Family vacation with teensFamily bonding time can easily be pushed aside by sports and other activities during the school year. So when you plan a break, it’s important that everyone looks forward to both the destination and itinerary.

Vacations should satisfy everyone in the family—even us picky teenagers. So give us the chance to have some input on where we’ll go and what we’ll do.

The Best Places to Go?

Disney World and its theme parks are always a safe bet, whether kids are 6 or 16. Also consider smaller venues such as Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA, and closer to home, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, as they boast huge roller coasters for teens and smaller rides for younger siblings.

If your family members are baseball fans, try to drive or fly to watch spring training. My family went to Tampa to see the Yankees during their spring training at Steinbrenner Field. We saw the players up close and even got autographs from Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. That was exciting for all of us!

Or head to upstate New York to visit the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. With inductee plaques, Babe Ruth’s locker and uniform, World Series rings, and other baseball memorabilia, it’s a great way to commemorate the sport.

If you’re looking for someplace unusual that will grab everyone’s attention, instead of thinking outside the box, think under it. About an hour by car from Cooperstown is Howe Caverns. Take the tour, which goes 150 feet underground into the caves, an astounding area of formations carved over thousands of years by subterranean rivers.

Are We There Yet?

While you’re on the road to these destinations, there’s always the question of where to eat. A quick fast-food stop off the highway is appropriate on occasion, but there’s a limit. Teens know this food is unhealthful, and we won’t eat it every day.

Places like diners can be found anywhere, and they’re a crowd-pleaser with their large menus. Vacations can always be topped off by visiting nicer restaurants as well. Places that cook or grill in front of you are great for added entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, what’s there to do on those long car rides? Never assume time will pass quickly; it usually doesn’t. Remind teens to take their cell phones, iPods, DVD players, books (paper or electronic), 
games, and some snacks along for the ride. Also, taking a pillow and blanket never hurts. That way, if your teen feels tired, bored, at odds with siblings, or carsick, there’s always the option to nap.

Nearly every teen wants to travel outside the borders of his own country. International travel provides a new feeling of freedom and maturity and allows you to see things in a new perspective. Last summer I went to the Netherlands to visit a family near Amsterdam. I got to experience a different culture, cuisine, and architecture, took a canal tour, and visited the Anne Frank House, a main tourist attraction there.

Striking Out

The only thing that’s worse than a forgettable vacation is a vacation that’s unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Attractions such as museums are often “don’ts,” unless it’s a museum with more than historic paintings. Teens view vacations as a break from school and learning, so if you drag us to a museum merely because you’re unsure of what else to do, don’t do it.

Plays are another thing that may not receive a warm reception. Unless your teen has expressed interest in seeing a certain play, chances are he may not be thrilled sitting through a three-hour performance.

Camping may also be a no-no; it depends on your teen. For me (and commonly with girls rather than boys), living in the wilderness with bugs, tents, no air conditioning, and no Internet access is torture. I wasn’t allowed to have my cell phone on our family camping trip, which I found frustrating because it left me completely disconnected from my friends and the outside world. So see how your teenager feels about camping before you pitch a tent. You may be able to find middle ground by going to a camping site where there are actual showers and bathrooms.

Family vacation “dos” may very well outnumber the “don’ts” because there are so many places to go and things to see—and everybody likes a change of scenery and the chance for an adventure. But I think I speak for most teens when I say: please involve us in the planning process. I think we’ll all have more fun.

Taylor Swaak is a high school student in New Jersey.