Family Notes: Traveling With Teens

As the teen years come to a close in the Goodaker Family, I’ve been reminiscing on vacations past, the good, the bad, the ugly, and those we never took.  There really weren’t any ugly vacations per se, just some ugly moments now and then (like when Montezuma’s Revenge hit Child #2 in Cancun, or when the Hubs lost his keys in the park & ride at the airport).  For the most part, our travels have been fun, and I feel very fortunate that we were able to take our kids on so many trips.  By no means could we be considered “world travelers” (we’re more along the lines of Frequent Floridians), but we have travelled enough that my kids know how to navigate an airport alone, which makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something during these parenting years (that and the fact they can wash their own clothes and feed themselves).

Our family travels started with babies – but those travels were limited to visiting family in Kentucky (when we lived in Minnesota), and visiting family in Minnesota (when we lived in Kentucky).  Those were the lean years, with little money in our bank accounts and travel restricted to necessity, like Christmas and funerals.  But one thing was certain for us:  no matter what, we weren’t about to let the fact that we had little ones hold us back from going places.  We maneuvered car seats and strollers the best we could, getting from Point A to Point B.

Then they became walking, talking children, not entirely capable of going at it solo, but definitely able to not only walk around without a stroller, but also be in charge of their own carry-ons.  Life seemed grand!  I still remember the day we got our first SUV with a built-in DVD entertainment system in 2004, and from that point forward, road trips were something we looked forward to.  There was no playing the Highway Sign Game (find words beginning with letters of the alphabet, in order!), no singing Girl Scout Songs (what?  No John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt?!), no State License Plate game, no I Spy.  It was head phones on, eyes up, and movie after movie after movie until we arrived at our destination.  Heaven; a heaven my parents, sadly, never knew.
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During the “elementary school years” we had to plan our travels a carefully.  Dinners out needed to be no later than 6:30 p.m., lest we have a very Hangry Daughter #2 to deal with.  Days needed to be planned and filled with adventures like pirate cruises in The Gulf, alligator tours through the Everglades, water parks, and theme parks, and more water parks.  After-dinner mini-golf.  Movies and shopping were reserved for rainy days.  Lots of fun, but I have to say, the real vacations started when the girls hit their teens.

To start, when they got to be a little older, meal times were much more enjoyable.  We didn’t have a window of time in which to eat before the “witching hour” set in and the grumpies took over.  Their palates were open to exploring new and more wonderful flavors, as they left behind chicken nuggets and mac & cheese for sushi and filet and lobster mac & cheese.  We started traditions, like trying the calamari on every menu and voting on who served the best.  And dressing up – that became a very important ritual in the evening dinner preparations of two young ladies.

We were suddenly able to take on new adventures that we wouldn’t have tried during the younger years:  skiing in the Smoky Mountains, New York City for Thanksgiving, Cancun for Christmas – all with separate rooms for the kids and the parents, because we no longer needed to be attached at the hip.  The girls drove golf carts around Isla Mujeres and ordered their own food to be delivered to their room from the all-inclusive room service menu.  They took turns driving our rental boat around the harbor in Destin, FL and enjoyed water skiing and tubing, while I had my eye out for sharks.  They navigated the subways in NYC like old pros and ventured out into Times Square without our watchful eyes demanding they stay within sight of us.  They took off in the car to go get Starbucks drinks without us while we enjoyed our own coffee on the porch of the beach house in Seacrest, watching the early morning waves.  And in the evenings, it was always nice to have a designated driver after dinner.

By far, our most “grown up” adventure was our trip to NYC for Thanksgiving last year.  It was a family vacation that had an adult feel.  We spent a day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and while the girls did not truly get the enjoyment or have the appreciation of it that I was hoping for, there were moments in which I could tell they were digging it despite the attention they paid to their cell phones.  They seemed to really get a kick out of Chinatown and were total troopers in trying out a hole in the wall dumpling joint for our Thanksgiving meal.  And when empowered  them to pick out a place for dinner one night, they sent our Uber driver to a lovely farm-to-table place in Chelsea that had the most wonderful food.  Sure, there were moments of typical teen girl selfishness and grouchiness, but it was nothing that couldn’t be cured with a trip to the world famous Victoria’s Secret store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan or cannolis from Carlo’s Bakery.

Most of our trips have been family in nature, with all four of us going.  But recently, that hasn’t always been possible, as work obligations take center stage, and kids go off to college, leaving only part of our family at any given time available to travel.  I’ve ventured off to Daytona with just my two girls, having my husband join us for the last couple days.  It wasn’t the same, but that isn’t to say it was better or worse; it was just different.  It was nice for just us girls to enjoy a trip together.  Then when Child #1 went off to college, it became just me and Child #2 for Spring Break trips, as my husband was stuck working and running our business.  Those trips were very different, with me at the helm of an all-girl ship and no adults to hang out with for sanity.  Some of it was completely enjoyable (peaceful beach, shopping, lazy days and no agenda), some of it boring (rain days, early evenings), and some of it down right irritating (drunk teens + spring break in Panama City Beach = NO FUN and worthy of it’s own blog post).  But all in all, any trip is a good trip if it means escaping the mundane daily routine for new sights and no schedule.

So what advice do I have for those travelling with teens?  Leave your agenda and expectations behind.  Learn to be comfortable with flying by the seat of your pants.  While some excursions do, indeed, take and require planning in advance in order to maximize the experience, balance those with days of just exploring, being open to what lies ahead and willing to change your plans on short notice if needed.  Be prepared and willing to spend money – teens like stuff.  Don’t be disappointed if they don’t want pictures taken, and be happy to pop into silly selfies when you can.  Don’t plan every minute of every day – everyone needs downtime and quiet time, which should be a mandatory part of any vacation.  Be willing to let go, let them go off and do their own thing.  Have faith that they’ll be ok.  And if they aren’t experienced in travel, prep in advance:  download your airline’s app to everyone’s phone, check in in advance and make sure everyone knows how to navigate security at the airport.  Everyone must be responsible for his or her own luggage and lay out in advance any rules and regulations about what to pack/not pack.  Try to map out what to do each day, loosely.  You’ll want to cover attractions that are in a common location on the same day, but also keep in mind you may need to scrap those plans and do something else.  Get separate rooms, or rent a house.  You need your privacy, and so do the kids!  Encourage everyone to stretch, spread your wings, and try new stuff.  But most importantly, enjoy each moment.

These days will be gone before you know it, and the traveling will just be with you and your spouse and while it will be very enjoyable, it will be different without the kiddos.  We still have a trip to Hawaii planned with our girls, who are now 18 and 20.  This is a trip we’ve promised them for the past 8 years and it’s one I won’t let slip into the files of “wish we would’ve.”  But I have to say, I’m excited that it will be an all-adult trip.  I’m sure we’ll all love every minute of it.

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