Travel with Teens – Tips for Taking Teens on Vacation

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Want to know how to avoid the dreaded eye-roll during family vacation with older kids? Travel with teens can be trying for sure. But also sweetly rewarding when you realize they’re having the time of their life during a trip. Taking teens on vacation can be awesome! I’m sharing my family tested tips on traveling with teens.

Four kids at Disneyland

Travel with Teens

So you want to take your teens on vacation? Just like traveling with a baby or a toddler, traveling with teens takes a bit more pre-vacation prep. Teenagers are coming into their own as young adults. This means they can help with travel plans. Teens want to share their input, from planning to more say in what happens along the way.

I have two teens, a boy and girl. Each have completely different personalities and as a result, different travel styles. Keep reading for all the tips when taking teens on vacation from planning, snacks, and road trip tips.

Six Flags Magic Mountain entrance fountain with kids
One of my teens’ requested trips, to Magic Mountain amusement park

Timing Your Trip with Teens

Long gone are the days when I’d just let my teenagers skip school for a family vacation. Since they’re in high school, even a single missed day can really affect them. There are assignments, tests and study skills that are lost when kids aren’t in the classroom. This definitely isn’t a reason to not travel, but vacations should be well thought out so it’s not affecting grades.

My teens do not personally like to skip school for travel. They feel like each day missed in high school puts them behind too far in class. I can respect this work ethic and choose our vacations with them over school breaks. If your teen is already struggling in school, missing class time for a trip may not be the best. Consider only scheduling vacations during school breaks.

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Photo Credit: Disney Photopass

My son traveled to Israel for several weeks with his grandmother during his freshman year. It was mostly over the spring break but he still missed an additional full week of school. I was able to request a home study for him and he was given all his school work in advance of the trip. This could be something to consider if you’re taking teens on vacation during the school year.

My son and mom in Israel

Let Teenagers Help in the Vacation Planning Process

Teens have definite opinions when it comes to where and how they want to travel. And those ideas are going to vary depending upon your kid! My athletic teenage son wants a hotel with a great swimming pool. He also requires plenty of physical outdoor activity and gets bored on long road trips. On the other hand my teenage daughter does just fine during car rides, drawing in her sketch book. As more of an introvert, she likes quiet and restful down time. Figuring out first what your teen does and doesn’t like can go a long way when vacation planning.

Before traveling with teens, sit down together and brainstorm ideas and locations. As your teenagers discover their wanderlust, you may come up with some unique travel opportunities you hadn’t thought of before!

Teenager, little girl and dad fishing at the lake

Teen Vacation Ideas

Cruise – Choose a family-style cruise ship, like a Disney Cruise or Royal Caribbean, that offers activities for teens. There are usually teen-only areas, where your kid can spend time with peers. Teens can enjoy time away and rejoin family for excursions and dinner. And of course don’t forget that cruises offer all the food your teenager can eat!

National Parks – If you have an outdoorsy teenager like I do, they may enjoy visiting a national park. Hiking, camping (or “glamping) and lots of fresh air (minus the Wifi). Check Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or the Great Smokey Mountains off the bucket list with your teens.

Disneyland/Walt Disney World – This is a family favorite because there’s something for everyone, even teenagers. My kids have grown up on Disney parks so they have a nostalgic love for them. And since there is a somewhat safe “Disney bubble”, I feel comfortable letting my teenagers explore the parks on their own for a few hours. My friend Jessica at Happiest Blog on Earth has a helpful article about taking teens to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

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Hit the Beach – Many teenagers enjoy beach vacations and there are so many gorgeous locations in the United States and around the world. When planning a family beach vacation, consider a beach house where teens have more space. For a well-rounded trip, look for locations that have teen-friendly activities off the sand.

Long Weekend in the City – If your teen enjoys city life, consider a weekend exploring a new city. Big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston will provide plenty of activities when traveling with teens. But don’t bypass smaller cities that may appeal, like Monterey California, Aspen Colorado or Charleston South Carolina. My teens loved our weekend exploring in Palm Springs, where time was spent in the desert and also in the pool.

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A weekend in Palm Springs

Feed Your Teens. A Lot.

For my eldest son, his favorite part of traveling is the food. He loves eating out and trying new dishes. A hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast buffet is golden. In fact, buffets are all around good when traveling with teens (you’ll get more bang for your buck, too!).

Chilaquiles at Disney California Adventure Lamplight Lounge
Choose filling meals (like the chilaquiles at Disney California Adventure Lamplight Lounge)

For those in-between meal times, be sure to pack snacks. If we’re on vacation, I’ll usually stock the snack bag with some special items we don’t regularly eat at home. If on a road trip, consider choosing healthy snacks from the convenience store. To keep blood sugars level and mood swings at a minimum (as if!), aim for snacks that have a healthy balance of fat, carbs and protein. Yes, also pack their favorite fruits and veggies along with the greasy and sugary stuff. 

Looking for the best healthy road trip snacks for toddlers, kids, teens and adults on your next family adventure? Find out what are the healthiest options to choose at your next road trip convenience store stop! #Snacks #FamilyTravel #TravelwithKids #RoadTripFood #RoadTrip @ConvenienceStore #JoyintheJourney #AD

Ideal Snacks for Teens on Vacation 

  • Popcorn
  • Trail mix
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Yogurt-covered raisins
  • Clementines
  • Hummus & crackers
  • Pickles
  • Vegetable juice, like V-8
  • String cheese
  • Beef jerky or meat sticks
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Dried banana chips or other dried fruit
  • Carbonated flavored water as a soda substitute

Privacy Points

Teenagers are young adults and this means they’re going to require more privacy than a 7-year old. Even if you’re all sharing a single hotel room, keep to regular privacy habits and minimize embarrassment. I’m looking at you Mom, walking around in your bra!

If you’re traveling with 2 or more teenagers, consider getting a suite or an adjoining room. This will allow the family to spread out and everyone can have a bit more privacy. Having a second bathroom is ideal as well. If you have a teenager that takes waaaay too long in the bathroom, consider a timer or a schedule in the morning.

Inside hotel room suite

Keep an Open Mind With Teens on Vacation

Your teenagers likely have their own personal lives that aren’t constantly monitored by you 24/7. That’s certainly part of parenting kids into adulthood, a certain amount of freedom. But when you’re traveling with teens, you’re going to be together a LOT more than usual. 

  • Language – Did you hear a verbal curse word slip up? How about an inappropriate innuendo? Despite what you think, your teen may not have the cleanest language out of your presence! Don’t make a big deal out of it and opt to ignore the first few times. If it becomes more of an issue (or younger siblings are starting to repeat!) have a private conversation about reigning it in.
  • Electronics – Is the constant electronic use getting on your nerves? Set boundaries ahead of your travel with teens and let them know your expectations. Maybe you’ll agree to electronic use while in the car but not at mealtimes.
  • Leave it at home – Is there a feud going on at home? Perhaps between siblings or maybe between you and your teen. Work up an agreement that you and your teen will leave those issues behind and set forth on your vacation with a fresh start.

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Sleeping Issues

Once a year my family would take the 6+ hour drive from San Diego to Las Vegas. Within the first hour, I’d curl up against the window and tell my parents to wake me when we got there. Teenagers need extra sleep just like toddlers! I was so surprised on my last vacation when my teens were burned out and asking for a nap mid-day. 

Teenager laying on bed of hotel room
Totally exhausted after a long day!

Sleeping in can be a huge issue when taking teens on vacation. My eldest son is an early bird so he can always make the morning wake-up call. But my teenage daughter would sleep in way late if we let her. A groggy, dragging teen in the morning when you’re trying to get out of the hotel can be a problem.

Seems that travel with teens may be similar to travel with toddlers, having to work in sleep and rest periods. If you suspect you might have trouble with tired teens, work this into your itinerary. Plan to let teens sleep in every other day and get a late check out at the hotel. Add in rest periods in the afternoons if your teens need to recharge with a nap. If on a road trip, plan drives when teens can sleep in the car.

Kids in wooden train at Knott's Berry Farm

The $$ Incentive 

Yes, I said it. Money is the great incentive and teenagers especially can be swayed by cash. Here’s a few ways I’ve used payment as a way of getting what I need from my teens on vacation. 

  • Pay for help with younger siblings – My teens are already great helpers with their little brother and sister. If you see that your teens are going above and beyond on your trip, compensate them for the additional assistance. Are your teenagers are responsible enough to stay in the hotel room with siblings? You might consider a night out with your partner and pay for teens to babysit.
  • Pay for good behavior – In the weeks leading up to a vacation and during the vacation, my teenagers know I’m keeping track of attitude. Good behavior (ie: no complaining, arguing, sarcasm) means more souvenir money for them!

Take All the Pictures

I have a camera shy teen who covers her face in 99% of the photos I try to capture. But I don’t give up, even when all I get of her in the shot is her hands over her head. 

These are your family vacation memories and you want to remember them. So capture all the moments just like you did when the kids were little. Take all the pictures. Get in the selfies. And when you get home, print your vacation photos into a Shutterfly book. Your teenagers may enjoy reflecting on their travels with you.

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Travel with Teens – Surprise Them

Regular days are full of…regularity. But vacations are a totally different beast and you, as parents, can swing away from the expected. Figure out ways you can totally surprise your teens on vacation, in a good way. Maybe this means surprising them with a zip-lining excursion. Or some extra money to spend shopping for souvenirs. 

For my oldest son, the surprise came when I bought these huge and pricey Crazy Shakes at Black Tap in Downtown Disney. He told me that getting that shake was his favorite part of the trip. He said he never would have thought I’d buy something like that for him. 

Teenagers holding Black Tap Crazy Shakes at Anaheim Downtown Disney District Disneyland

Road Trip Tips When Traveling With Teens

As if taking teens on vacation wasn’t tricky enough, add in a road trip where everyone’s trapped in the car for 18 hours! If your teenager is driving, this might be a good time to let them loose on the open road (especially during those lengthy boring stretches!) I’ve included several road trip tips to make travel with teens a little easier.

Teens on a road trip inside mini van

Stock the Car

Yes, teenagers will still ask, “Are we there yet?” on a road trip! Having a well-stocked vehicle before you hit the road can help alleviate some of the drag of a long drive. Here are some must-haves in the car when taking teens on vacation:

  • Pillow and blanket
  • Ear plugs and a sleep mask (for when they want to nap)
  • Ear buds or headphones along with a phone or MP3 player for music
  • Electronics recharging block and charging cord
  • Toiletry bag – Include body freshening wipes, deodorant, hand sanitizer, mouthwash.
  • Soft sided cooler with snacks
  • A new book for teens


Play Their Music on a Road Trip

I have distinct memories of a road trip taken 30+ years ago, when my teenage cousin came along. She was listening to a tape with her headphones on and my dad asked what she was listening to. He asked if he could play it in the car tape deck. For the next 3 days my entire family played that tape non-stop and learned the lyrics to every song on the Flood album by They Might Be Giants. My cousin later said that our trip was her favorite vacation ever.

Teen boy with brown eyes and brown hair

Do I really want to listen to my son’s rap songs during a road trip, even if they are the “clean” versions. Probably not, but an hour here and there can mean a lot to your teen. Before taking teens on vacation, ask your kids to create their own (family appropriate) playlists that will receive air time on the car speakers.

Frequent Stops

Just like your toddler needs to get out of the car and run around, so does your teenager. Make plans in your road trip for regular pit stops. My teenage daughter enjoys the quirky road side attractions. If you can map these out on your route, they make for fun breaks on the drive. If your teen is active and needs exercise, bring a football to toss around at a park.

Ready to share your ideas for travel with teens? Comment on this post and I may update with your credit.

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