10 Great Tips for Family Vacations With Teens

These 10 trip suggestions strike a balance between the quality time parents want and the excitement teens crave.

By: Steve Larese
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Making Memories

It can be tricky to strike a balance between spending quality time with your teen and giving them the excitement and independence they want on vacation. Here are 10 ideas for family vacations that’ll create the memories parents cherish and the experiences teens crave.

Carpe Holiday

Including an exciting experience for your teen is a slam dunk for making memorable family vacations. Here are a few destinations that will thrill your teen while also helping increase their confidence: Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu that offers surfing lessons; New Mexico’s Angel Fire Resort has snowboarding lessons in the winter and a downhill mountain bike park in the summer; West Virginia’s Adventures on the Gorge offers the whole family whitewater rafting and zip lining; Xanterra’s Austin Adventures specializes in family adventure trips, including their Austria Multi-sport Vacation and Yellowstone Winter Vacation.

Learn Something New

Learning a new skill on vacation can lead to a lifetime hobby, boost confidence and may even become a career for your teen. If they're interested in nature, get them (and you) PADI certified at a local dive shop before your Caribbean trip, or look for resorts that offer open-water diving classes such as Sweet Bottom Dive Center at the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Resort on St. Croix. For the budding artist, look for teen art classes such as those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., or one of the many teen art and science offerings through Disney Youth Programs. If your child is old enough to drive, ProFormance Racing School in Bellevue, Washington offers exciting driving experiences for teens. For the truly adventurous, try a rock climbing clinic like the one at The Resort at Glade Springs in West Virginia. Whatever your teen’s interest, there’s probably a way to incorporate it into a family vacation, and chances are the whole family will enjoy it too.

Use Social Media for Inspiration

Ask your teen if there are any images they’ve seen on social media that have inspired them and that they may want to visit. They may likely be popular locations in the U.S. and readily accessible to the public, such as Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend (pictured). Research the area with your teen to see how it could play a part in a larger vacation itinerary for the family. Getting your teen involved in vacation planning will help them get excited about the trip. And when you get to their chosen destination, make sure they take an epic selfie that they can post.

Saddle Up at a Dude Ranch

Dude ranches provide the perfect mix of digital unplugging and vast opportunities for great selfies. Plus the shot of adrenaline that comes from riding a horse all day, fishing pristine rivers, rafting whitewater or just enjoying a meal around a fire with family. Montana’s 320 Guest Ranch and Lone Mountain Ranch both give a taste of Western living near Yellowstone National Park. Our Heritage Guest Ranch in Nebraska offers guided fossil hunting near Toadstool Geologic Park. In Wyoming, the VeeBar Guest Ranch will have everyone riding tall in the saddle by the end of your trip, as will the Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas.

Set Sail

Cruises have long been a family favorite, and the Disney Dream and Fantasy, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Carnival Dream and other floating cities have everything a teen could dream of from water parks and bumper cars to shopping malls. For families wanting off-boat adventure and educational experiences, there are several great choices. Lindblad’s National Geographic Global Explorers program specializes in family travel. John Hall’s Alaska’s epic Grand Slam Alaska combines a cruise with land travel to explore the Alaskan coast and Denali National Park. Ecoventura thoroughly explores the Galapagos Islands above the water via kayaks, overland exploration by hiking with naturalists, and below-water adventure with snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities.

Do Good, Have Fun

Volunteering with your teen opens doors not only to other communities and cultures but also to one another. Spending time together learning about a new place and working shoulder-to-shoulder to help, can create an emotional depth to your vacation. Some volunteer-vacation opportunities include African Travel’s ME to WE Adventure in Kenya, where participants help build new schools and health centers for Maasai communities while learning about Maasai culture and the Sheldrick elephant orphanage. Hands Up Holidays offers volunteer opportunities throughout the U.S. such as helping with house renovations in New Orleans, helping out in a Bronx soup kitchen, community work in Kauai and sorting food donations in San Francisco. Discover Corps vacations have volunteer opportunities around the globe, as well as wildlife adventures and cultural immersion trips. Tour operator andBeyond has new philanthropic-focused trips to South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.

Discover History

Experiencing the historical and cultural treasures housed within the museums and galleries at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a vacation that teens will appreciate even more over time. From towering dinosaur skeletons to the spacecraft that took humans to the moon, almost every interest is covered at the Smithsonian. Learning together with your teen or discussing events you and their grandparents lived through, makes for a unique family vacation before teens go off to discover the world on their own.

Discover Your Parks

The teen years are the perfect time to explore the nation’s national parks. Take advantage of free entrance days, and book rooms or camping spots as soon as possible to beat the summer rush. Have your teen research parks they are interested in and develop an itinerary for your stay. Some of the coolest experiences within parks, such as touring Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace, require reservations. Teens 15 to 18 can also work alongside rangers, biologists and other professionals within a national park for the summer through the Youth Conservation Corps, earning money and a great resume builder.

Walk on the Wild Side

Chances are good that your teen is an animal lover, and safaris combine wildlife, culture and international travel in a way no other vacation can. Intrepid Travel offers packages geared toward teens, including their South African Family Safari with Teenagers. Families will travel through South Africa and Swaziland visiting a Zulu village, hiking, kayaking and rafting before arriving at Kruger National Park for wildlife viewing. Intrepid has also launched tours geared toward single parents. Big Five’s Kenya: Kids, Cats & A Tree House has your family hiking with a Maasai guide and meeting his family, visiting the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, and viewing wild elephants, lions and cheetahs before spending the night in a treehouse.

Break in the Passport

The teen years are the perfect time to travel abroad with your young adult to gain some worldly perspective before pursuing options after high school. From applying for a passport to trip planning and navigating international airports, international travel teaches valuable life lessons, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Flight deals to destinations such as London, Dublin and Reykjavik can be found, and tourist passes such as the Dublin Pass and London Pass can save hundreds. On the Go Tours specialize in international family travel with teens to such countries as Vietnam and Egypt, and G Adventures offers its Amazon to the Andes—Teenage Adventure that takes active families from the Peruvian jungle to the heights of Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail.

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