Five Tips for Overseas Travel with Teens

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Planes, trains and automobiles

My family took a two-week trip this summer to France and Spain (I wrote several blogs about the journey!).  I’ve assembled five tips for traveling with teens, since my kids were aged thirteen and fourteen during the trip. Please note for all trips, safety first! Make sure your teens know how you can reach each other, and everyone has addresses and information about where you’re staying at every stage of the trip.

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Walking in Les Corts, fashionable modern shopping district

1. Tackle Technology

Today’s teens can struggle without technology in hand! (Don’t agree? Fight me.) As with everything tech-related, there is always a balance. If you’re traveling overseas, research data plans and set your own family limitations for technology. You may find a great data plan through your wireless carrier that will be the right fit for your trip that you can activate as needed. As for limits, explain how using data will be different (=more expensive) than at home, establish beforehand when they’ll be allowed to use their phone or when it must be put away, when are they allowed to use it for photos, what the WiFi rules are, and appropriate emergency use. Parents, put your phones away too. Enjoy the vacation together. I also highly recommend a deck of cards and other low-tech fun that the whole family can play together.

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Here is an American restaurant where we would have eaten, but they hadn’t yet opened.

2. Friendly Food

Maybe your teenagers will eat anything you put in front of them. If so, cool. If not, ahead of leaving discuss that food will be different where you’re going. Before and while traveling, encourage teens to try new foods, but be prepared to wind up at American restaurants. We agreed when visiting with friends to taste everything that our hosts cooked for us. My family discovered something they liked, the hosts were pleased, and everyone expanded their palates. When sightseeing, the key was for everyone involved to communicate when we were getting hungry and to eat before we all got “hangry” (hungry+angry). It was more important to me that my family ate when they needed to eat than to have a new cuisine experience at every meal. Find your own balance.

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Great phrasebooks and dictionaries for travelers. Or with data, use Google translate!

3. Language Learning

Traveling overseas where you don’t speak the language can be intimidating. However, between Google translate (don’t forget about the data plan!) and language books for travelers, you should be fine. Otherwise, you may have to rely on gestures and charades. In many tourist hot spots, there are usually plenty of English-speakers, but I definitely recommend having a few phrases in your pocket. Part of the fun of traveling is learning at least: Yes, No, Please, Thank you, How much? and Where is the bathroom? I highly recommend giving your teenagers a chance to ask on their own while you hang back… they grow a bit more independent when they realize they won’t die when they have to use their language skills. 

4. Engage Everybody in Early Planning

Engage the whole family in the pre-trip planning. “Search up” (as the kids like to say) the destination together online, or assign them to look something up on their own. Even, “best things for teens in Barcelona” can give you a good idea of where to start. What’s their fancy? Museums, battlefields, sports arenas, traditional cultural events, flea markets, shopping? If they are interested in sites you’re planning to visit, everyone gets much more out of it. We went to Normandy in France to visit the D-Day beaches. We discussed it beforehand and while we drove there and back we listened to an audio book on the subject. It brought the history to life and made the trip even more memorable. Even a little bit of research can engage teenagers about what you’ll see when you’re there.

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They played cards together. This is not a staged photograph.

5. Don’t Dismiss Downtime

We traveled for two weeks and spent time in six different cities! We covered a lot of ground, but it was important to me that we not overdo the trip by cramming too much into each day. We made sure to hit each person’s highlights wherever possible (because we researched beforehand), then we all really needed the breaks. Teens enjoy the downtime exploring a different “home base,” whether a hotel room, a friends’ home or your rented flat in the city. This is an opportunity to snack, rehydrate, nap, talk together about the things you’ve most recently done, discuss what’s next, or even, yes, text with friends back home (within approved limits). Enjoying the downtime together adds to the memorable experience of the trip itself.

 Have you traveled near and far with teens? I’d love to hear your tips!

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