How to travel with teenagers
Parenting columnist, podcast host and mother of four Lorraine Candy talks about the pleasures and perils of holidays with adolescent offspring
When we were on holiday with our four kids when they were little, I used to look at families vacationing with teenagers with envy. One day, I’d think, we’ll travel light, too – no buggy, no bottles, no bottoms to wipe, no deadly car seats to complain about or constantly asking waiters if they do spaghetti Bolognese ‘with no green bits in it’.
We’ll be able to stay out late, wander famous museums together, enjoy exhilarating water sports and chat about our day over exotic local cuisine.
Now I have three teens (and a nine-year-old) I know holidaying with them is not like that. Indeed, travelling with adolescents is very far from how I imagined it would be and I often want to call my parents who took us camping in Cornwall every year and apologise for my behaviour retrospectively.
Don’t get me wrong – we have had some spectacularly lovely holidays en famille: Sri Lanka, Greece, France, the Caribbean. And we’ve enjoyed wonderful staycations, too, but teens bring a new level of planning and pleasing to a vacation.
Don’t expect thanks
Firstly, you have to get over the fact that they will never ever be able to show their approval, elation, gratitude or joy for anything they do, see or eat on holiday. This would be breaking the teenage omertà they have agreed with the rest of their tribe, which dictates that you should not enjoy doing anything with your parents. Teens are on a quest to separate from you and define their own identity, and voluntarily going on holiday with you goes against that quest. Once you have accepted that as a parent, it all becomes much easier. And there are some other practical tips I can offer.
Always do an airplane, car, van or taxi seating plan in advance. Have that agreed or you will be spending hours getting up and down to accommodate inevitable sibling bickering. Travel with more water supplies than Lake Geneva (for some reason teens have to drink litres on the go). Remember to carry at least double the number of iPhone or laptop chargers that you need if you want any peace on a long-haul flight. Leave them to do their own packing – then it is no one’s fault but their own if they have no underwear on holiday (this has happened twice to us but is a mistake only made once per child).
Plan something for everyone
Remember that a 13-year-old is very different from a 19-year-old so, when you plan a trip, it’s best to sit down in advance of travel dates and talk about the kinds of things you’ll do when you are away. Maybe do the research together and put the most enthusiastic one in charge of making a photo album of the trip. We found grandparents love it when you put together a holiday slide show from the phone for them at Christmas and teens are always keen to please grandparents (the source of good gifts and sneaky cash handouts).
Our best trips as a grown-up family have been the ones everyone has bought into, with plenty of physical activity thrown in. Beaches alone are a bit boring for teens but combine them with other things and you’re on to a winner.
We went to Sri Lanka for my 50th and it delivered for all age groups. Surfing and beaches for the older two girls, snakes and turtles for my then 12-year-old son, an endless selection of pools and the friendly attention of locals for my then seven-year-old daughter. There was cycling, trains, beaches and – the highlight of the trip – elephants. The teens loved the Sri Lankan people so much they even agreed to temple visits and took part in some of the local festivals. The relaxed attitude to timekeeping helped with teens because they take hours to leave a room and don’t get up until later in the day. I am told Costa Rica delivers a similar vibe and a safari, too.
Teens are on a quest to separate from you and define their own identity, and voluntarily going on holiday with you goes against that quest. Once you have accepted that as a parent, it all becomes much easier.
Everyone loves a free breakfast
All-inclusive breaks work well, especially in smaller resorts, but you have to make sure other teens will be there too for their entertainment. We enjoyed a boutique hotel in Chania in Crete, which catered for our youngest as well as our eldest. If you’re going to go for a package, always make sure the breakfast is the best meal because that’s what teens love most. And obviously the Wi-Fi has to work or someone will be murdered in their bed (you).
We always set some rules around screens on holiday, so we make sure everyone is up for sightseeing or a road trip and there isn’t a boring discussion around it wasting time on the trip. Afternoons are IRL (in real life) but early evening pre-dinner is OK for screens. This agreement makes the teens very cross, but they usually stick to it because the change of routine encourages them to get out and about more.
Our adolescents spend most of their school holidays in Cornwall, where I grew up. We’re big fans of the north coast because it delivers many activities, from surfing to go-karting, shopping (our girls love a thrift shop haul), the UK’s best beaches, lots of other teens, great food that isn’t too fancy and walks (though we never tell them we are on a walk until we get going).
Our main mantra on holiday with teenagers, though, is to relax more and to slow down. And even if you think you may be wasting your money or that they really aren’t making the most of the wonderful experiences, don’t worry. They are enjoying it – they just can’t show you that. When we get back from a holiday, I usually wander into my two eldest teens’ rooms and find they have added photos of the trip to their wall of memories. And isn’t creating memories really what family holidays are all about?
Adventurer Steve Backshall talks travel with kids
“The youngsters react so well to sleeping out under canvas”
Why the Seychelles is a family holiday hit
The Seychelles is not just for couples: families are also in love with this tropical paradise
Why ski trips are great for family bonding
Ski-pro Felice Hardy explains why a week on the slopes is the perfect family pick-me-up