Sightseeing with family in Spain — Photo courtesy of E+ / Imgorthand
Traveling with teenagers can be challenging. Not because hormones and moods fluctuate by the minute (though, admittedly, chances are high) but because, at this point in life, their interests and maturity levels are changing rapidly. That’s why, as a parent to a curious 15-year-old, I took a lot into consideration when planning a recent trip to VOMO Island Resort in Fiji.
If you have a potentially surly, eye-rolling teenager, here are 10 tips and trip recommendations you may want to keep in mind when planning your next family getaway.
No. 1: Know your child and his or her interests
Checking out the traditional Fijian lovo demonstration at VOMO Island Resort — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
The first consideration – or tip, if you will – is: Plan for your child’s interests, not just your own.
“Fifteen- to 18-year-olds can be tricky,” said Justin King, general manager of VOMO, soon after we’d arrived at the island paradise. “We want to get them out and about, so we tailor activities to their preferences,” he said, noting that the resort’s manager of kid’s activities will take a deep dive with each family, either in advance or upon arrival. “It takes work,” King adds, “because it’s about really getting to know the teen. But it definitely pays off.”
There’s an impressive variety of activities for teens at VOMO, including a cool “Survivor Challenge” that develops participants’ survival skills (mimicking some of those on “Survivor,” now filmed exclusively in Fiji). The resort also organizes creative experiences such as traditional dance lessons and cooking classes.
Although my daughter’s usual vacation routine involves a lot of reading and chilling out, VOMO managed to get her out snorkeling and enthusiastically participating in tours, demonstrations and native Fijian ceremonies and traditions. I knew VOMO’s approach was paying off when she randomly blurted out “I feel like this is one of those trips that changes the course of your life.”
VOMO is just one of many resorts and destinations that will tailor activities for older kids. There are also a number of tour operators that organize trips for families with teens.
No. 2: Don’t stay too long
If your teen gets antsy or bored easily, consider booking a few short stays rather than one long trip, as an adult might prefer. For example, the four-day “WILDchild Eco-guide Challenge” with &Beyond private game reserve in South Africa is a four-day, action-packed adventure designed to challenge and educate nature-loving teens (14-18) and their parents.
Held at the &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, the challenge invites teens to join the conservation team for activities such as a rhino conservation experience and tracking the elusive pangolin. They can also enjoy bush walks, Zulu drummers, basic astronomy lessons and big five game drives. Sign us up.
No. 3: Give them some freedom
Unique and interactive activities for teens at Club Med — Photo courtesy of Club Med
There aren’t a lot of destinations where teenagers can learn to swing on a trapeze, learn to DJ or explore film design, but Club Med offers all of these activities and much more in select locations around the world. Since the all-inclusive Club Med villages are self-contained, teens can enjoy more unstructured freedom and pick and choose what they want to do when and with whom. They’re away, but not too far away – and that’s nice for parents too.
No. 4: Variety, variety, variety
European river cruising with Adventures by Disney — Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney
Choosing a tour or destination that provides variety can be beneficial if you have a teen who doesn’t need a lot of downtime. Adventures by Disney, a subsidiary of Disney, offers river cruises with multiple excursion options in every port. However, unlike a Disney cruise, their European river cruises, along the Rhine and Danube, go light on “Disney-fying” the experience and deep into local culture and traditions. Consider it “Disney Light” with a lot of choices at each stop.
No. 5: Curate a trip tailored to your family
Curated travel with Abercrombie & Kent — Photo courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent
If your teen is hard to please or you’re having trouble finding just the right destination for your family, consider partnering with a travel company that can curate a trip suited to your interests, if you have the means. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, will find out what you – and your teens – are most interested in and do all the planning for you. That includes choosing a destination, finding accommodations and booking memorable authentic encounters that align with their educational- and immersive-focused ethos.
No. 6: Find something that’s “food-flexible”
If you have a teen who gets “hangry” but is super picky, or one that is hungry all the time, consider a large cruise ship vacation. These ships provide an unbelievable selection of restaurants and menu options that will appeal to both finicky family members and fancy foodies alike. And, be it a blessing or a curse, there’s food available 24/7.
Given the number of ship and destination options and the breadth of activities offered, cruises are also a great option when you want to be together, but not all the time. If you’re not interested in hitting the high seas, look for other all-inclusive properties that have culinary options that will appeal to the whole family.
No. 7: Let them sleep
Unlocking the door to privacy at Savasi Island Resort — Photo courtesy of Wendy O’Dea
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to over-plan when trying to cram in as much as possible. Instead of planning early morning activities, block out time to let the teens sleep and consider booking accommodations that give them some personal space. My daughter’s favorite hotel on our recent trip to Fiji’s Vanua Levu was Savasi Island Resort where she had a separate bedroom and bathroom with its own entrance just across the porch of our villa. Knowing our villa was secure, that personal space was a gift to both of us.
No. 8: Keep them active
Teens participate in the ropes course — Photo courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up
For active teens who need a break from sitting in class day after day, seek out a destination that offers activities that are a little different. The Resort at Paws Up is a luxury ranch in Montana with ATV tours, fly fishing, electric bike tours, sporting clays, go-karts and more. They also have wilderness programs, such as “Gettin’ Primitive,” which teaches primitive outdoor skills.
Teens who want to push themselves out of their comfort zone can navigate a ropes course that is tucked away in the forest and challenges participants to maneuver across 10 elevated platforms, complete with rickety bridges. As their website says, “You only have 18 summers with your kids, so make them count.”
No. 9: Stimulate their brains
As the parent of an intellectually active teen, it’s essential that I plan trips that involve culture and learning instead of a relaxing beach or pool vacation. A number of companies offer tours for cerebral teens, including Smithsonian Journeys. Partnering with Putney Student Travel, this tour operator arranges summer travel programs for students grades eight through twelve as part of their Student Travel division.
These immersive programs provide teens with an opportunity to explore and be inspired through unique experiences developed around a specific theme. In the past, themes have included a journey to Iceland to learn about climate change and a visit to Washington, D.C. to explore America’s history of race and social justice.
No. 10: Expose them to something they can’t find at home
Break away from routine at Blackwater Creek Ranch — Photo courtesy of Blackwater Creek Ranch
Ideally, traveling with teens will expand their view of the world by exposing them to experiences they won’t find close to home. International trips are great for this, but for those without the means (or interest) to travel overseas, there are plenty of options in the U.S. too.
A visit to a dude ranch might not sound appealing to every teenager, but getting them away from their devices for some outdoor living can transform their outlook. Blackwater Creek in Wyoming not only offers horseback riding, rafting and fly fishing, but also provides a step back in time with visits to the Old Trail Town in Cody. They’ll have plenty of stories to share with friends back home after a trip to the River Saloon where Butch Cassidy and his gang planned more than one bank robbery.