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When kids are little, traveling involves a lot of gear, distractions to keep them from crying on airplanes, and baggies full of Cheerios. Parents of young children might think that traveling gets easier when their kids get older. To some extent that’s true, but a whole different set of considerations comes into play once they can no longer be pushed around in a stroller — and instead have strong opinions about where to go and what to do. Add to the equation the fact that tweens and teens would often rather be with their friends than their parents, and a dream trip can go south quickly.
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According to a new report by Hilton, 85% of U.S. parents are planning to travel with children in the next year. Those parents are looking for ways to take the friction out of travel no matter how old their kids are. With a shift in mindset and a different approach to planning, teenagers and their parents can all enjoy traveling together.
Involve T(w)eens in Planning
If you are open to different destinations, ask your teenager or tween for suggestions. They may be intrigued by somewhere they read about in school, or they may want to travel to a country where they can practice speaking a language they are learning in school. If your destination isn’t up for debate, ask your child to research activities at your destination or interesting stops along the way. If some activities are your child’s idea, chances of getting their buy-in for the trip are much higher, even if their contribution is only to find a place to eat or cool store to check out. Teenagers may also find an interesting activity you never would have thought of if you empower them to take on some responsibility for planning. If you are really lucky, they will enjoy the task and want to take on planning more tasks in the future.
Keep Your Child’s Idea of a Good Time in Mind
The things your child likes to do at home are the same things they would like to do on vacation. Some parents reject the idea of going to an amusement park or movie on vacation because those are things they can easily do at home. Some families call this a “rest day” where they do nothing but hang out by the pool while others give their teen completely control over the day. Kids who are tired of being dragged to museums will really appreciate some time dedicated just to them. Some families swear by the idea of planning a “kid day” every couple of days while on vacation, where parents abandon what they would like to do in favor of something they know their children will love. This mindset applies equally to teenagers and can go a long way towards ensuring everyone makes it home with happy memories. Some families seek out something they know their teen will love, like a cooking class or surfing lessons.
Give them Some Independence
Between school, friends, and sports, many teenagers are used to spending a lot of time away from their parents. Suddenly being stuck with their family 24/7 can be a challenge. Depending on your destination, and whether your child has their own phone, it might be appropriate to let a teenager wander around on their own for an hour or leave to enjoy a slice of pizza solo. Just make sure you know where they are at all times, and that they know the emergency number local to wherever you are.
Look for Family-Friendly Accommodations
Finding accommodations that work for families will help everyone be better rested and in a better mood. Knowing there are other families on-site will reduce some pressure to ensure your teens are quiet all the time, and you can relax knowing your teen won’t be the only one who might wander down to the lobby to get a snack on their own. Finding a hotel with a pool or large lobby where a teen can go to escape the family for a few minutes can help. If it’s in the budget, look for a hotel like Hilton that offers guaranteed connecting or adjoining rooms or go all out and book a resort that offers teen-specific activities.
Adults, and toddlers napping in strollers, may be able to go all day long. Tweens and teens may not have the attention span or patience to jump from one attraction to the next. Build in some breaks between stops so they can regroup and reset.
Ease Up on Screen Time Rules
While every family has their own rules, flights and long car rides typically aren’t the time to impose strict limits on screen time. Making sure each child has their own device is the secret to a smooth trip for many families. A Fire HD Tablet is a great choice for a full-featured but very portable tablet — parental controls for content and time limits are optional. For parents who want to encourage reading on vacation, try a Kindle to ensure kids can access almost any book, any time, and never lose their place. As a bonus, kids can stock up on free digital books from the library before a trip and they can read in the dark without disturbing anyone else, even in a shared hotel room.
The one big area of overlap between traveling with little kids and big kids is the need for snacks: lots and lots of snacks. Be sure to keep some handy and listen to your teen when they tell you they need to eat. No one likes a hangry teenager.
Keep the Power Going
Teenagers and phones are inseparable. This is never truer than when traveling. Teens rely on their phones to keep themselves entertained on planes, trains, and automobiles, stay in touch with friends, and post about their trips. Ensuring that phones stay charged is essential to a successful trip. An Anker power bank is a good choice because it’s reliable and light. Grab a tech organizer, preferably one like Nomatic’s that is sturdy and waterproof, that can withstand a beating and still keep devices safe. Another great option is Knack Bags, which come with device storage built in but look like a regular backpack, so kids won’t be targeted. And a brightly-colored silicone cable protector not only differentiates whose charger is whose (argument averted!), but the pop of color makes it extra-noticeable so they’ll never forget it in a hotel or wherever they’ve got it out.
Set Ground Rules Before You Go
Setting ground rules before heading out the door will go a long way towards ensuring a smooth vacation. Cover everything from screen time limits, to lights out, to whether they can go to the pool themselves, and expectations for sending time with the family. These rules will likely change from year to year depending on the destination and age of the child, so make it clear any ground rules you set aren’t forever. The best time to discuss — and negotiate — these rules is at least a couple of weeks before the trip, so no one starts vacation with hard feelings.
Be Open to Not Being Together All the Time
In families with more than one child, siblings can start to bicker early on. Kids may also have different interests, which can make it hard to keep everyone happy. Once teen may love art history, while you know their sibling won’t tolerate being in an art museum for more than an hour. Consider splitting up for small parts of your vacation. One-on-one time can go a long way towards making teens feel like their needs are being taken into consideration, and time away from each other can help siblings get along better once they reunite.
The days of packing jammies for little kids are over once kids hit the t(w)een years. Many families start by giving their big kids a packing list, but expect kids to pack themselves. If things go well, older kids can also keep themselves organized throughout the trip, even when making multiple stops.
Packing cubes are a great secret to getting tweens and teens to pack appropriately. Compression packing cubes from Monos not only help kids keep all of their clothes from turning into a messy ball in their luggage, but also allows them to pack more. Another must-have is a compact laundry bag, so teenagers don’t give into their base instinct to wear dirty undies that find their way back into a suitcase. Mumi’s moisture- and odor-resistant version is great because it comes with a hanger, so it’s easy to hang a makeshift hamper in a closet. For travel in colder weather, a packable puffer jacket ensures they’ll have a warm option that can also fit comfortably into a suitcase when necessary.
Having a packable tote for each child is also helpful for souvenirs they pick up on vacation or to act as a catch-all bag for odds and ends they want to keep with them during travel — but ideally, packing light is always the way to go. Ensure your child if they need something you can get it where you are going.
Encourage Flexibility – For Everyone
Giving teens a sense of what you have planned each day is helpful. However, reminding teenagers ahead of time that not everything will go according to plan may be even more valuable. Parents should keep this mind too. If teenagers are clearly not having a good time or just don’t want to be somewhere, parents can increase their chances of walking away with happy memories if they are willing to adjust their plans. That doesn’t mean giving in every time a teenager complains, but if you’ve got a miserable teen on your hands, being open to compromise can be helpful for getting the trip back on track.
Keep the Peace
Traveling with tweens and teens can be loud. They want to listen to their music. They fight with siblings. They whine and complain. If possible, separate siblings on airplanes or with creative seating arrangements in the car. Noise canceling headphones are a good choice for everyone along for the ride. JBL Noise Canceling earbuds are a great choice because they have a long-lasting battery and keep the noise out.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Parents can’t control how grumpy teenagers can be, but they can do their best to go with the flow and try to meet everyone’s needs so that everyone can have a good time.
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