7 Tips For Traveling With Teens

When Joan and Will Weber, founders of Journeys International, cooked up plans to travel the world for seven months, their daughter, Robin, balked at the idea.

“She was a high school sophomore at the time, and she didn’t want to go because she thought her friends would forget about her and she would miss what was happening back home,” says Joan Weber. But she and Will convinced Robin to go, and it was a life-changing experience for the teen.

That trip sparked Robin’s passion for travel, and in 2012 she became president of Journeys International, which her parents launched 35 years ago.download-1

As Robin’s story demonstrates, adventure travel can have a significant, positive influence on a teenager, and Joan says Journeys International has seen growing demand for family trips that are teen-friendly. Whether it’s rafting in Costa Rica, hiking in Peru or exploring anime in Japan, Journeys International has developed a wide variety of trips for families with older children.

Joan recently shared with us a few thoughts on traveling with teens, and she pointed out how to ensure that a teen will enjoy a family trip.

1. Teens are better travelers than you think

Moody? Yes. Lazy? Sometimes. Always hungry? Sure. No doubt, many teens have their quirks (just like adults), but they can also be great travel companions. “Teens are often the most exuberant people on a trip, and they’re often the most engaged,” says Weber. So, try to let go of any preconceptions about how teens will behave and put some faith in them. “There’s an age-old concern with adults that somehow their teens will drag their feet, or that older people might not be able to keep teens happy or keep up with them,” says Weber. “But, we’ve seen over and over again that teens love our trips and traveling with their families.”

2. Your biggest challenge—erasing a teen’s preconceptions

Once teens are on a trip, they’re all in. But, prior to a trip, they can have preconceived thoughts that a trip will be boring, too babyish or toned down to suit younger siblings, says Weber. Some teens worry that they’ll be cooped up with parents and younger members of the family the whole trip. However, quality adventure tour companies like Journeys International go to great lengths to ensure that tours appeal to the needs and desires of each traveler, says Weber.

Because teens might lack the knowledge and experience to really know what a trip will be like, parents shouldn’t let their teens dismiss travel ideas right off the bat. “Don’t accept ‘no’ from your teenager,” says Weber, explaining that kids might miss an amazing experience if you let them bow out of an activity for no good reason.

3. It’s OK if teens don’t “unplug” completely download-2

These days, teens (and many adults) are glued to electronic devices that prevent them from being present in the moment while traveling. But smartphones, social media and the Internet can also be useful tools for teen travelers.

For example, teens can use smartphones to periodically share their travel experiences with friends back home. “I wouldn’t necessarily encourage people to constantly send messages home, but doing it at the end of the day or the end of every few days is an added perk,” says Weber.

Also, teens can use electronics to connect with people they meet during a trip. “Our philosophy is to have trips where kids really get inside a culture and get deeply into the environments with their families,” says Weber. “So, they meet people along the way, and they can stay in touch with them and share music and photos without it costing a lot of money.”

The key is to find the right balance of screen time and time unplugged. “Don’t let the technology interfere with the experience,” says Weber. “If it’s enhancing the experience, go for it.”

4. Involve teens in trip planning

Teens are more likely to enjoy a trip if they help build the itinerary, and you can check to see if they’re already fans of some aspect of the destination. Due to technology, the world is a smaller place, and teenagers have more access to content concerning other countries and cultures. For example, more U.S. families are visiting Japan in part because younger family members are big fans of Japanese anime.

If you join an adventure travel tour, the guides can include activities specifically suited to each member of the family, including teenagers. “Every individual in a family will have particular interests, and we’re always trying to see how we can make each person feel engaged,” says Weber. “For the kids, we can assure them they’re not going to be rolling their eyes while a tour guide walks them through a museum. We can assure them they’re going to be active and their interests will be incorporated into the plan.”

Remember that each person doesn’t have to do everything on the itinerary. “It’s not lockstep,” says Weber. “With our trips, on many days there are options of activities.” Also, she says guides will tailor activities to suit older kids. “In Costa Rica, kids under 11 will go rafting with a parent on one stretch of the river, while older kids and adults will do another stretch with whitewater,” says Weber.

5. Allow teens to explore on their own

You know the old saying—you grow the most when you step outside of your comfort zone. When teens have to ask directions from someone who speaks another language, or when they calculate how much foreign currency to give a cashier, they learn, grow and mature. Quite suddenly, their horizon expands. If you’re exploring a town and you deem that it’s safe, consider giving teens a bit of money and let them eat, shop and explore on their own for a couple of hours, and then rejoin the family at a designated spot.

6. Travel provides essay material for college applications

“One phenomenon we’re seeing is kids want experiences they can write about on their college applications,” says Weber. “We’ll often have experiences where families can do a volunteer project, or visit a school and make some kind of contribution.” She says these experiences can raise questions about how travelers who feel privileged can help people respectfully. “The trips are wonderful material for thoughtful family conversations that might make their way onto a college application,” says Weber. “It’s also just a wonderful family bonding experience.”

7. Remember the secret to successful family travel…

Why are family trips such a hit? Weber says it comes down to one thing—the rare opportunity for family members to share first-time experiences and see each other in a new light. “When kids are busy with homework and typical daily life, they don’t go out and play with their parents or grandparents; they normally have those experiences with friends,” says Weber. But adventure travel allows family members to face common challenges, triumphs and blunders together. “You’re sharing the experience of being bumbling first-timers in a culture, and laughing and sharing on equal footing,” says Weber. “One of the best memories of our trip was when I fell into a rice paddy while I was trying to get the perfect photo.”

After the trip is over, a family member can utter some buzzword that brings back a common travel memory, and soon the whole family will be cracking up. “Normally, teenagers only have those types of experiences with their friends,” says Weber. “But the truth is, teenagers love those experiences with their family—that’s the hidden secret of the whole thing.”

For more information on teen-oriented trips, visit www.journeysinternational.com

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