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How to Survive -- and Enjoy -- Vacations with Teens

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They need more sleep than toddlers. They grumble more than grandparents. And they'd rather stare at screens than marvel at the world's wonders. They're teenage travelers.

Planning a trip with your teenager? These tips will help you survive and maybe even have fun during family vacations with teens.

Three Keys to Surviving Vacations with Teens

1. Let go of your expectations... Writer Anne Lamott likes to say, "Expectations are resentments under construction." That's especially true for vacations with teens. If you expect your teen traveler to marvel at every monument and express her gratitude for this enriching cultural experience, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Try not to expect teenagers to be model travel companions, and in return, encourage them to manage their expectations for the trip. Travel can be difficult, unpredictable and sometimes boring, so your teen has to understand the trip won't be a thrill a minute.

...BUT do expect appropriate behavior. When traveling overseas, your teenager needs to understand that she must abide by the rules and customs of the country you're visiting. That means behaving respectfully at religious and historic sites, dressing appropriately, trying unfamiliar foods and learning how say "Thank you" in the local language.

2. Choose a teen-friendly destination... The easiest way to make sure vacations with teens are fun? Let someone else worry about entertaining them. Cruise lines, amusement parks and beach resorts all offer special spaces and activities just for teenagers. Family Vacation Critic names 10 of the best resorts for teens, including Atlantis in the Bahamas (with a huge teen club and gaming lounge) or the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, which has an eco-education program for teens with snorkeling and ocean kayaking.

... BUT also consider a service trip. If your teenager is developing a sense of entitlement and thinks she deserves everything she's given, lounging on the beach in Bermuda isn't going to help. Travel is the perfect opportunity to remind your teen that she enjoys comforts most people in the world don't have. Several organizations arrange international service trips for teens and families, such as Globe Aware and Global Volunteers.1 Some resorts even offer volunteer opportunities for vacationers. The Solmar Foundation in Los Cabos, Mexico, arranges for resort guests to visit and bring donations to shelters and orphanages.2

3. Allow your teen to strike out on her own... You want your teenager to become an independent, savvy traveler, and a family vacation is a great place to practice. If you're in a city or resort area where it's safe for a teen traveler to wander on her own, then consider allowing her a few free hours to explore. Discuss the time frame, boundaries and what to do in an emergency. One tip from the American Society of Travel Agents is to give your older teenager some money and send them off to find dinner: "This will force them to find their way around, communicate with locals and handle money responsibly. And all the while, you and your spouse can sneak off for a romantic dinner."

...BUT set clear ground rules. It is not OK to slip out at night to visit Berlin nightclubs, or vanish for two hours on an impromptu shopping trip. If you know your child is a rule-breaker, consider more active, tightly scheduled vacations for teens. It's hard to get in trouble while cycling through France or trekking in Patagonia — and your teen will be too tired at the end of the day to even leave the hotel.

A Few More Tips for Surviving Vacations with Teens

Let them sleep in. You want to get to the Louvre when it opens at 9 a.m. Your son moans, groans and pulls a pillow over his head. This is one instance when it's probably best to cave. Teenagers need more sleep than adults, and forcing them to be early birds only makes vacations with teens miserable. Arrange to meet back at the hotel at lunchtime and then do something as a family.

Get your teen's help planning the itinerary. One sure way to avoid complaints about the trip being so boring is to put your teenager in charge of planning a few days' activities. Be prepared to go along with what she wants to do, even if that means seeing Disneyland Paris instead of the Eiffel Tower. You can even give your teen a budget, which helps her learn to manage money and cuts back on begging for souvenirs.

Consider making vacations with teens device-free. Be prepared for hysterics when you announce that the phone and iPad have to stay home. It takes a tough parent to enforce this rule, but it'll be worth it to see your teen traveler looking up at the sights instead of down at his screen. If this policy is too drastic, decide when phones are allowed: only in the hotel? Only while traveling between destinations? Limiting electronics use also teaches your teen that traveling's not about posting pictures and bragging to friends; it's about savoring unfamiliar experiences and broadening your mind.

Have an emergency plan. Teach your teen that things don't always go as planned when you're traveling. Discuss what to do if your teenager gets lost, hurt or robbed, or if something happens to you. Remember that if you've protected your vacation with travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance, you have access to the 24-hour travel assistance hotline. Call anytime, from anywhere in the world, and our travel experts will help you figure out what to do in an emergency. Children aged 17 and under are covered free with the Classic plan from Allianz Global Assistance.

Take the long view. As challenging as vacations with teens can be, they're worth it.

Five years from now, your son won't remember your many travel squabbles, but he will keep the great memories of a special family trip — and so will you.


Jan 11, 2015