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A few weeks ago I wrote about the teen travel challenges I didn’t see coming and one of them hit home with many readers: Some kids lose interest in family travel as they get older. I wanted to dig into that experience and share some strategies to help you navigate the homebody blues.
First, let’s address the inevitable coming comment: “You’re the parent. They’re kids. Just make them go.” I assure you that would only come from someone who hasn’t traveled “for fun” with a miserable teen or tween. You may win the battle, but you’ll be losing the war. If you’re trying to create happy family memories, you have a better chance of doing so if you’re not dragging an unhappy kid along.
Try to Understand the Why
Just as I advised, “Listen first to understand,” when talking to a reluctant spouse, I try to get a little more information from my kids before just accepting “I don’t wanna” as an answer. Is it boredom? Too much time in a small hotel room with an annoying sibling? Missing their friends back home? Each can be potentially be addressed. Even if it can’t, you’ll get bonus points for trying to understand.
Involve Kids in Planning
If ennui at the idea of visiting historical sites is the culprit, you can front-load the trip with activities the kids help select. This can be as simple as planning a theme park visit during a trip that might not normally have one. In fact, you might save money visiting an international park over a US trip to Disney or Universal. I did this on a recent trip to Paris. By tacking on Disneyland Paris, we found my 12-year-old daughter was more on board for the visit to the Orsay museum later in the trip.
I’ve also let the kids’ interests guide the destination choice. Four years ago, when the kids were 11 and 7, we wanted to do a big Asia trip. My son had two obsessions at the time: baseball and manga. Fortunately, Japan was the perfect intersection of the two. We all had great fun at a baseball game in Tokyo, and my son found a collection of manga books in English marked down to 100 yen (about $1) each at a bookstore in Shinjuku.
My daughter, now 12, is a junior master chef. It’s been a joy to indulge her hobby with cooking classes. On our most recent Paris trip, I found both crepe and macaron classes for the two of us to enjoy. These had a side benefit: Just last week she made crepes at home.
If annoying sibs (or parents) are an issue, the best thing you can do is ditch the standard hotel room for a vacation rental or two-bedroom hotel suite. Giving the kids space to get away from each other will make life easier for everyone. In fact, I try to get a bedroom for each kid. I find that renting a three-bedroom property is often only marginally more expensive than renting a two-bedroom; I’ve paid as little as $20/night for the sanity-saving third bedroom. This is why I don’t use a lot of hotel points on family vacations, instead focusing on flexible ones such as those from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. (This is why families need the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.) Airbnb is my new best friend — be sure to pick up some Delta miles along the way.
Bring a Friend
I just came back from a last-minute spring-break trip to Florida with my 15-year-old son. The one-way car rental deal was too hard to pass up. To be honest, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the trip until I mentioned that since I only needed a one-way plane ticket this would be a great trip with a friend along. With that knowledge he started texting and had a suitable companion within 15 minutes.
Having two teens along gave me way more free time than I’ve had on any other family trip. I actually read an entire novel — I usually pack one but can’t previously remember having the time to actually pick it up. It also allowed me to give my son more freedom than he is used to on vacation. He and his friend were able to hit the beach on their own or hang back and play video games while I went out to dinner, both things that would have been unlikely had it just been the two of us.
I knew he would have a good time with a friend, but I wondered how it would affect the family dynamic. I was surprised to find that the two boys didn’t shun me entirely, and I learned a thing or two about my kid by seeing him hanging out with a friend as opposed to being in “surly teen” mode.
They say that life is what happens when you make other plans. I’d take that further and say that travel magic happens when you let serendipity rule. Too many families pack their days with events, rushing from temple to museum to tour, trying to take it all in. Frankly, if I had that schedule day after day, I’d stop wanting to travel, too. I realized early on that I’d rather see one thing right and then let the kids embrace the culture where they are.
While my husband and I might not have considered 7-11 a prime Japanese tourist destination, their collection of manga and Tsum-Tsum-themed collectibles, which were often free with the purchase of a soda, delighted my kids. (Confession: The Tsum-Tsum stuff charmed me too.) We spent way more time in convenience stores than I had intended during our Japan trip, but the Elsa Tsum-Tsum keychain my daughter got with a Pocari Sweat is now a prized Christmas ornament.
I shared the story of my kids finding a 1990s-era Nintendo “Street Fighter” game in Chile, but I’ll refer to it again because the photo reminds me that what appeals to a kid might not be what you planned. Having the luxury to indulge such moments makes everyone happier in the end.
Play “Pokémon Go” as a Family
You may scoff at this one, but trust me: “Pokémon Go” is tailor-made for travel (and yes, it is very much still a thing even though it’s no longer a media headline-catching darling). Airports and tourist attractions understood early on the appeal of the game and sites commonly visited during trips are littered with pokestops and gyms. The creators have gone a step further in that certain types of Pokémon are more common in specific geographic areas: For instance, you’ll find more water-type Pokemon near a beach. Some Pokémon are even more common in Europe or Asia, giving another incentive to play while you travel.
My kids started playing when the game came out, but lost interest. It came back with the release of two “Let’s Go!” Pokémon games for the Nintendo Switch last year. I actually share a “Pokémon Go” account with my two kids and we play as a team. I find that doing so makes it feel less like a video game and more like a family adventure; kind of like virtual geocaching.
Divide and Conquer
If “spending time with an annoying sibling” is the reason given for not wanting to travel, you can fix this by taking occasional trips with each kid. By doing so you’ll not only relieve the stressor, you’ll deepen your relationship with the kids individually. Mommy Points is a fan of this strategy.
Even the kid who doesn’t travel can benefit from more time from the parent staying home. During my last trip with my son, my daughter got a lot of Dad time. He even took her to the mall for a summer wardrobe refresh.
If you have the flexibility (and enough points to make it work), flying in re-reinforcements so parents can leave the kids at home is also an option. Let’s face it: Most grandparent trips are all about the kids anyway — might as well take advantage of their undivided attention to grab a bit of grown-up time.
When your kids tell you they don’t want to travel anymore, it can feel like a rejection. However, with listening, accommodation and more than a little patience, you can make family trips feel like vacation rather than punishment.
Featured photo by ugurhan / Getty Images.
Need more advice for traveling with kids? Here are some of our top picks:
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