Why Travel With Teens?
By Marybeth Bond
Is it worth all the patience required and money it costs to travel with teens? Yes. Why? Travel can expand and renew communication within the family and provide a stimulating way to spend time together as your teens approach the age when they will leave the nest. And a lot of teens are fun companions and have loads of energy for activities! But how do you travel so everyone enjoys it and you don't come home with a head of gray hair and an unhappy/belligerent kid?
When considering a trip with teens, there are three basic principles to keep in mind: Involve them, burn calories, and negotiate.
Involve your teens in the travel planning process from the very beginning. If you present several vacation ideas and they help make the decision and pitch in with the planning, then they share responsibility for the success of the trip. Many of them are savvy enough to do detailed research on the Internet where there is a plethora of travel-related information. The library and bookstores are filled with guides, magazines, videos, brochures, foreign and language tapes that will make your kids feel more familiar with the place they are traveling. While researching a vacation, they'll learn geography, how to read maps and guidebooks, how to make a budget (very important), and what resources are available and where.
Consider trips that appeal to their interests - do they want to learn how to surf, sail, horseback ride, learn about the Navajo Nation, or dig for artifacts? A friend of mine in New York, Jo Yohay, told me a story about an adventure she shared with her teenage son, a budding backpacker and naturalist: "We signed on as volunteers for an expedition to study monkeys on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. Wearing hiking boots and field pants, we flew south alongside straw-hatted sunseekers on their way to beach bungalows. Our destination: a dorm-style field station where we'd sleep in bunks and wash out muddy socks in a worn-out sink. What I loved was the chance it offered us to be equals - not in the usual parent-child context - but as team members, ready to roll up our sleeves and learn side-by-side."
Like Jo, you can tailor your vacation to your teens interests or to who your teen is becoming. For example, if your teen is interested in marine life, get certified together and go on a scuba diving trip. Make it a surprise graduation present from middle or high school. Kids can get certified starting at 12-years-old.
Teens need to burn calories! Boisterous, hormone-driven kids thrive on daily physical activity. Sports-oriented vacations channel your teens' abundant energy, and provide opportunities to acquire outdoor skills, make new friends and build self confidence. Amazing things happen on active vacations - mom learns to belay while the kids learn to rappel, or the whole family bikes together, until the big hill leading to the pass, and then the kids will leave the "old people" in the dust... unless you and your spouse are in fantastic shape (keeping up with the kids can be the incentive for going to the gym before a family vacation!)
On any trip, keep in mind that a tired teenager is a kid that won't get in trouble and you won't have fret about their whereabouts as much. Better to have them pooped out in the tent, cabin or hotel room at night than out looking for excitement. Teens are also more civil after exercise!
"We took our eleven-year-old nephews backpacking in Yosemite for seven days and we packed food for a week," relates Keith Walklet. "It was gone in THREE days! Every other word out of their mouths was 'When do we eat?' Don't underestimate the appetite of a teenage boy."
Negotiate - trade activities and interests. "Mom really wants to view the Matisse exhibit so how about in exchange we'll take you to the Pearl Jam concert tonight." OR: "We'll sight see in the morning and shop for you in the afternoon." Give them slack. At times let them stay up really late to watch a movie or read, then sleep until noon. Don't be the trip dictator! Let them make restaurant choices too.
Family camps with specially-designed teen programs are good choices for vacations with teens because they don't need to drive (or be driven) to meet other kids and their activities are supervised and contained within safe boundaries. Numerous family camps offer classes from whitewater kayaking, rock climbing or the basics of sailing, to windsurfing, horseback riding and mountain biking. Club Med has six villages with specialized Teen Clubs (13-17 years old) located in Florida, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, two in Mexico and a ski option in Colorado. Call 800-CLUB-MED or www.clubmed.com.
Dude Ranches offer more than horseback riding. A ranch that will appeal to teens should have lots of other sports activities, such as water skiing, tubing, tennis, archery, riflery, fishing and river rafting. Last summer at Colorado Trails Ranch, located near Durango, my kids and I sampled all the activities, from river rafting to riflery. They rode horses and went tubing (with other kids their age and a counselor) while I read my book in the hot tub. They remember their new friends and getting crazy - plastering the counselors with flour during the "kids rodeo". I relished the rest, relaxation and superb cuisine, as well as the varied activities. It was a perfect family vacation for bonding. Other guests at the ranch included single parents with their kids and grandparents "treating" their grandchildren to a real western adventure.
Look for a ranch that separates kids into age groups, so teens can interact with their peers. They need their own activities as well as a separate place such as a game room, where they can hang out and play ping pong or shoot pool. For further information on Colorado Trails Ranch, call 800-323-3833. www.colotrails.com.
American Wilderness Experience, provides information about many ranches and outfitters in several western states, contact at 800-444-0099.
All rights reserved. © Marybeth Bond