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Family vacation means different things at different points in your kids’ lives. When they’re little, it means finding somewhere safe for them and tolerable for you. For elementary age kids, they can do a bit more, but you still have to plan around their needs. But families of teenagers have it made. Because when you have teens, it can be almost like going on vacation with friends.
The Best Family Vacations … With Teenagers
A great family vacation with teenagers has several elements:
For teens, this time is about exploring and spreading their wings. It’s about pushing their limits and figuring out who they are, what they like, and what they’re made of. They are physically and mentally more capable than ever before. And that opens up a lot of opportunities.
The best family vacation with teens will have some element of adventure. This could be a new outdoor experience or a trip to somewhere they’ve never been before. It could be a physical challenge like a long distance cycling trip. It could also be a cultural challenge, like a trip to the country, if you’re a city dweller — or vice versa. The important things are novelty and stretching boundaries.
For you, this time is about making memories. Your teens are growing up. Soon they’ll be out on their own. This is the sweet spot. Your teens don’t need you for much anymore, but they still want to be with you. And you enjoy their company as well. (At least, in a perfect world.) This is a time to do something neither of you will ever forget.
Letting Them Sit in the Driver’s Seat
Your teens are old enough to have opinions — strong ones. And chances are, they do. Why not put that strength of conviction to use? If your teens are rolling their eyes at the idea of a family vacation with Mom and Dad, let them do some of the research and planning. They’re certainly capable. And if they’re in charge of part of the trip, they’ll be invested in that trip’s success. Some duties you might consider handing off to your teens include:
- Finding a place or places to stay. This is also a great way to teach about planning for a group, budgeting, and comparison shopping.
- Planning a sightseeing trip. You can use this opportunity to teach map skills, public transportation timetables, and how to get around in a place they’ve never visited before.
- Choosing restaurants. This can be an excellent lesson in compromise. Challenge your teen to find somewhere everyone in the family would enjoy eating, and give them a maximum amount of money they can spend, including tip.
- Driving. Letting your licensed teen do some of the driving can be fun for them, and take some of the burden off of you.
- Being the Official Photographer and Publicist. Let them document your trip in photos and on social media. Have them put together a travel blog to share your trip with friends and relatives.
Your teens can do many things now. But they still have plenty to learn. You, and experience, can teach them a lot.
Honoring Your Changing Relationship
A family vacation is a great time to acknowledge that your relationship with your child is changing. Every day your teen becomes stronger, more savvy, and more capable. One day, sooner than you think, your teen will be an adult. They’re already learning to navigate the adult world. Preparing to be your equal, rather than your dependent. A family vacation with teens can be a time to honor this shift — and to show your teen that you’re beginning to see them as the world soon will — as a young adult.
Many teens lead intense lives. Between school, activities, part-time jobs and busy social lives, teens need a break now and then. Sometimes even more than their parents do. It’s tempting to pack every minute with adventure and togetherness. But don’t forget that teens need their share of rest as well. Don’t schedule things for too early in the morning. And make sure to plan for some unstructured downtime for your teens to sleep, watch TV, read, or, yes, play on their phones.
Teens on Vacation: Family Vacation Ideas
The National Parks System has been a family vacation go-to for decades. Want a challenging backpacking trip to test your mettle? NPS has that. How about a relaxing few days of fishing and picture taking? NPS has that, too. The National Parks are an inexpensive way to enjoy America’s most beautiful natural surroundings. You can camp in a tent, rent an RV, or stay at a luxurious lodge. Visit the National Parks website to find a new corner of America to explore — or an old favorite to visit again. In addition, the State Parks are another option to explore.
What is Family Camp? It’s like the summer sleep away camp you might remember from your own childhood, but everyone’s there together. Arts and crafts? Check. Games and sports? Check. Silly songs, skits, and campfires? Family Camp has that, too. The best part is, family members can do programmed activities together, by themselves, or a little of each. You can do all the activities one day, and spend the next day on the couch. Family Camp really does have something for everyone. And your teens can spend time with you and also make friends with other teens from around the country, and around the world. For more information, check out this roundup of the 30 Best Family Camps in North America.
Family Vacation Packages
An all-inclusive family vacation is another terrific option for families. If you’re not up for the adventure of navigating a new place, why not try an all-inclusive trip? There are resorts to cater to every taste, from outdoor adventures to golf and fine dining. How about a Victorian castle in upstate New York? The Mohonk Mountain House has a lake, nature trails, and fossil hunting. It also has a golf course, stables, and open-air movies. You can find more family vacation packages in this article about All Inclusive Family Resorts in the USA.
Family Vacations on a Budget
You don’t have to break the bank to have an amazing family vacation. In fact, planning family vacations on a budget can teach your teens important lessons about value for money. You can have just as much fun nearby as you can in some exotic, faraway place. All it takes is a little planning. Together.
Be a Tourist in Your Hometown
If you live in an urban area, you’re probably spoiled with choices. You can visit museums, parks, restaurants — all of those things you’d never normally do because they’re “for tourists.” Challenge your teen to come up with an itinerary — to plan a family vacation for imaginary visitors, hitting all the things in your city no one should miss. Then visit them yourselves! You could plan a themed tour — history, industry, art, transportation — your teen’s imagination is the only limit.
If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot going on, try digging into the history of where you are. Every place has a story, and your town’s story may be more interesting than you ever knew.
Go Off Season, or Off the Beaten Path
Sure, Hawaii has amazing beaches. But did you know that Ohio does as well? And from travel to food to hotels, Ohio is a lot cheaper. Or how about Texas? Did you know that parts of Arkansas are stunningly beautiful? And who knew there was so much to do in Montana? Or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — voted one of USA Today’s top 10 teen-friendly vacation spots? What about a cross-country train trip? If you’re willing to stretch your imagination, you can stretch your budget to put together an unforgettable family vacation.
If you’re willing to travel offseason, you can pick up some amazing deals on airfare or lodging. Another advantage of traveling off-peak is that you’ll avoid the crowds. In addition, service and hospitality workers will be happy to see you. You can also score some good deals by booking early. Check out this slideshow of 50 amazing places to visit offseason.
Camping is another versatile low-cost vacation option. Local campgrounds, campsites, state and national parks often have space available to pitch a tent. Most department stores sell basic camping equipment. You can also rent it. And if you’re camping in the summer, you really don’t need much to have a whole lot of fun. Renting an RV is another option. In addition, you could try a privately run campground like KOA. These often have amenities like a swimming pool or clubhouse. Just make sure to check local regulations about campfires. In many parts of the western U.S., dry conditions make fires a hazard. Your campground may prohibit them.
Also, don’t forget about backyard camping! It’s a terrific way to give little kids a taste of the camping experience. But teens may enjoy pitching a tent in the back yard, too. And who wouldn’t like roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around a campfire, even if that campfire is right outside your back door?
Revisit Childhood Favorites
Sure, your teens are nearly grown. And they think they’re past all those silly things that used to amuse them when they were small. But really, who doesn’t like going to the park to feed the ducks? Or how about a trip to the children’s museum or a favorite kid restaurant? Bowling, anyone? Plan a series of day trips to places you and your kids enjoyed together when they were little. Your teens will enjoy revisiting these things through adult eyes. And you’ll have a great time telling them the real stories behind their memories.
Sitting in the car might not sound like an amazing family vacation. But the Great American Road Trip is a tradition as old as the automobile. Get your family in the mood by reading a road trip story like Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley or The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. (Note: some road trip memoirs are more family-friendly than others. Check carefully!) Read aloud once a week. Believe it or not, some teens enjoy reading out loud and being read to. Then choose a route. Road Trip USA has a list of famous American road trip routes that may appeal. You’ll have a lot of fun poring over maps, and picking out places to stop along the way. Research weird little museums and local attractions. Challenge your kids to find places the whole family might enjoy visiting. Read about the history of the areas you’ll be driving through. Planning a road trip can be almost as much fun as the trip itself!
The family vacation has changed and evolved since your kids were tiny. And the teen years are a fantastic time to enjoy a new phase. To enjoy each other on a new level. To get a sneak peek at who your kids may turn out to be. Your teens can go farther, do more, understand more, and participate in decision making like adults. Letting them help plan the trip can make less work for you, and more fun for them. It doesn’t matter if you go somewhere exotic and far away, or whether you explore your surroundings close to home. Spend a lot of money, or a little — just use your imagination. Adventure is where you look for it.
Featured Image CC0 by matheusseroa, via Pixabay.