5 Tips for Traveling With a Teenager

Cynthia Bowman

As a mother to a hormonal teenager, there are not many things I can say anymore that make her smile. “Hey, want to go to France for the weekend?” I ask. Eye roll, followed by the comment, “France is boring.”

When writing the title for this, I wrote “teenanger” by accident. How ironic.

Your teen may not respond to a family vacation with cartwheels, but they do secretly look forward to travel. Vacations are a great opportunity to bond as a family, without social influences from other friends and peers putting a damper on things. You just have to be prepared and know how to avoid the drama. As a globetrotting mother, I offer you 5 ways to beat the eye rolls, attitude and survive traveling with a teenager:

Survival tip 1: Plan for space on your trip

“A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.” -Rumi

Space is the most important thing you can offer your teenager during travel.During these difficult and transformational years, living with a teen is like living with someone from another planet. The sentiment goes both ways. Teenagers need a break from us, as we do from them. The craziness gets kicked up a notch during the intensity of travel, so be prepared to schedule breaks — it’s good for both of you.

Teens are biologically wired to crave space. Alone time builds intelligence and helps teens regulate their emotions. “Time spent alone to reflect is just as important as the activities themselves,” confirms Joseph Murray, an associate professor of education at Bucknell University. In his study, he found that teenagers that enjoy regular solo time, thrive in college.

“Students need to spend time alone with their thoughts, and there’s reason to believe that’s not happening nearly enough,” Murray said.

When planning a trip, book a hotel or apartment with room for your teen to be in solitude. If a suite is out of your budget, a hotel with a pool, nice lobby or lounge will serve as a great place they can wander off to, as they need. Also consider that space can be created in the simplest of ways, like allowing your teen to put on his earbuds, hang out and listen to music.

Survival tip 2: Let them sleep in!

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a teenager’s sleep-wake cycle can shift as much as two hours, thanks to hormones. This makes it difficult for your teen to fall asleep before 11 p.m or to wake up at 9 am. To exacerbate the situation, teens need a minimum of 8 – 10 hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep makes them irritable and prone to lashing out. Sound familiar?

When traveling, plan to do things your teenager doesn’t want to participate in, while they sleep. Or take that time to indulge in an early spa treatment, a work out or personal quality time of your choice.

Knowing that your teen is a late riser, make plans in the late afternoon and evenings together, when your teens are at their best.

Survival tip 3: Schedule WiFi time

Incorporate time for WiFi to keep your mobile data bill down, and family bonding time up. This is especially important during overseas vacations when text and data rates are at a premium. Our family rule is that when we’re out, we don’t text or hold conversations with a device, just with each other.

To offset the “outrageous demand” of family bonding time, we allow our teen WiFi time, back at the hotel room at some point daily. WiFii time for the teen is the perfect coffee or wine time for adults.

Let your teens check in with friends back home and use it to your advantage! J, our teen, is often more engaged in exploring, because friends want her to report back on things she saw and pictures (and selfies) she took.

Survival tip 4: Use my hands on history activity to get your teen engaged

We travel so much, so I want my kids to really enjoy and appreciate what we are doing. They get travel homework before we leave on a trip. I tell them where we’re going, some cool things about the place and ask them to Google the place and come up with what they found interesting and what they want to see.

Put yourself in your teenager’s shoes and run the script in their head. Your teen: what’s the point of standing in this old, round building with no roof and a pile of rocks with a bunch of other people? This is hot and boring. My parents are embarassing me right now.

But what if you give them some travel homework and let them research the place in advance? The script changes. Your teen: we are standing in a round building with no roof and a pile of rocks in Rome called the Colosseum. Some gladiator in a skirt probably got shred to pieces by a tiger right here a long time ago. Awesome. It’s time for a selfie, my friends won’t believe I was here!

Survival tip 5: Slow down

Don’t pull a Griswold on your vacation! There is no need to see every sight in the guide book. You can learn a lot from your teen about slowing down. On a recent trip to Scotland, we spent the day in a small village, in and out of monasteries, museums and castles.

J was not into it. She walked out of our castle tour. I followed her, ready to give her an earful. She sat on a bench to watch birds bathe and play in a water fountain. I sat with her, not realizing how tired I was. The sun was shining on us and we kept giggling at the water war between the birds in the fountain. A large, old, creaky tree was blowing in the wind, making the most beautiful sound. It was a lovely break.

J simply said, “I just needed to come outside for a little while. My brain told me less sightseeing, more being.”

Those are the moments that make travel with teens, when planned right, a worthwhile experience. Moments when they briefly reveal their soul and you can relax and be proud of who they are growing up to be. Take J’s mantra, “Less sightseeing, more being,” and incorporate it into your next vacation with teens.

Head to the Family Room


5 Tips for Traveling with a Teenager

This post was syndicated with permission to BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Cynthia is a pioneering mom with a plan to teach her kids about the world by doing, not reading. Sure, reading is important, but when they sold everything and moved to Spain, the plan was to do lots of road trips to places they had read about in National Geographic Kids. Being strangers in a strange land was scary at first, but the kids are speaking Spanish and thriving, the dog gets long walks in search of Iberian Ham, and Cynthia and her husband are having the time of their lives. It doesn't always go smoothly, but the joy is in the journey!