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I love to travel with my family, but traveling with teens can be tough. They don’t always like the things I want to do, and they’re also too grown up for most kid-friendly vacations. It’s tricky (but not impossible!) to plan a vacation the whole family will like. Here are some ideas to consider:
Set Sail on a Cruise
Cruises offer fun on both the ship and at port. Look at the stops and figure out what activities check your family’s boxes. Things like water slides, pools, mini golf, rock climbing, ping-pong, bowling, ice skating and other organized activities will keep their boredom at bay. They can choose things they like while you partake in activities you’d rather do. Teens should be responsible enough to wander the ship alone, enjoying some “away from my annoying parents” time while you relax and know they’re safe. Win-win. Try the new Carnival Mardi Gras cruise which has an on-board roller-coaster and Club O2, a spot for karaoke, parties and video gaming. Royal Caribbean’s ships have a teen hangout and a nightly disco or themed party (think togas or pajamas), plus sports tournaments for kids who get antsy after a week of no soccer.
Try an All-Inclusive Resort
At an all-inclusive, you won’t be constantly telling your teen they don’t need another snack or beverage. They want another Sprite? Go for it. Paddle boarding? Give it a whirl. You know your costs are contained, and they get the freedom to choose what they want (within reason). Try Club Med Punta Cana, which offers flying trapeze classes and spa treatments just for them. Beaches Negril in Jamaica and Beaches Turks & Caicos have dance clubs just for teens called Club Liquid. In the Poconos, the whole family can play “Olympic” games at the Woodloch Pines Resort. If you can swing it, having them bring a friend will keep them happy and occupied.
It can be incredibly empowering for a teen to know he or she has the ability to make a real difference somewhere. A volunteer vacation also doesn’t hurt on a college application. Choose a company that does what it claims by talking to someone who’s traveled with them before. Me to We Trips in Toronto, Canada prioritizes cultural immersion and community development while teaching travelers about the local culture and people. Global Leadership Adventures is similar to the Peace Corps for 13- to 18-year-olds and calls for teens to spend several weeks traveling in countries across Africa, Asia or Latin America. If your teen wants to be a doctor or vet, giving her a chance to work in the public health field or with animal conservation will give them a leg up.
Get Them Moving
If your teen likes outdoor adventure, visit a National Park. Hike through Shenandoah Valley in Virginia or trek the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. If they want a rush, take a white water rafting trip on the Lehigh River in the Poconos. Whatever area or sport your teen’s into, use it to your advantage and look into vacations that incorporate it. A day or two on a golf course or mountain will make them happy, even if it’s part of a bigger trip. If they have a favorite team, go to a game near your main destination. Like to cook? Find a class. Into high adrenaline activities? Try zip lining.
Involve Them in the Planning
If you have some flexibility about locations, ask them where they’d like to go. If you know you want to go to Europe, ask what countries most intrigue them. I was pleasantly surprised when I did this myself and got unexpected answers. While in most major European cities, you can take a Fat Tire bike tour to explore sites. Just be sure to state your parameters before your kids start daydreaming about places out of your comfort zone or budget.
If you can’t afford Europe, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and DC have plenty of history, cultural attractions like museums, shows, activities and shopping. If you already know you’re going to a specific place, involve them in creating the itinerary. It’s harder to hate activities you had a hand in picking.
No matter what your family’s vacation plans look like, taking their needs into account, including them in planning and giving them some freedom when possible will make everyone happy.
—Sharon Rigney is a freelance travel writer, photography dabbler, cyclist and mom of three teens who are (mostly) fun to travel with.