Although it’s in the plans, I haven’t traveled internationally yet with my teens – how is it possible that I have teens? As my daughter has been
begging hinting to go to Italy, I guess I need to start thinking about it. My first choice for advice is my friend Tanya from Traveling Tanya. She recently returned from a trip overseas with her teen girls so I asked her to share her advice with me (and you!). Here are her best tips for traveling internationally with teens …
The teenage years are the perfect time to travel abroad!
My 13 and 15-year -old daughters are growing up right before my eyes, but I know I still have opportunities to make an impact on the young adults they will become. Traveling as a family during their teenage years gives us opportunities for both once-in-a-lifetime memories and critical life lessons.
But everyone knows the teenage years are not always smooth sailing. And that is true for traveling with teens as well!
Based on my own travel experiences, I want to share the upside and downside of traveling abroad with teens. I’ll also offer some tips to help you make the best of your family’s travel experiences.
Do keep in mind that no two teens are alike. Girls’ travel habits will likely differ from boys. Even siblings who share the same DNA can act vastly different given the same set of circumstances.
I’ve learned a lot after taking my teen daughters on several family vacations, including trips to Paris and Italy. But each parent knows their child best, so trust your instincts. And embrace the opportunity to expose your teenagers to the joy of travel.
The Upside of Traveling with Teens
The teen years are the optimal time to travel abroad as a family, for a variety of reasons. While traveling with kids of any age can have benefits, there are several practical reasons that make taking an overseas trip with teens a good idea.
- They can handle their own stuff. Unlike smaller children, teens can do their own packing, and they can be responsible for their own luggage. Wandering the busy streets of Paris or the winding passageways in Venice isn’t nearly as charming if you are carrying multiple suitcases while you balance a toddler on your hip or hold on tightly to the hand of a young child.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Teach your teens the art of packing light. Provide a checklist of essential items, and give your teens the task of packing their own suitcase and carryon. Let them know they will be responsible for moving their luggage around the airport and between hotels. This will remind them to embrace the concept of packing light…or suffer the consequences. Limiting the number of hotels during a given trip can also reduce the amount of stress that comes with frequent packing and unpacking, no matter how old you are.
- They are old enough for some freedom. Gone are the days when you tightly grip your child’s hand when crossing the street or wandering through a busy museum. While you still want to keep a watchful eye on your teenagers, there is freedom in not constantly being joined at the hip as you explore the sights.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Discuss safety tips such as keeping their possessions close in busy areas, and learn key phrases in the native language. Spend plenty of time during your vacation together, but don’t be afraid to split up for short periods as long as both the adults and teens are comfortable with this. Be clear about meeting times and locations and have a way to communicate. Many teens can also stay by themselves for a few hours in a hotel room while the adults do a bit more exploring.
- Teens may still qualify for free or discount rates. Many museums, attractions, and even trains in Europe offer steep discounts for children and young adults up to age 25. Saving money with discounted tickets could mean getting to see more iconic sights for budget-conscious families.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Do your research and understand the costs for public transportation and major attractions, including discounted options based on age. Pre-purchase tickets when possible to ensure you get the best rates. Always have your teens’ passports with you (or a photo of them on your smartphone) so you can prove their age. This is the one item I don’t give my teens the responsibility of carrying on their own
- They can help navigate public transportation. One of the exciting parts of traveling in Europe is the many forms of transportation you will take on a given trip. Teens not only enjoy trying out these new ways of getting around, they often have a knack for figuring out which subway route will get them to the desired destination.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Plan plenty of time to get from place to place and encourage your children to use the posted subway and bus maps to figure out the best route. With a little patience, they will decipher the intricate maze of public transportation and will feel a sense of accomplishment. For even more teen approved navigation help, have your teen download and practice using apps such as Rome2Rio to maneuver around in each of your travel destinations.
The Downside of Traveling with Teens
While there are many great reasons to travel with teens, your teenagers won’t magically turn into perfect angels once you get them out of the house and on the other side of the world. The eye rolls and moodiness may very well travel with you. Anticipate some of the potential downsides of traveling with teens and you can set realistic expectations that minimize potential travel trouble.
- Teens need to stay connected. As much as you might want to get your teens off the grid and fully invested in your vacation, that isn’t realistic for most teens. Allowing them some time for staying connected on social media or playing games on their phones will provide normalcy in a city that has taken them out of their comfort zone.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Well before your trip research options for phone and internet service that work with your travel budget. From Sim cards to international plans to wifi access, you can devise a plan that will work for your family’s needs. Set clear boundaries as to when electronics should be in airplane mode and when you expect your teens to have their heads up to take in the sights. But also build in time for your teens to get online and stay connected with friends back home. While riding the train between cities or back in your hotel after a long day of sightseeing are good opportunities for your teens to wind down and enjoy some online time.
- They need their sleep. Teenagers need a decent amount of sleep every night to function at their best. This is even more important when traveling overseas as jet lag and the time difference can really throw off sleep patterns. Sleep-deprived teenagers are not pleasant to be around! Just getting them up and ready to head out for a full day of museum tours and cafe hopping can be a huge chore for parents.
Travel Tanya’s Tips: Don’t over program every day on your trip. Allow for downtime and be flexible with the itinerary. If your teens (or anyone in your travel group) are approaching the point of exhaustion, slow down the pace or head back to the hotel for a brief rest. It is more important that everyone enjoys seeing the sights than it is to cross absolutely every museum and historic monument off your list. If your teens like to sleep in let them know which days that will be possible and which days they need to be up and moving early. You can always take advantage of mornings when your teenagers are getting a little extra sleep to venture off with your significant other for an early morning walk or people watching at a nearby cafe.
- Teens can be picky eaters. One of the best parts of traveling is trying new culinary delights. But teenagers may not be as adventurous when it comes to what’s for dinner. They will likely long for familiar foods from home. This can make for difficult decisions when it comes to selecting restaurants and ordering in foreign towns.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Prepare your teens ahead of time as to the kind of food that is common in the cities you will be visiting. Get them excited about a few new foods they would like to try. Consider splitting meals to avoid wasting money on meals your teens turn their noses up at. Try eating at food stands and tasting foods you find along the way rather than eating 3 big meals each day. Relax the rules a bit and eat gelato before dinner and indulge in plenty of local pastries! You will likely walk off the extra calories and you can have fun getting in some much-needed fruits and veggies by visiting outdoor markets. While you should encourage your teens to try the local cuisine, don’t be afraid to get some familiar nourishment from time to time. In a foreign country, even a trip to McDonald’s can feel like a whole new experience! Hangry teens are not happy travelers so sometimes a meal on vacation is simply about filling their bellies.
- They need downtime. While you may want to soak up the local culture every minute during your precious vacation time, your teens will likely burnout at that hectic pace. Teenagers are well past the regular afternoon nap stage, but that doesn’t mean they should be on the go every minute of your trip.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Limit each day’s agenda to 1 museum, guided tour, or teen-friendly class and sprinkle in time for shopping and other activities your teens are most excited about. Pay attention to your teens’ cues and anticipate when they are nearing overload. If you are close to your hotel, suggest an hour or two of downtime. Or find a cafe or park where everyone can rest their feet and connect to WiFi for a bit.
Why Traveling with Teens is a GREAT Idea!
The upsides and downsides I’ve already mentioned for traveling abroad with teens may cancel each other out. But these final factors should tip the scales in favor of taking your teens across the pond.
- Teens will remember these trips. We took several memorable vacations when my children were much younger. But sadly, the only lasting memories they have are the ones they recreate by looking at old photos. While teenagers still might not fully appreciate every museum or ancient ruin you visit, the iconic sights they see will hold an important space in their memory for decades to come.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: I still advocate for traveling with young children, just know that the memories of those amazing vacations will be much more vivid to you than to your children. Consider waiting until the teen years for more expensive overseas trips where art, history, and beautiful landscapes take centerstage. Encourage your teens to capture the travel experience through their own unique lens by encouraging them to take their own photos along the way.
- They will see in real life things they study in the classroom. Your teens may not appreciate all the historic and iconic sights they visit in the moment. But when they study Van Gogh in art class or read about the fall of Rome in history class, they will recall a special connection to the amazing places they visited that many of their classmates have only read about. Your teens may even score bonus points with their teachers!
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Don’t skip the well-known touristy sights that some travelers consider overrated. Take your teen to the top of the Eiffel Tower when in Paris. Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Fight the crowds to get a glimpse of the underwhelming Mona Lisa and the larger than life statue of David. By helping your teens cross off some bucket list travel stops you will likely fuel their desire to see even more exotic locations as wanderlust takes root.
- They may catch the travel bug. While younger children live in the moment, teens are starting to think about the future and what their lives may look like in the next few years. By exposing them to travel now they will have more confidence to consider traveling as young adults.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Encourage your children to learn a foreign language and then take them to a country where they can practice their linguistic skills. Talk about opportunities to study abroad or overseas class trips. By traveling abroad as a family you will take away the fear of the unknown for your teens, which could open up a whole new world of travel opportunities now and in the future.
- It’s not too late. Let’s face it, once your kids head off to college or the “real world” you have far less control over when and how they spend their vacations. While they may be interested in an all-expenses-paid-by-mom-and-dad-trip in their 20’s or 30’s, traveling as a family will become much harder once they have jobs, families, and money of their own.
Traveling Tanya’s Tips: Take as many trips as your budget and vacation time will allow while your children still live under your roof. Consider cutting back on tangible gifts for birthdays and Christmas in lieu of trips and experiences. Let your teens weigh in on destinations that appeal to them and involve them in the planning process to increase their excitement.
- One day they may thank you. Your teenagers likely won’t express extreme gratitude for each family vacation you take. But as they grow and mature they will look back on these family travel experiences fondly. They may even give you credit in subtle or overt ways for exposing them to other cultures and experiences during their formative years…and they will pass the gift of travel on to their own children.
Traveling Tanya’s Most Important Tip: Take that trip…travel with your teens!
Do you enjoy traveling with your teenagers? Share your tips for successful travel with teens in the comments below. Parents of teens need to stick together!
Well, I’m sold! I think after all Traveling Tanya‘s advice, I need to start planning that trip to Italy!
Are you looking for ways to save money on your next vacation? So you’ll be able to take that amazing international trip? Then grab your copy of my FREE guide “5 Tips for Saving Money On Your Next Vacation”
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