Tip for Traveling With Tweens (It Can Actually Be Fun!)

Think back to your happiest memories of growing up. How many of them happened while traveling or on vacation with your family? Several studies have shown that for many Americans, our happiest memories are made during such family excursions. However, if you ventured out with your tween or teen recently you may be feeling the urge to avoid the experience altogether. Tweens and teens are by nature working towards independence, and the experience of traveling with their family in often close quarters for much of the day can be challenging for all, to say the least. As a lifelong nomad, I have taken my kids on all kinds of moving adventures. But as they approach their teens I have found it increasingly difficult to get them excited about exploring, and traveling with them sometimes seems like an exercise in letting go of all my values with regards to screen time, physical exercise and eating habits. However, I know from experience and from witnessing families with teens that traveling together can also be a unique opportunity for bonding and incredible growth, as individuals and as a family. So, I am determined to keep at it and be creative about ways we can make traveling together with the great experience I know it can be. I have put together an idealist to help keep tweens happy and engaged. I have focused on activities that would be most practical on road trips, but most would also be useful if you are flying and spending time in a given location. 1.) Listen to audiobooks together We have found audiobooks to be the number one way to make road trips more fun. We have listened to several fantasy books and series as we travel and have a great time discussing the adventure during downtimes. Obviously, you may have to compromise in terms of the subject matter- my boys won’t settle for anything less than a full scale, Rick Riordan type mythical epic, and I have to admit they do alleviate the tedium of road travel enormously. It takes some planning ahead if you are borrowing from the library, as you will need to find something you can all agree on and place holds if necessary. If you are listening to a series this is even more relevant. Another option is to get a temporary membership with Amazon’s Audible. You receive one book for free as a trial, and one free title a month for your $15 membership fee. Additional books vary in price but are generally cheaper than other sources. Advantages to Audible are that you never have to wait for a title, and the selection is immense- far more than most libraries since many books are recorded exclusively for Audible. If you want to go old school, you can also check out CD’s from the library, or even from places like Cracker Barrel, which allow you to borrow a CD from one location and return in another as you travel. 2.) Research ahead of time for sites they’re interested in My partner recently drove across the country with my tween boys ( I cheated and took the plane with my toddler) and though they were in a hurry, the highlight of their trip was a place called Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. They described chasing each other while rolling down the dunes and splashing in clear blue water in Lake Michigan. Though they only spent a few hours there, it’s a place they will remember for years to come. These kinds of brief but memorable stops are available on any type of trip you might be taking, and tend to transform it from being remembered as arduous and boring to “the time when we went to…” For example, many years ago we were taking the train across the country and had a long layover in Chicago-long enough to visit the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower). Though the boys were young, they still have memories of the incredible view from the top. If you do your homework, you can tailor your stops to your kid’s interests and mix them up- a little history, a little nature, a little technology, and little silliness! For example, for our return trip this year we’re considering visiting The Palace of Gold in West Virginia- called the Taj Mahal of the U.S, the City Museum in St.Louis, which boasts a eclectic variety of re-purposed industrial objects, and, hopefully, Arches National Monument, which we have visited before but can’t get enough of. All of these are close to the interstate and easily accessible. 3.) Be flexible about screen time- maybe even join them in it! Many families have some kind of limitations on screen time for their tweens and teens, including mine. At home, we’re able to maintain limits by re-directing them to other activities and generally staying busy. A road trip across the country, or a 6-hour plane ride, in which they are strapped into place is a different story. I’ve had to recognize that distraction by video game YouTube videos and movies is worthwhile to compromise during long travel days. In fact, I have joined them in the back seat occasionally to see what all the fun’s about- something I rarely do at home. This, in turn, creates another way to spend time together and share in their world. We still try to mix up our days, listening to stories, music, or news, and making as many stops as time will allow. But relaxing the technology restrictions for the few days or hours is a way to help the kids enjoy the trip more and feel less resentful- and to give the adults a break from trying to entertain them! 4.) Try Geo-caching Geocaching got a lot of attention a few years ago and seems to have lost some of the hype recently. However, there are still many dedicated cachers who get immense satisfaction and joy from the activity. It is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a GPS or any mobile device to navigate to hidden containers that other cachers have stashed. Though we haven’t tried it yet, we know several families who love it, and it has all the elements tweens get excited about- a challenge with a journey and reward, a chance to use sophisticated navigational technology, and an adventure into unknown territory. Most caches just contain a logbook to sign, to prove you found it, but some include small toys or trinkets to trade, adding to the excitement of a globally shared adventure. 5.) Schedule Rest time Probably good advice for everyone in the family. Traveling can be exhausting, and as we all know, tweens are in a stage of life where they need almost as much sleep as teens. Though it may be difficult to sacrifice the extra time from your itinerary, the rewards of allowing your kids ( and you) a day, or even half a day, to linger at a lake or roadside attraction will be well worth it. 6.) Play Games Together If you have read any of my other posts, you will know I am a big advocate of games for homeschool. The same is true for vacation time, though the type of game might be different. There are lots of games you can play in the car -don’t worry, there are many options other than I spy! Games are also a great thing to do together during an evening at the campsite or hotel. Let your kids pick which ones to bring as much as possible, or maybe negotiate for some that everyone can enjoy. If you are not accustomed to playing together, make sure to leave enough time for everyone to learn the rules (or practice ahead of time) to avoid frustration. It may require a little extra patience from everyone to get started, but once you are in the swing of it, it can create lots of laughs and release the tension of traveling. 7.) Consider taking a train If you are traveling across the country (or overland in Europe) you might want to think about taking a train. It is usually cheaper than flying and allows much more mobility than driving. If you’re on a long trip, you will usually have a long layover for transfers in which you can get out and explore. You can also intentionally patch together your tickets to allow for as much time as you want in a certain location. Its a relaxing and fun way to see the landscape (though you may want to pack your food ahead of time- train meals are usually overpriced), and if your tweens are social they can probably find peers or friendly adults in the viewing areas to visit and play games with, which can be an enriching experience in itself. The best part of all these activities? You can log them into your child’s dashboard on www.unschoolinc.com

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