Our kids’ school has a lot of vacation time. Don’t get me wrong, breaks are great, and back when I worked full time, I would have scoffed at another chunk of time off where kids were likely be staring at screens while I shuffled off to work. But since we are here in Europe, we made the decision to travel as much as possible during the breaks.
Family vacations are a huge investment in both money and time (planning, going, and using up vacation time). Each break means we need to plan, and plan far enough in advance to find places to stay and good prices on trains or flights.
Maybe you have the opportunity and flexibility to let your teens help choose the destination or at least choose aspects of the trip.
1. Let Them Choose the Location
For an upcoming break, we narrowed down the choices to Lisbon, Barcelona, and Rome and told the kids to choose where they would like to go. They were asked to go online and look up things to do and report back. My oldest reported back that they all looked “fine” to him. He did a careful assessment of the temperatures to see which one might be the warmest in February, but that was the extent. My youngest did about 20 minutes of looking at all and requested Rome. The next day she changed her mind to Barcelona. A quick look at flights and Barcelona was the winner due simply to airline prices.
2. Book it, and Don’t Look Back
The most difficult part of vacation planning is committing. Decide where you are going and book the flight/hotel. Because most flights are a pain in the butt to change, it forces you to move ahead. It’s easy to say you’re going to [insert favorite location] for spring break but as February rolls around and you have no airline tickets, it’s easy to back away. My advice is to book the expensive and hard-to-cancel things as soon as the decision has been made. Then you are locked in!
Flying with teens is way easier than it was when they were younger. Give them a device or a flight full of movies and you are good, unless someone gets air sick. We try, as best we can, to get seats kind of together, but I actually prefer to have kids in one row and adults in another. It’s just a little less “togetherness” as we head to or from someplace. Usually it’s the way home where we all may want to be separated.
3. Engage Those Kids Early
Once the location was chosen, each teen was asked to spend some time and provide a short list of places they wanted to see. My youngest produced a list ranked a lot like TripAdvisor. And my oldest, spent a little more time, but produced a similar looking list. Overlap on things to see is critical. Not everyone has to like everything, but if two or more agree then at least we have a majority and no one has the right to complain.
4. Check Your Teens’ Passports
Until your kids are 18, their passports expire every 5 years (technically 4 1/2) so make sure you keep a check on the expiration date. If you travel internationally, keep in mind that many places won’t let you leave from or return to a country if the passport expires in less than 6 months. Those dates can creep up on you if you don’t travel often.
5. Plan Things to See and Do
When traveling with just your spouse, it’s a lot easier to get up in the morning and just figure out the day. I have found with my kids that some expectations need to be set, but not too much planned out. After you have your master list of everything everyone wants to do, lock in the 2-3 “Must-Dos.” Check online and see about pricing, hours, best time to go. I usually check TripAdvisor and then google the place/event and “reviews” and “blog” to get more information. I’m slowly starting to learn that booking in advance for a few things give you an outline for the trip. Booking big tourist attractions online can save you the time of standing in the line, which most definitely, will irritate most teens. Or maybe that’s just mine.
Consider things you can do–movies, theater, concerts, segway tours, sporting events, etc. You might not otherwise do these activities in a new city, but a professional soccer game in Barcelona or an amusement park in Paris gives a different kind of cultural experience to explore.