How to Travel With Teenagers

January 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Going on a road trip with your teenagers seems like a lot of fun, until you realize, you’re going on a road trip with teenagers. Whether it’s a three-week summer road trip to trace Route 66, or a quick three-day weekend to visit family, travel with teenagers can be a little stressful. They don’t always want to do what we’d like them to do, their idea of fun may not match up with the rest of the family’s, and their interests seem, well, unusual.

(Not like when we were teenagers! We were a delight and never gave our parents a single problem.)

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation. The "perfect" car for travel with teenagers.

The Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation. This is on display at the Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, IL.

I’m the father of three teenagers, and I know the struggle of trying to get your teenagers to be excited about family vacations. If you can get your teenager in the car, here are a few things you can do to help them enjoy their time with the family, and maybe even look up from their phones and video games for a little while.

Teach them how to read a map. This is one thing my dad did for me when we would go for long trips. He would hand me the map and ask me to navigate for him: Find the route, determine our current location, and calculate our arrival time based on our distance from the final destination. Turns out, he already knew all that information, but he would explain how to determine all of that based on the map and then let me figure it out. Not only did it teach me to read a map properly, but it made me feel invested in the actual journey. We may have GPS to do all of that for us now, but I think people who know how to read a map have a better understanding — and appreciation — for how their GPS works.

Let them take the wheel for a little while. Assuming your teenager is old enough to drive, or at least has their learner’s permit, give them a turn at the wheel. It can be late at night, when there are fewer cars on the road, or early in the morning. Some families will let their teen try some freeway driving, while others will stick to the state highways. But you can keep your teenager invested and involved in the trip if they can share some of the duties.

Let them teach you about their music. My daughters know so much about music that I’ve never listened to, it’s mind boggling. I don’t even know where they find these artists. One way to learn more about their world is to ask them to play some of their music for you. I used to do that for my mom (if only to help her understand the albums I wanted for Christmas), and I’ll occasionally let my daughters play their music for me too. It shows I’m interested in that part of their lives, and we can discuss their ideas in the car over music.

Give them their own space. Though it may make more financial sense to get a single room for all four or five of you, your teenager is probably already feeling crowded and cramped, especially if you’ve all been riding in the Family Truckster all day. Spring for a suite or an extra hotel room for your kids, and give them some space. You might appreciate the personal time as well.

Give them some time to themselves. The resounding refrain I hear from parents is that their teenagers don’t want to go on vacation with them because they want that time to themselves. If you don’t feel like letting them spend two weeks at home alone, at least give them some time to do their own thing on vacation. Drop them off at the mall for a few hours, or let them wander by themselves at the theme park for a while. If they make friends while you’re traveling, give them a few hours to be with those friends, just like you would at home.

Traveling with teenagers can be an adventure all its own, but you can make it go a lot smoother if you give them some space and let them feel like an adult once in awhile. It’s also a good time to teach them some useful skills like reading a map, filling up the gas tank, checking the oil, and — heaven forbid! — changing a flat tire.

Do you do anything special when you travel with teenagers on your vacation? Do you have any special memories about your own trips as a teenager? Share your experiences and memories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Adam Lautenbach (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)


Erik deckers is a travel writer, as well as a content marketer and book author. He is the co-author of Branding Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years

Comments are closed.