9 Ways to travel with a teen who doesn’t want to travel with you
If you’re the parent of a child under the age of 13, the thought of him not wanting to go on vacation with you probably doesn’t compute. “Not want to go on vacation?” you ask incredulously. “How can that be?” Well, as the mother of two sons, ages 16 and 18, I’m here to tell you the cold, hard truth. There likely will come a day when your child will choose time with his friends over time with you, even if that time is spent in an exotic, faraway place.
My oldest son is an avid traveler. He enjoys the whole process - from flying to exploring a new place to sampling local cuisine.
My youngest son is a reluctant traveler. He suffers from a condition that afflicts most teens called FOMO, also known as the “Fear of Missing Out.” He’s not concerned about missing out on once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences; he’s worried about missing out on time with his friends, affectionately known as “the squad.” A few months ago, he vociferously protested the fact that he was being forced to go on a 2-week trip to Alaska. I mean, what kind of parent am I?
I’ll tell you what kind. I’m a parent that understands the transformative power of travel, even when my child may be indifferent to the prospect. I’m also a parent who’ll risk rejection for the chance to spend a few uninterrupted days with my kid. And I’m a parent who knows that the clock is ticking on the time that we’ve got left together.
So if you haven’t yet reached this stage of life, file these tips away. If you’re navigating the teenage years with me, here are 9 strategies that you can employ to fight FOMO.
1/Understand your teen’s travel style
You’ll have more luck getting your teenager enthused about traveling with you if you pick the kind of vacation that appeals to him in his current stage of life. As the son of an avid traveler and travel editor, my youngest has had the good fortune to travel the world. He’s done deep dives into cultures very different from his own - China, Nepal, Cambodia, India, and Tanzania. But after a recent and severe case of “Delhi Belly” in India, he made me promise to limit his future travels to the developed world.
I get it. At this moment in his life, his perfect family vacation likely involves an all-inclusive island resort with a teen club where he can escape during the evening. So be it.
2/Involve your teen in the planning
Once you’ve focused in on your teen’s travel style, it’s time to narrow down the options. The more involved he is in the process, the more buy-in he’ll develop. It’s similar to the advice that parents of picky eaters get: have your child cook with you, and he’ll me more likely to eat his dinner.
Come up with a short list of possibilities that are all acceptable to you. Share websites and travel articles with your teen. Encourage him to follow the destinations’ accounts on Instagram. And then give him the power to make the final decision.
3/Be bold... and unplug
The condition of FOMO is exacerbated by social media. When your child can see on Snapchat what his friends are doing - even if those activities are far less exciting than your vacation - he’ll wish that he was with them. And that connection to his friends makes it more difficult for him to connect with you.
The easiest way to power down? Choose a vacation where being connected isn’t even an option. For example, if you take a self-guided cruise down the Canal du Midi in France with Le Boat, you can opt for no WiFi. Go camping in one of our country’s remote national parks. Or take an Alaskan cruise on a small ship like Alaskan Dream’s Chichagof which has no connectivity. After the first day, you likely won’t hear any complaints.
KidTripster Tip: Know that this strategy only works if parents practice what they preach!
4/Book a vacation that includes peers
Speaking of that cruise with Alaskan Dream, as my son and I were boarding the ship this past summer, he turned to me and said, “By the way, I’m not going to talk to any of the other kids on this ship.” I replied, “Good to know.”
Within 24 hours of leaving the dock, my son successfully had found every kid over the age of 13 on the ship. For the next week, my husband and I only saw him at breakfast and during our shore excursions. The rest of the time, he could be found playing chess or cards with his new friends. Two of the boys were from Israel and were rather accomplished magicians. They taught all the other kids magic tricks that continue to impress us to this day. In the evenings, the teens joined the younger kids for organized game and movie nights below deck. And every night, those same kids dined at their own table, having screen-free, face-to-face conversations.
One might argue that it wasn’t really a family vacation with my son spending so much time apart from us. But the reality of being the parent of a teenager? You take what you can get.
So whether you’re booking a cruise or a resort, make sure your teen will have peers to interact with, if he chooses. On large cruise ships, there are typically lots of kids. On smaller ships, you’ll find more families traveling during the holidays and summer season. Or better yet, select a sailing that’s designated as a family cruise.
5/Go light on learning
Ok, this one kind of pains me to say, but it’s true. Teens spend a lot of time in the classroom. So if a family vacation feels more like an educational field trip than a bona fide vacation, most kids aren’t going to dig it. For our family, it means we don’t spend a lot of time in museums.
That’s not to say that my sons don’t learn something while we’re traveling, but it needs to be experiential - learning by doing - for them to embrace the experience.
6/Go big on adventure
The older my kids get, the more I find myself having to up my game in the adventure department. Ziplines and aerial rope courses are a thing of the past. Now we’re ice climbing on glaciers in Alaska and jumping into frigid glacial pools (ok, let’s be honest, that was all them!). Teens want to push the limits, push themselves, and yes, push you. But when I can finish a 10-mile hike to the top of an icefield that no one thought I’d conquer, I get to share a sweet, satisfying moment with my kids.
And let’s not forget, kids like to brag. So whatever adventure you plan, it better be Instagram-worthy!
7/Invite a friend
With my oldest son away at college, my husband and I are entering a new phase of our travel life: vacationing with one child. I think my youngest son is dreading the prospect. Never fear, he has lots of friends who wouldn’t mind tagging along on our next trip.
If you’re the parent of an only child, you probably discovered this strategy a long time ago. Kids typically are happier when they’re able to share a vacation with another kid. So if you have one teenager, it’s not that big of a deal to bring another.
8/Bring the squad
…. or bring eight! That’s how many 15-year-old boys I piled into our RV this summer for a 3-day beach getaway on the Oregon Coast. Yes, you’ll have to share your child, and he may not say much more to you than “do we have more Doritos?” But again, we parents of teenagers take what we can get.
Besides time with your child, it’s also nice to have quality time with your child’s friends and get to know them better as people rather than the “vacuums that suck all the food out of your refrigerator.”
9/Lay the groundwork for the future
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to make sure that you’re including grandparents in the equation. If you’re feeling like time with the kids is slipping away, the grandparents in your life are even more painfully aware of the clock. Look for vacations that serve the needs of everyone in your group. For example, consider a small ship or river cruise geared to families. These ships are much smaller and easier to navigate for grandparents who may have mobility issues, but they still offer activities and shore excursions to keep teens engaged.
Think of it this way: if your kids see their grandparents on vacation with them, they’re more likely to allow you on vacation with them years from now when you have your own grandchildren. That’s when we get our second chance!