As your kids grow and mature, it changes the dynamic of your traveling family. There is something freeing about leaving that diaper bag, car seat and stroller behind. What a relief it is when the kids can pack for themselves (with some guidance, of course), carry their own suitcases and gain some independence! You do not have to plan around nap time. They can eat on the go. Teens can now do all those fun things you used to do before you had kids. This is a great time to play and get back in the swing of things with your older kids. Of course, they also bring their own challenges, moods, eye-rolls and unique needs. We can't promise your trip will be free of that, but if you follow these tips, you'll definitely see more smiles and fewer reasons to complain. Here’s our guide to traveling with teens, tweens and older kids so you all have a hoppin’ great time.
Traveling with Teens by Plane
When traveling with small tadpoles, you may spend the whole flight trying to keep wiggly ones in their seats, using their quiet voices and making sure they don't disturb other passengers. Flying with teens is the opposite. With headphones on and devices loaded, you have a quiet, occupied teen.
Do your older kids bicker or all want the window seat? Good news. They don’t need to be right next to the family anymore. We know a family with several teens who generally get along but tend to pick on each other when traveling, perhaps out of boredom. After one annoying flight of “He’s touching me,” and “I want the window shade open," and, "Well, I want it closed,” mom realized the older kids do not need family assistance. She started booking one teen on a window and another teen at a different window, not in front of or behind the other, but on opposite side of the plane. The parents sit elsewhere on the plane, and have enjoyed peaceful, interruption-free flights ever since.
We’re sure your kids always get along. But if they occasionally don’t, you can separate older children and they will be just fine. We find that as much as they like to annoy family members, teens are perfectly polite and well-behaved when sitting next to strangers. Just remember that once they turn 18, they’ll need to bring ID to fly.
Hotel Stays for Traveling with Teens
This is the time in life to look for larger accommodations. Whether it’s a suite hotel or a larger rental, you’ll want some space to spread out. Teens like their privacy and spend more time in the bathroom than little tadpoles. Our toddler, Lily, prefers to be by our sides constantly and crawls in to sleep between us every chance she gets. Tad is happier on even a pullout in the other room. So if you can get a hotel with more than one sleeping space and more than one bathroom, you’ll all be hoppier.
A larger hotel room can allow for different sleep cycles. Many teens prefer to sleep in when given the chance. If your teen is not an early riser, do not force him or her to wake up early. Take the younger siblings away and let the teens sleep. Early birds can go have breakfast, do activities you know the teens won’t care to miss and return for the teenager at a more comfortable time. This works in everyone’s favor. The good news is that once awake, the teen may be able to go hard at the vacation activities or touring and playing all day long. Plan some relaxing activities into the day so you don’t burn the tadpoles — or yourself — out.
Look for hotels that offer free breakfast to save time and money. Is there a game room, pool with a water slide, indoor water park or sport court? These are all bonuses.
On a recent trip to Disneyland, our frog squad stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton (as low as $160 a night). We all enjoyed the extra space in our suite, free buffet breakfast and pool. Our busy tween enjoyed the arcade, game room, putting green and basketball court. Complimentary wine for the parents on weeknights was a much-appreciated touch.
Great Vacation Ideas for Teens Tweens and Older Kids
When your kids are old enough to do fun things, it really opens up the possibilities. By now they have probably developed their own interests and opinions. Have them help you pick the destination or activities. Involve them in the process, but don’t bog them down with the details. Find out the highlights and make it happen. Be sure to look for new and exciting things they haven’t tried, but balance activity with down time so you do not exhaust them. Do you have beach lovers, adventurers, movie lovers, theme park junkies, history buffs, theater fans, tech whizzes or academics? You can find vacations that meet their needs and expand their worlds. If they are having fun, you’ll have fun, too. Some teens love the great outdoors, while others prefer hitting the streets of a big city and getting lost in museums.
City travel is fun with this age. Many teens love exploring new cities. Movie buffs may prefer Los Angeles, history fans may connect with Boston, Washington, D.C. and New York. With history class still fresh in their memory, trips to historical sites and important landmarks can be particularly meaningful. Artsy teens love Chicago, Miami and New York, as well. Sports fans may jump at the chance to see a game. Hop over to our city blog posts find the best cites for family travel. If your teens are learning a foreign language in school, it’s a great time to take them to places where they can practice speaking the language.
Outdoorsy and adventurous teens may enjoy trips that include hiking, rock climbing, rappelling down waterfalls, mountain biking, zip lining or learning a new sport. Lake and beach vacations allow for fun water sports. During winter, ski vacations can include skiing or snowboarding, ice skating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, tubing and more. It’s fun to have kids old enough to go on adventures with you! If you'll be skiing with teens next season, hop on the Epic Pass before the season gets underway to save big money on lift tickets.
Find the Best Theme Parks for Teens
We are theme park frogs, so we love incorporating theme park visits into our vacations whenever possible. But we can see that Tad’s interests are changing as he seeks bigger and faster thrills compared to when he was a younger froglet. As a huge Harry Potter and Star Wars fan, he loves immersing himself into themed lands at the parks. Jump over to our posts on the best Orlando theme parks by age group and the best Southern California theme parks by age group to get some hoppin’ ideas for the best theme parks for your teen or tween.
Travel with Friends or Family
Are you close to another family with teens who your teens like? Do you have cousin teens in the family? Take a trip together! The teens will enjoy having people their own age to hang, explore and play games. Parents will enjoy the camaraderie. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Find Balance with Siblings
If you have more than one teen, then you’ll be managing multiple teen moods and personalities. Do not get on the roller coaster of emotions with them. If you have kids of varying ages, you’ll be working on meeting the needs of an independent teen with the interests of a smaller child. Do you have an only child? You might occasionally bring a friend along in your travels, depending on the destination.
If you have kids with diverse interests and skill levels, do not be afraid to split up for a bit to meet everyone’s needs. Take the early bird out for special one-on-one time, and then spend special evening time with the night owl. Take an art class or go shopping with one kid, but go rock climbing with your adventurous, outdoorsy soul. Your kids will appreciate the one-on-one time, even if they don’t tell you about it. If the parents split up to each take the kids to different activities, be sure to divide the fun evenly. Unless you prefer it that way, make sure that each parent gets some thrills and is not always the one stuck on the baby rides while the other parent gets the roller coasters. It’s your vacation, too.
Don’t give your teens a chance to get “hangry.” Keep meals and snacks on schedule to keep them hoppy. Nobody can make decisions or cope with unexpected problems on an empty stomach. A short rest and snack can set things right again. Be sure to get a taste of the local flavor.
Charge It and Balance Device Time
Tad’s tip for traveling with teens and tweens is to bring portable chargers. Travel with car chargers, portable chargers, or whatever you need to keep their devices fully juiced. If you want your kids to unplug a bit, let them make trip playlists for the whole family to enjoy rather than shutting themselves off under headphones. Play car games. Visit nature areas without strong Wi-Fi or cell service so they can put down the phone and play with the family. Traveling with teens, tweens and older kids can require some creativity to keep them engaged with you. Carry a deck of cards. While waiting for planes or food at a restaurant, pull out the cards for a game to pass the time rather than retreating into your devices. (As parents you need to model the behavior you want to see when it comes to devices.) But definitely let your teens connect at some point or you'll hear about it.
Take Pictures Sparingly
It’s a little ironic. Your teen may take a million selfies and "Insta worthy" pics and aim to keep their streaks going, but when you want to take a family pic, then it’s a "major intrusion" into his or her life. Take some pictures, but do not get to the point that your teen breaks down in frustration. They. Just. Can’t. Even. Smile. One. More. Time. They may not want to be all over your Facebook page. Save picture time for those really cool shots capturing fun. Then we promise they'll be asking, "Can you send me that pic?" so they can share it. Find that balance between living in the moment and capturing the moment. And never ask to take a selfie with them. Of course if it's their idea, then jump in the pic!
Give a Lesson on Street Smarts
Some places are safer than others. Give your teens some pointers about things they should know about an area. Is pickpocketing common? Does the traffic move in a different direction so you really need to look both ways before stepping into the street? Are there tips for riding the subway? Dangerous rip currents in the ocean? Give them a head’s up on what to be aware of, but do not hover over them.
Consider Taking College Tours
It’s never too soon to plan for college. If your teen is looking at going away to school, you can schedule a college tour for a school that’s in your vacation area into your visit. Seeing a campus and getting familiar with the surrounding area may help your teen consider a school that wasn’t on the radar or rule it out. If they fall in love with a place, a university in that area might make a good fit. We try to plan college tours into our existing travel plans because it can save on a return trip later. Even if it’s not the perfect school, there’s a lot to learn. For example, touring a city campus can help Tad decide later if he wants to go far from the pond and consider a city school or if he would much prefer a different college environment with more of a contained campus feel. It can help him narrow down whether he’d be happier in a small pond or a bigger environment.
The teen and tween years are an exciting time. Teens and tweens today have very busy lives with school, sports and extracurricular activities. There are many college-prep classes and tests that can take a toll on teens. Vacation is the perfect time to de-stress and bond as a family. It’s important to take these family trips now while your teens and tweens are still under your roof. As mentioned, college is coming and they’ll be off soon. It goes by in a flash, so hold fast to those family vacations and keep playing with your teens and tweens.
Traveling with College-Aged Kids
Once your teens graduate high school and go off to college, they are still teens. Your traveling dynamic will change again. It seems many college kids turn nocturnal when they go away to school, so their sleep and wake cycles may differ greatly from yours. You'll really want to have your own space. Do not micromanage them. They have gotten used to some independence at school, so they find it frustrating when you try to remind them of every little thing. Trust them. It's a time of transition for parents and teens. So find that balance of having fun together while learning to let go and establishing a new kind of relationship. Besides, you might want to be able to travel with them for years to come. Keep it positive and low key so they'll want to keep spending time with you. Your college-age kid may miss you and appreciate getting to spend time with you on vacation, which can be a nice change if that has not always been the case.
One tip to get that one-on-one time with your college kids is to whisk them off on a vacation after finals. When they return home, they'll want to see all their high school friends who are also home for the break. When you take them away with you, you eliminate the competition for that short bit of time and can get in some important family bonding. Once you've filled your cup with that family connection and return home, it will be much easier to share them with everyone else.
Do you have an upcoming trip with teens? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. We are sure you'll want to save money on your upcoming vacation, so be sure to check out the hoppin' deals on tickets and hotels in Orlando, Los Angeles and other major cities, ski resorts and beach destinations.
Related: 12 Tips for Going to Disneyland with Teens and Tweens