Travel and Your Tween: A Perfect Match!

My world is filled with the infant and toddler crowd, but one day Dek and Ty will want to have a say in where we go and what we do in our travels (horrors!) Jessie Voigts from Wandering Educators gives me a glimpse at what I have to look forward to in this week’s Travel Tips Tuesday.

You’ve mastered the art of travel with babies, toddlers, and growing kids. But once your kids hit the tweens, is travel – and the planning of it – different? The answer, in a nutshell, YES.

Why is it different? At this age, tweens are moving more toward independence. While they still need reassurance (and yes, cuddles), the world is their oyster.  And who better to facilitate this than the people who know them best – their parents?

What do tweens want from travel? Well, I asked my own tween for her opinion. She says that she wants to learn new things from travel – from customs to languages to locations. No longer content to play on a playground (despite how cool international playgrounds can be), she wants to get involved in a place, and push for more active travel. She is interested in trying new things, especially food!

And how to include your tweens? Start them in from the beginning, when you’re deciding WHERE to go. Listen, ask questions, and ascertain what they’d like from your travels.

Include them in the planning and budgeting – ask them to do research on where they want to go, and why, and how much it costs. Have them find cool places to stay, fun things to do, and new activities to try. If your kids are foodies, ask them to scope out food sites, like UrbanSpoon, and discover new regional cuisines to explore.

Have them come up with reading and viewing lists of books and movies about where you’re going. Read and watch them as a family (and re-read and view again when you get home!). By asking for their assistance in the planning stages, they will be more fully invested in the trip.

While traveling, make your tween a vital part of the travel process. While they may not be ready to hold the passports, they certainly can handle their own backpacks and be in charge of snacks for the trip. Once on location, include them in the decisions for each day, from where to eat (they will usually pick really fun cafes, or funky restaurants you might never have chosen) to when to slow down and rest.

Our daughter loves to mix active play with slower activities (like sketching at an art museum). And, she loves to spend much more time doing things than we do – so we allow for that, and plan our days accordingly. We prefer slow travel – and traveling off the beaten path, so this isn’t an issue for us in terms of timing and seeing everything we want to see, discover, and explore.

Make sure your tween has a camera – you’ll be surprised at the photos she’ll come up with – it’s a whole new way to view the world.

Tweens also love to follow their own interests, whether it is art, fashion, scuba diving, history, literary travels, movie locations, food, taking classes, textiles, shopping (you knew that was coming), sports, or music. Whatever their interests are, encourage exploring them in a new location.

They might love to pick shells up on beaches – visit beaches, wherever you go! Your tween might be a budding archaeologist – include trips to ruins, and current excavation sites, if you can – they will have researched it!

Make sure, in your travel planning, to include the interests of everyone in the family. While one person might want to golf, another might want to spend hours at bookstores or textile shops. With your tween at this age, you still need to be together as a family.

Talk about being gracious in accommodating everyone’s interests – and then model that, yourself. You all can learn – and get excited about new things! For instance, when we went to the US Air Force Museum – we had to persuade our daughter to go. Not only did we spend the whole day, we went back the next TWO days, it was so interesting to all of us.

Talking with experts, in any field, can enhance interests and future paths. And at this age, tweens are full of questions and not afraid to ask them.

In an art museum, they might prefer to walk around with a docent, and learn about famous (and not so famous) paintings and sculptures. While zip lining, your tween might want to go last, so that they can spend the whole waiting time quizzing the crew all about the sport!

Taking a cooking class can also boost their confidence in new styles of cooking and cuisines. In our daughter’s Shakespeare Theatre camp (3 days each year, as part of a longer trip), she spends all her break times talking about Shakespeare, and acting, and costumes, with the faculty.

If your tween is a social butterfly, you might want to meet other tweens while you travel. You can meet up with families via tripping.com or other social hospitality networks, or from friends on your social media groups.

Hanging out with locals is always a great way to experience a new place – by getting the inside scoop on activities and places to visit, as well as seeing how other families live.

If you plan ahead and make a date, your tween and her new friend can Skype, make plans, and even propose an in—person exchange – of current magazines, t-shirts, etc. This is definitely worth the room in the suitcase! We are always welcoming to traveling families, who come and swim in our lake, play, go tubing, throw water balloons, and eat together. It’s a great way for the whole family to make new friends.

One thing about tweens is that they love to venture out and explore – and also revel in the familiar. Don’t forget that they are still kids, and learning.

Provide plenty of direction when needed, and pay attention to signals that indicate they need down time. Have enough time built into your travels for slow days, or days where you wander and let serendipity find you.

Last but not least, be sure to leave time to play – whether it is chasing each other in a park, playing finding A-Z games on the subway, or being silly and laughing over signs and funny things that happen to your family.

Your tween is a valued member of the family, one who is slowly growing and becoming more independent. By treating her opinions and decisions as important and integral to the trip, she’ll not only look forward to family travel, but actively encourage more travel.

The best part? Your family is still growing, learning, and traveling together.

Dr. Jessie Voigts is the Publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She also founded the Family Travel Bloggers Association, and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. You can usually find her family by water – anywhere in the world. Written by Jessica Voigts

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3 comments

  1. Tiffany Fite

    Great post! We are going to be doing a lot of international travel with our 10 & 11 year olds in 2013/2014. Lots of great tips here.

    I’ll second the “Last but not least, be sure to leave time to play” – we were in Yellowstone this summer and had full. wonderful, days of learning. At the end of the day, the boys just wanted to play tag, with the other kids, on the grass at the lodge. Provided some great memories for them, and a great decompression after a full day.

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