoyable for everyone else." —saige

6. Stay positive & share your enthusiasm for travel

While you shouldn't try to make your teen feel guilty, it doesn't hurt to gently remind them that travel is a luxury and as such they should be grateful that they have opportunity to see new places. You may even (briefly) share with them the trips you took with your family growing up or what you ultimately like about traveling.

Pointing out the trip's relevance to their own lives and decision making is also important. Open-ended questions like "Have you ever thought about studying abroad in college?" and "Where do you think it would be neat to do that?" might be good conversation starters and may give the trip more personal significance to your teen.

From the Forums: "This is an important life lesson. When faced with something we have to do, we have a choice. Waste the whole opportunity complaining and being miserable or get busy and make sure to have a fun vacation. A good attitude makes a good experience." —LSky

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Posted in Travel Tips Tagged: Community

Member Comments (4)  Post a Comment

  • grucci on Nov 20, 09 at 11:57 AM

    Dear Katie, Thanks so much for 'your input' and helping the family see many different version of ideas and situations so that parents can see exactly how the fodorite's adventures turned out. Experiencing other's lives in similar situations, so much to choose from - I'll be happy to write when we return and let everyone who was so helpful know what transpired along the trip.

  • cecefl on Nov 19, 09 at 10:40 AM

    My colleague and I are high school teachers who have traveled for years with teens. We wrote a short article for the Slow Travel board that you might like to read. It offers some of our ideas for successful travel with teenagers: http://www.slowtrav.com/europe/cm_teenagers.htm

  • Familygoboston on Nov 19, 09 at 09:49 AM

    Great ideas here...I travel with my 2 teen girls and have a trip planned to Africa in June with them and their teen cousin. I would add that when planning definately get input about one or two "don't want to miss" things from each child and incorporate those into your itinerary. For instance, my 13 yo daughter really wants to do an elephant back safari, so we made that a priority even though the adults are only "iffy" about it, and my neice has always been interested in African wild dogs, so we planned one of our camps in an area where we have a good chance of seeing them. If you can afford it, it is worth the extra money to book the extra room; both for privacy and for bathroom time. My biggest piece of advice is for anyone reading this forum with younger children. The best way to travel with teens is to get them used to travel and your expectations by travelling with them when they are young. It may just be in the car to Grandmas, or in town to a museum, but I found that by teaching them that they will be bored sometimes (long drives , waiting for planes), they will be outside their comfort zone sometimes (food, culture)and that they are expected to find a way cope (with our help as little kids) to interact with the family and have a good attitude. Because we started with them young, they are really excellent travellers, and I have found they relish the opportunity to be "kids" again and not have to keep the "act" up the way they might around their friends at home!

  • dogtiredwoof on Nov 19, 09 at 08:59 AM

    I have taught my kids going on vacations isn't a right it is a privilege. They have the option of coming with us or staying at Grandmas. They are usually included in the planning of the trips, and we make sure there is something for everyone (with 4 kids that is hard). We have been to Disneyland, Disney World, Mexico, Bahamas, London and Tanzania, Africa and we have yet to have any of them sit and sulk.

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