travel with your teen

Zach Desatnick taking in the wonders of Iceland on his first trip to the country. (Photo: Allison Desatnick)

Couples + Family

The Best Way to Travel With Your Teen on Your Next Vacation

As we all go through the process of preparing our teenagers for their next steps in life, we should not forget to incorporate a love for travel and exploration.

Last year, in trying to find perfect holiday presents, I decided to give my two teens (and myself) the gift of travel.

In life, I’m always trying to collect experiences. What better way to collect experiences and make lasting memories with your teen before they head out alone on life’s big journey?

I have a son and a daughter, 15 and 17, who both have very different personalities. The decision to gift them each their own adventure allows their journeys to be authentically unique to each of their personalities.

The goal of the experience was for us to explore new terrain and cultures while making lasting memories for the future. It ended up being so much more.

Timing is a consideration.

My son is about to embark on his junior year of high school. Knowing that this is a busy and stressful school year, I decided it best to time our trip prior to this hectic school year.

Note: Milestones such as obtaining a driver’s license prior to travel may open opportunities for excursions such as driving an ATV or jet ski. This is also a great age to tap into and create new interests while planting seeds for the future.

From my point of view, the goal of the experience was for us to explore new terrain and cultures while making lasting memories for the future. It ended up being so much more.

As my son, Zach, is the oldest, he was chosen to go first.

A little background on Zach: He is 17, has an introverted personality, is physically active, prefers cold climates and has an appreciation for the outdoors. He had previously traveled without family on a school trip to Italy. Prior to that, his travel included family vacations to Jamaica and Costa Rica. When presented with the opportunity to select a destination anywhere in the world, he picked Iceland.

Having a typical low tolerance for cold, Iceland would not have been a destination I would have selected. But by allowing Zach to pick the destination of his choice, this leveled the playing field.

Iceland teen travel

teen travel
Allison Desatnick with her son Zach on a mother-son trip to Iceland. (Photos: Allison Desatnick)

Kids aren’t often given the opportunity to be the driving force when planning vacations. Historically, parents make the arrangements, announce the destination, and even dictate points of interest and food—forcing the kids to experience the journey exclusively through their parent’s point of view.

Tricks to empower kids while keeping some order …

  • Determine a budget: Allow your teen to help decide whether one more pricy activity or two less expensive would be most fulfilling
  • Compromise: Select activities that you both will enjoy, or compromise with an open mind to share each-others interests
  • Incorporate other interests such as photography while on your trip. This way even when your teen is losing interest, they will still find something engaging.

By giving teens the opportunity to select their preferred destination, as well as plan activities, pick restaurants, etc., you are empowering them to make selections based on their likes and interests, creating the backdrop for their perfect adventure.

For the teen, this is also a great, supervised way to explore their independence.

This switch in roles conversely allows parents to become acquainted and build a rapport with their budding young adult.

Watch their interactions, support their independence, see things through their unique point of view. By empowering them to have experiences based on their interests, you nurture their confidence and support a spirit for adventure—in both travel and life.

The benefit of this role reversal is twofold.

As you relinquish some control by giving your teen the reins, they in turn get to experience you as “person,” rather than “parent”—a transformation that takes many parents of adult children years to establish.

You can be there for them when they need you, while at the same time showing them that you trust them to make good decisions and value their perspective. In doing so, you are paving the road for a well-balanced adult.

teen travel Iceland

teen travel Iceland
Incorporate your teen’s interests while on a trip to make sure they’re getting the most out of the journey. (Photos: Allison Desatnick)

So how was Iceland?

Fantastic! Zach and I hiked glaciers, laid on moss covered lava beds, soaked in hot springs, explored caves and more.

We added some newfound friends on social media and made some irreplaceable memories. We also took photos from our unique perspectives—and he looks happy in the photos!

Beyond this, Zach now speaks of adventures that he would like to take on his own. All this was even more than I could have hoped for.

As for my daughter, we are planning for her adventure next summer. Her location of choice: Bora Bora.