Planning a Trip with Teens?
In an earlier article on Ten to Twenty about traveling with teens, I addressed planning a vacation with teenagers. Now that you’ve built your vacation at least partly around your teenager’s interests, here are some tips that might help both you and your child to enjoy it.
- Accommodate their sleeping habits.
As I mentioned in the last article, many teenagers have trouble with getting out of bed in the morning. Try to accommodate that: don’t plan activities for early in the morning. Instead, go take a dip in the pool or a walk around the neighborhood while your child sleeps late. It’ll make for a much less grumpy attitude once she does wake up.
- Breakfast is important.
At the same time, breakfast is key for a growing teenager, especially for a boy. Wake him up with enough time to catch the end of breakfast hours, or ask your hotel to pack up a box breakfast for him. I like to let my son pig out if breakfast is included because it saves me money over the rest of the day.
- Feed at regular intervals.
And speaking of food, don’t underestimate how important it is to teenagers. Make sure they are fed at the intervals they’re used to. It doesn’t always have to be fast food, though. Most restaurants will have something your child likes, even if he’s a picky eater. Just check out the menu before choosing and let your son veto a restaurant if there’s nothing there he wants to eat. My son particularly liked eating in the UK; pubs usually had something he liked, such as fish and chips, and nothing makes him happier than sticky toffee pudding!
- Plan for short visits.
When they’re traveling, teenagers have the attention span of a gnat. Don’t plan a long time doing any one thing, even if that thing is something your child wants to do. If she has some interest in visiting an art museum, that doesn’t mean she wants to spend the whole day there. See if there’s a way to enter for an hour or two, then go back later the same day or another day for another hour or two.
Something that worked with my daughter, though never with my son, was to walk through art museums fairly quickly, stopping in each room long enough to choose our favorite artworks. Then we’d each explain why the one we chose was our favorite, after which we’d move on to the next room. It was fascinating as she got older to hear her explanations get increasingly sophisticated, moving from “because I like all that pink,” when she was six years old to “because the contrast between that figure and that figure accentuates their distance,” when she was 18.
If your child is amenable, let him visit whatever part of the museum interests him and then wait for you in the museum café. My son so rarely gets sweets at home that buying him a bottle of sport drink or a piece of cake, with a side order of Nintendo, will pacify him for at least an hour, letting us soak in more of whatever the sight is.
- Don’t try to see everything.
I think parents often have the feeling that they want to get their “money’s worth.” So if you’ve paid for admission for one day to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for example, you want to spend as much time as you can and see as much of it as you can.
Don’t do this with a teenager in tow! She’s likely to become increasingly grumpy at being dragged around a museum. Her grumpiness could turn downright nasty and, given that you’re there to enjoy yourselves, that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
Many tourist sites have reduced rates in the evening—a more teen-friendly time in any case. Some offer re-entry on the same ticket over two or more days. Make sure to check for these opportunities for flexibility.
- Choose activities carefully.
Walking tours can be great with teenagers, or they can be a nightmare of embarrassment: for you, not him! They hate standing still and listening. On the other hand, if the topic is his obsession, like when I took my son and nephew on a tour of Harry Potter film sites in London, it’ll be a hit. Food tours or cooking classes work well too.
And if your daughter just wants to lie on the beach, let her. Offer a deal: we’ll spend the afternoon on the beach but first we’ll spend the morning exploring the town. Or, if you have more than one teenager, would it be so bad to leave them on the beach together for the morning?
- Use bribery.
Since you and your teenager most likely have different interests, try to fulfil both. Offer bribes (I like to call them “deals.”). Say that if your son goes along pleasantly to visit just this one castle this morning, you’ll take him to that go-cart place he spotted or let him have an hour on the Nintendo. I know, bribes aren’t supposed to be good parenting, but I’ve found that my son makes us all happy in a situation like this because he’ll be much more cheerful as he follows us around the castle. Sometimes it even allows him to lighten up enough to enjoy some of the sightseeing instead of refusing to. Win-win.
According to a 16-year-old girl, Emma, whom I consulted for this article, the best bribe is to offer to go shopping. My son, on the other hand, would be horrified at any suggestion of shopping. For him, ice cream continues to work, or anything involving a screen and a game.
My son, when I asked him about this, added “And don’t plan every hour. Make sure there’s some down time to play games or read.”
Emma advised, “If you go somewhere historical, don’t lecture.”
My son (who is reading-averse) added, “It helps if you read the informational signs and just summarize them for us.”
Emma cautioned, “Taking public transportation is okay. You don’t have to walk everywhere.”
As I wrote in my article about planning the vacation, be sensitive to what your child needs and wants. Don’t just make him come along to what you want to see. Treat him like an adult by listening to his ideas and observations. Everyone will be happier in the end.
About Rachel – Rachel Heller is a writer, blogger and teacher living in Groningen, in the Netherlands. American by birth, she met her Dutch husband and found her career as a teacher when she joined the Peace Corps and was posted to Malawi. She loves to travel and write, preferably at the same time. Her blog, “Rachel’s Ruminations,” is at www.rachelheller.org and her twitter name is @annesmoeder.
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