Vacationing with teens. Is that an oxymoron? Nope. You've just got to have the right approach. Kids between the ages of 13 and 19 can be a little moody sometimes, for sure, but with some careful consideration and planning you can take your family vacation from "aaagghhhh!!" to "ahhhhhh."
Take a look at these ten tips for planning a family vacation with your teens that the whole family will enjoy.
1. Nix negotiation. You could kill a whole vacation day trying to build consensus, and you're unlikely to get it unless, by "consensus," you mean universal misery and frustration. A better bet: everybody gets one pick and everybody else has to get on board. You'll be surprised at the mutual cooperation such tug-of-war-free zones can create. Achieving détente will require advance research and some up-front chats about budgetary restrictions. But it will pay off big time.
2. Be a sport. Sure, we all feel heroic for merely driving the kids to the skate park. But, see what happens if you put on the skates. Yes, they will make fun of you—probably for the rest of your life. But, I earned major mom points for putting on the harness and tackling an extreme tree-top adventure course despite my totally (ir)rational fear of heights, and my kids loved having me on board.
3. Create a no-nag zone. Know how much you and the kids hate the clean-your-room wars at home? You'll hate them more on vacation. Do yourself a favor and close their door. Out-of-the-way sleeping quarters include the master suite (if you have a rental house) or an adjoining room at a hotel. Either will keep you blissfully ignorant of the carnage, thereby removing one element of conflict for at least the week. Of course, you'll need ground rules: no food carcasses left behind, no smelly wet towels on the floor, and unpleasant "aromas" are grounds for search and rescue. And house rules apply when you return home.
4. Say "yes." Jet skis and parasailing are teen magnets -- and big-time budget busters. While it's tempting to nix every "I want," from the list, you'll do better if you cave for just one. Choose before leaving home, or set a budget (Jet ski rentals, for example, can cost upwards of $100) and stick to it once you arrive. Another tip: schedule the big indulgence toward the end of the trip. That way, the kids have a dangling carrot. Even better, they probably won't have the time to hit you up for seconds.
5. Set them free. Resort vacations do more than offer unlimited entertainment options. They also provide perfect launch pads for a little IFMAD -- independence from mom and dad. Round-the-clock activities at all-inclusives and cruise ships mean you'll know where they are. Public transportation at theme parks means they can enjoy the freedom of getting around (safely) without calling for a ride.
6. Change the scenery. That sweet little zoo or trolley tour that's been so cute since they were tots? Expect it to incite major eye-rolling from too-cool teens. A detour to a new destination will lift everyone's spirits with a dose freshness and adventure. And, don't despair: nostalgia will probably return the old standby to front-runner status some day when the kids are a bit older.
7. Plug in. You'd be amazed what you can learn about a teen from a playlist. On long trips, my kids, my husband and I take turns plugging music players into the car stereo, an advent that never fails to brighten a sullen teen, and has routinely provided some our best -- albeit most surprising -- family-bonding moments. Mass music consumption means nobody's zoning with ear buds -- and that means conversation. Weren't my kids surprised to learn that not only do I listen to Led Zeppelin -- I once went to a concert.
8. Get unplugged. Yes, they'll complain when you proclaim the hours of, say, breakfast to dinner as no-texting zones. But once disconnected and fully invested in the adventure, they'll be having too much fun to remember they're incommunicado. "When the four of us are in our own world," says my friend Andrea, "that's when our vacations are the best." True idealists might try to ban the gadgets for the duration of the trip. The rest of us will have more luck allowing a daily dose of techno time after dinner while back at the ranch.
9. Grab their attention. Telling them you're going to the most famous museum in Paris? Borr—ing. Telling them you're going to the place where Tom Hanks first investigated the murder in the Da Vinci Code? Priceless. The big surprise is that once they're there, they'll probably find more than a few things to amuse them.
10. Let them sleep… sometimes. Drag them out at dawn and you'll incite rebellion. But, let them snooze at will (aka, through lunch) and you'll lose half the vacation. A little bit of each will satisfy both their teenaged sleep patterns and your urge to get up and go. Just make sure those early-morning outings have enough "wow" to start their engines.