10 Teen Vacation-Saving Strategies

Our writer has three teens and a tween. Here are her tips for taking your too-cool teenagers on a family vacation that everyone can enjoy.


Your teens have outgrown children’s museums. Taking the annual road trip to visit the cousins can be a hard sell. And renting that cottage for a week at the beach just doesn’t do it any longer.

Teens can be difficult in the normal course of everyday family life. I have four kids—three sons aged 19, 17 and 15, and a 12-year-old daughter. As a travel writer, my kids and my husband have traveled with me around the country and throughout the world.

Traveling with your teens can be an amazing experience and a great way to bond as a family. But there are tricks to a successful family vacation with your teens. So here are some of the things that I’ve learned over the years traveling with my crew of almost-but-not-quite-adult children.   

1) Involve Teens in Planning

The ultimate decision about your family vacation is yours, but your teen should definitely be part of the decision-making process. If you listen to your teen’s wants and needs, he or she will be more likely to have a good time—and so will you.

2) Carefully Choose Your Vacation Destination

Some vacations just work better for teens. Cruises, theme parks, all-inclusive resorts and ski vacations all offer attractions or activities that appeal to this age group. Destinations that offer a wide variety of things to do are also a good bet. Big-city vacations like New York and London work well for teens too. National parks like the Grand Canyon appeal to adventure-loving teens. Also, consider going somewhere totally unfamiliar—that way, no one is the expert and parents and teens are on (almost!) equal footing.

3) Please Everyone—Some of the Time

Once you decide on a destination, let each of your kids choose at least one of the activities. In San Gimignano, Italy—after one too many days of visiting churches—my middle son insisted we visit the Medieval Criminal and Torture Museum. On the way to Toronto, we stopped in Cooperstown, N.Y., to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame at the request of my oldest son (see Baseball Sites article [LINK]). Vacation can also be a great time to have one-on-one time with your child, so consider traveling separately, even while together. In Madrid[destinations/ES/29/M/madrid] last summer, my daughter and I spent an entire morning at the Prado while the guys slept in. 

4) All for One and One for All

It’s perfectly fine for parents to occasionally insist that everyone in the family take the city tour, go river rafting or sample lobster. Vacation is about trying new things, and your teen will probably like the experience more than they let on.

5) Budget, Budget, Budget

“Mom, can I order the most expensive thing on the menu?” Unfortunately, when you travel with teenagers, the kid’s menu just doesn’t do it anymore. The travel industry mostly considers kids over age 12 as adults, and you will usually pay full price for your teen. Every little bit helps though, so have your child bring their high school or college ID card for student discounts when available. Develop a travel budget before you go, and let your teenagers know what you are willing to pay for on vacation.

6) Space for Everyone

Cramming the family into one hotel room isn’t fun for anyone. Teenagers value their privacy and need their own space. And remember, it’s your vacation, too. If your budget allows, book two hotel rooms. And two separate hotel rooms are preferable to a two-room suite because you won’t have to share bathrooms! Hank Shaw, a California father of two teens, recommends that families create a “special family knock” so that kids know when it’s safe to open the hotel room door.

7) Allow for Some First Experiences

Teens mostly like to do “cool things”—swimming with dolphins, getting a mani-pedi or hiking across a glacier. Vacation is a great time to indulge your teen with new experiences, and parents should be willing to go out of their comfort zone as well. I rode my first horse, took my first golf lesson and soared on a zip line through the forest because of my teens. It has all been a blast!

8) Put Technology in its Place

It’s reasonable to set limits on your children’s screen time during meals and activities when you’re on vacation. But teens need their downtime, and they love their cell phones, iPods and e-mail. Stateside, have your teens bring their cell phone. They can text message and call their friends. But most importantly, you can reach your teen. Overseas, pay for Internet access every few days. When we travel abroad, my kids stay in touch with their friends via e-mail. And if it’s summer, my boys always check for the standings!

9) Parents Are Not a Piggybank

Teens love to spend money, and shopping may well be the highlight of the vacation for them. Give each child a spending allowance to pay for souvenirs and extras. When it is “their money” they’ll think twice before making a purchase.

10) Establish Rules, but Cut Teens Some Slack

Safety rules such as using the buddy system when venturing out are important. You should expect your teen (for the most part) not to fight with their siblings. Help your kids pack light so you don’t incur those onerous new luggage fees, but insist that they carry their own luggage. 

But what if your teen keeps a messy hotel room or wants to sleep in late? You may want to look the other way. Dr. Vicki Panaccione, a psychologist specializing in parenting, says the real key to vacationing with teens is—you guessed it—lots of compromise.  

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Sightseeing

User Comments

Great tips These are really terrific suggestions. We have two teens and two preschoolers, so vacations take a lot more planning that before to accommodate the age spans and interests.

My family vacations My parents used some of these strategies when balancing the needs of my little brother and I while on family trips. Letting us each plan a day's activities made all the difference!

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