We started taking long road trips with our kids when they were still in car seats. As a family, international travel began when our daughter was 10 and our son was 5. As a 7th grader we noticed our daughter’s tolerance for being away from her friends was noticeably lower. Keeping her (and the rest of us) happy while being away from home for more than a week took some serious rethinking. Here’s what we learned works best.
- Get input from your teens about your vacation destination — Obviously if you’re expected at a family reunion, then that’s where you’re going. But if you haven’t finalized your plans, let the kids in on the discussion. They might not get the same voting power as the adults, but if they feel respected and listened to then you’ll get teens with a positive attitude. That’s worth all the souvenirs in the world!
- Be realistic about how long you’ll be gone – If you’ve got a really social teen boy or girl, two weeks away may be torturous. Remember: A teen’s world doesn’t revolve around her friends it revolves because of her friends. Remove her from her social circle for too long and her world screeches to a standstill and she’ll make you pay for how isolated and miserable she’s feeling!
- Encourage each family member to decide what they’d like to do for part of each day — This practice works great as long as you’ve got this ground rule in place: if anyone mopes around during someone else’s chosen activity, then the party pooper loses his/her right to choose an activity that day. Even when our son was 5, he’d be cooperative for just about anything knowing that in a few hours he’d have his chance. He also realized that being an unwilling participant took away from everyone’s fun, including his. If a 5 year old can make that connection, your teen certainly can!
- Maintain schedules — Schedules create a rhythm for the day. That reduces some of the inevitable stress of being away from home. Your teens may not admit this, but they feel security (and comfort) knowing that at 7 PM the family sits down to dinner. Without getting rigid about it, a sleep schedule’s important too. Sure you’re on vacation, but if teens don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour then they’re likely to sleep past noon (or later) and that’s probably going to:
- irritate everyone else who wants to get an early start
- compel you to drag your Sleeping Prince(ss) out of bed forcing everyone else to put up with a foul-tempered, sleep-deprived adolescent
- Get novels on tape or CD for road trips — If the books are well chosen (mysteries are great) then getting back in the car for 8 more hours can actually be something everyone looks forward to (got to find out what happens next in the story!).
- Factor in jet lag — Traveling internationally or just across the country? Jet lag can really knock you off balance for a day or more. At its worst, jet lag can make you feel like you’ve been flattened by a steamroller then injected with a flu virus. Studies show that people with strong internal clocks (circadian rhythms) are most susceptible to jet lag. Got any of those in your family? If necessary, go easy with activities for the first day or so. To prevent jet lag, here are some tips: drink water in flight, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and walk around the cabin periodically. There are also some homeopathic remedies available in health food stores that some people swear by. One that we’ve had great success with is appropriately called “No Jet-Lag” and is available at many health food stores, or can be ordered online.
- Explore your new environment as a family, but pace yourself — Feel compelled to see every single thing listed in the guidebook? If it feels like you’re rushing around then you probably are. So temper your expectations and slow down, you may see less but you’ll also stress less and enjoy things more.
- Give yourself permission to abandon some of your attitudes — Vacations take you out of the norm, so they’re great times for self-exploration. If you (and your teens) choose not to limit yourselves with normally strong opinions (“I don’t like boats.” “I never eat anything with coconut in it.”), you can become a “freer” you, at least for a while. And who knows? It might help everyone in the family to become more openhearted, open-minded on a permanent basis.
- Keep a family travel journal — Words can capture a completely different kind of memory than photos. Interactions between people you passed on the street, a conversation with a shopkeeper, etc. At the end of every travel day you might come together and talk about what each of you found memorable. Everyone is bound to have a different perspective of the day. That’s part of what makes this “debriefing” so interesting! The person with the best handwriting can take the job of “transcriber” while everyone takes a turn dictating his/her most memorable part of the day. We started doing this on our first trip to Europe in 1990 and we’ve had wonderful times over the years, rereading sections of our travel journals to each other.
- Relax — You’re on vacation. Consciously choose to leave stress-related worries at home (they’ll be fine without you). Give your mind as well as your body a chance to regain equilibrium. When you’re not stressing you show your best side to your family. The way I see it, that’s the best part of any family vacation.
Whether you and your family have a far away journey in store, or some day-trips close to home, enjoy your time together, be safe, and happy travels!