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8 Secrets to Crafting a Great Teen Trip

Eons ago, I handled PR for a group who rescued elephants, lions, bears, and the like from performing venues like Hollywood, circuses, and zoos.

Exotic animals who’ve only known human care are hybrids: part ferocious animal, part pretty-kitty.

Take primates. They can seem an awful lot like you and me, but can also – in a heartbeat – go wild and eat your face. Elephants too are darling and incredibly intelligent, but can also be total goofballs who consume anything within trunks-reach. Once, at the sanctuary, the young elephants ate a garden hose and later required gallons of Metamucil to feel like themselves again.

You see my point.

Teens are like exotic animals: they’re part wondrous, magical child and part hyena.

Back when I was still raising elementary-aged kids, I assumed teen vacations would involve high-brow travel like seeing the Louvre in Paris, the Parthenon in Greece, or Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.

Shocker: wrong again.

Turns out the secret sauce to traveling with teens starts and ends with exciting, risky – at least to the teen – adventure.

On the whole, I love traveling with my twin teen boys, both fifteen, who in their best moments are curious, polite, and knowledgeable on family trips. But when they go hyena on me, I maintain firm boundaries – and consequences – while smiling inside knowing they’re working 24/7 to forge adult men-selves. (Because if you smile on the outside? They get huffy.)

Take a peek at how to create a trip teens will love:

1. Well in advance of the vacation, ask your teen to help create the trip from A to Z: where to visit, where to eat, what to avoid, etc. Let your teen assist in crafting the trip versus merely going along for the ride. (Teens can be ultra-sensitive, so reassure your teen that there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to crafting a travel plan. Soothe your sweetheart by saying, “It’s all a learning experience. Remember the time I picked such-and-such hotel in that crime-ridden city where we couldn’t leave the lobby?” (Remind your teen that they’ve learned loads just by watching your mistakes!)

2. Once on the trip, plan to let your teen sleep in. You – of course – can trek out early to have breakfast and see something fun, but studies are clear: Biologically, teens have a different snooze schedule than the rest of us, so make adjustments for their sleep needs. Check out to learn more.

3. Speaking of planning, allow for ample teen chillax time, too. While it might sound like a dream-trip to you and me, teens don’t want to be hauled around Rome from morning to night.

4. One thing all teens love besides sleep: food! Let your teen graze as needed throughout your trip to keep their inner-hyena happy.

5. If your teen is an introvert, schedule time for them to recharge their batteries. Introverts require time alone lost in music, books, or a favorite show.

6. I know this opinion is unpopular, but consider maintaining strict rules around how – and when – devices are used on trips. My thought: What’s the point of a family vacation if the teens are hooked up to a tech-drip the entire time? In advance, explain to your kids that they can bring their phones and tablets, and can text friends for an hour each evening. But that’s it. (My position isn’t new for my boys, but if it’s brand-new for your kids expect – and plan – for push-back.)

7. On trips, I give my teens independence depending on the location. They can definitely walk a cruise ship and stay in the teen center until midnight. But, no, they can’t trek a new city after dark.

8. I’m fortunate that my adventure-seeking boys have a dad who also loves excitement. My husband rides coasters, charges onto a submarine, and once held a baby gator – all with my teens. If – like me – you have zero interest in holding a gator (baby or not), join them by taking action-shots. Teens can be showoffs and love an appreciative audience.

I Went to the Danger Zone

Your teen wants to try the CN Tower Edge Walk in Toronto or walk a safari in Zimbabwe? (Yeah, not on my watch, people.) Instead check out these stunning medium-risk trips that teens are sure to love:

Question: How awesome does a 5- or 6-day whitewater raft trip through the Grand Canyon sound? (Answer: I know!) Ride world-class white water on the Colorado River and take in the wondrous views that you’ll never see from the top. Camp on sandy beaches, explore ancient ruins, and develop a tighter bond with your teen on this never-to-be-forgotten trip. But note: Avoid Arizona’s sizzling summer months by rafting the Canyon in April, May, early June, September or October. And book early – trips fill fast.

Flying to Arizona too pricey? Consider an exciting experience in RVA’s backyard: rafting the Gauley River (nicknamed: Beast of the East) in West Virginia. This jewel boasts Class IV and V rapids in September and mid-October (after a dam opens). You’ll be given a wetsuit and helmet – and expected to paddle. The fall colors are breathtaking and anyone in good shape can handle these one or two day trips. Search “spring and fall white water.”

Your teen loves to hike? Then take full advantage of the mountain jewel we call the Blue Ridge. The hazy azure color seen from a distance comes from the hydrocarbons emanating from the forests. Take a 3-hour drive from RVA to Roanoke and set off on one of ten incredible hikes. Search “10 best hikes” to find beautiful waterfall hikes, best dog hikes, and best fall color hikes.

Also in our backyard is a phenomenal surf school at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. Your teen would love to learn how to hang ten? You’re so smart because you know just the spot. Search “teen surf camp and family surf camps.”

Raising teens takes a strong, loving parent prepped to spend quality time with their almost-adults, yet simultaneously protect them from ill-advised activities that might result in Metamucil. Stay strong because one day our wild animals will find their way home.

Wendy irvine is a family travel writer who recently relocated to the East Coast and a regular contributor to Trip Advisor and Expedia online, as well as local and national magazines. She homeschools her twin boys and lives with one foot in RVA and the other in Atlanta. Visit for more from Wendy on the reality of family travel.

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