Learning Hard Lessons:  Changing Up My Travel Style to Travel with a Teen

As a family travel blogger I follow a LOT of other family travel bloggers. Some with children younger, some with children my age, and several with older children.  As I follow those bloggers who have teens, I was noticed advice I heard over and over again:  Teen need more downtime. 

This advice confused me.  More downtime? They are teens!  Finally, they will have the size and energy to keep the pace I wanted!  I had these visions of getting the point where I can finally travel fast like I did in my 20s.  Two, three museums in a day!  Hop from city to city every few days!  The world was going up to us once they are teens! 

A woman, and two teens/pre-teens sitting on a bench swing
Look how big they are!  Finally, we can travel the way I like to travel, right?*

Then, recently we did a day trip into San Francisco.  The plan wasn’t outrageous.  We grabbed breakfast and went into the city to see the California Academy of Science.  Afterwards, I saw the Botanical Gardens and Japanese Tea Gardens were nearby.  These kids were young, we could do it all in the day!  The museum was great, but I noticed after lunch my 12-year-old son started to get a little grumpy.  He started sitting and didn’t want to wander in the museum.  As we were leaving, my daughter decided she wanted to stop in the gift shop before we left.  She has her own money, so I let her.  Now my son is very grumpy.  He waits outside and as we get out, he goes “Mom!  I’m tired what took you guys so long!” I realized he was exhausted.  After one museum.  Walking in the fresh air afterwards helped but he was still grumpy as we entered the botanical gardens.  I decided to try something I had never done before – I told him he could opt out.  He was surprised.  I said, sit at the benches, play on your phone, take some downtime.  You sister and I will walk around the gardens.  If and when you are ready, give me a call and we will meet somewhere in the garden. 

A young girl sitting on a bridge looking at a pond
Spending some solo time with the daughter while my son got downtime

With some fear and some faith, I left him at the benches at the front of the gardens and took off my younger daughter.  She was sad, she wanted to spend more time with him, but I realized he needed that downtime.  We walked and enjoyed the gardens for about half an hour, when he gave me a call.  “Mom, I’m feeling better, can I meet you guys?”  We met up at a fountain. He was much more pleasant as we walked around the gardens, enjoying the beautiful scenery.  Then we went for some ice cream.  We never made it to the tea gardens.  But it was an eye opener for me.  Teens need downtime.  Holy crap, who knew!  (Apparently all other parents of teens that told me, but I didn’t want to believe).

A teen male eating ice cream on the city streets
Happier after some ice cream

While it was a surprise, I’m glad I discovered this during a local outing as opposed to during a trip that is meticulous planned.  It occurred to me that just as I thought I had this traveling with kids thing down, a new phase in life is throwing in a curveball and making me learn new tricks.  But isn’t that parenting; constantly changing and learning. 

We just came back from a busy trip to Washington DC and I put to use some of the tips that I had been reading about.  I wanted to make sure to see as much as possible, but also make sure my budding teen continued to enjoy travel and family time.  In the end, we had a vacation we all enjoyed and no one wanted to kill each other at the end.  What worked for us:

  • Involve them in the planning.  This has been something I’ve been doing for a while now, but I think I need to both continue to do and make sure to include them more. 
  • More Pre-Reading.  This was something I did a lot of when they were younger, but as they started reading themselves and we fell out of the habit of family reading.  For both Hawaii and Washington DC, we took out books form the library, and read them together in the evenings.  It helped make the places we saw and the history we learned more real as we visited. 
A copy of the paperback version of "I Survived The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941"
Some pre-reading helped bring Pearl Harbor to life
  • Pay for more space.  This one is expensive.  In Washington DC, we used points to book a 1 bedroom suite, so we could have a door and each of us had our own space.  When booking for Europe we booked AirBnbs with multiple bedrooms.  I usually go with the cheapest option that will sleep 4 people.  But as they get older I realize that my kids are craving a little more privacy.  Both like to stay in their rooms and do their own thing.  They need that time a bit on vacation too.  So it’s time to gulp down and look at places that have a little more space.
Two siblings on a coach bed watching Television
Giving kids their own space during our last trip helped everyone’s mental health
  • Keep days as flexible as possible.  This is a hard one in the age of COVID and time entry tickets.  But we are trying to keep it to no more than 1 pre-scheduled items a day.  This leaves the ability to move around plans the rest of the day. 
  • Keep the schedule to 2 activities a day: generally centered around the morning and the afternoon.  This allows lazy starts the morning, a morning and afternoon activity with lunch break in the middle, and downtime before or after dinner. 
A mom and a teen son looking at a painting in the museum
Your teen will only do so many art museums, make sure to include things they like too*
  • Schedule Down Days:  Make sure that every few days we have a down day.  One where the activity is the beach, or the pool, or just some wandering and shopping.  While I could see multiple museums a day for days in a row, they need some time to rest and recharge before we go on to the next trip. 
A dad and a teen male lounging on the beach under an umbrella reading a book
A day at the beach makes for a nice break.

This next step in our life is so new and strange to me.  I see my son one minute loving and needing his mom, and the next wanting to lock himself in his room.  I see how mature he has become, and still at times I see the goofy silly kid.  I know as he grows our relationship will change, but I hope that we continue to grow together.  It means making sacrifices for what I want, but I am willing to do so for what will continue to be memories and lessons that he will carry into his future.  And I hope on the other side, we continue to have a good relationship.  Then maybe we will be able to travel fast again?

Learning Hard Lessons:  Changing Up My Travel Style to Travel with a Teen

What tips do you have for traveling with teens?

* Photos taken by Atma Photography

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