How to Please Everyone from Toddlers to Teens

Here are 10 tips to help families with a range of ages plan a great vacation everyone will love.

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Get Buy-In

Include your children­–even toddlers–in the trip planning and countdown so they have something to look forward to and aren’t completely surprised by a drastic change in their schedule. Even if kiddoes can’t understand the full concept of the trip, they can share in the excitement of an upcoming airplane ride or swimming pool. For teens, ask them to research the destination for attractions and activities they’d like to see and do, and incorporate these into your itinerary. Teens will begin to learn the art of travel planning, and often find items that you’ll love, too.

Plan a Vacation Within Your Vacation

If you’re traveling with a teen who can babysit younger children, ask them before the trip if they’d like to make some cash by babysitting the hotel room while the adults go out for dinner and drinks in the hotel restaurant. Most teens are happy to make some money while they enjoy room service and surf the web as their siblings watch cartoons and make cushion forts, and you’ll get 2 hours to yourselves. And you’ll only be 5 minutes away if anyone needs you. Make sure and arrange this before you leave, so the teen doesn’t feel ambushed during the trip and can look forward to the extra spending cash.

Newsflash: Teens Want Money

Teens want cash and time to spend it. Have them start saving for their trip in advance, but giving them a daily allowance while traveling and opportunities to shop gives them a sense of freedom, and teaches them about budgeting. They’ll gladly agree to every t-shirt you offer to buy them (then never wear), but when they’re spending their own money, a lot more critical thinking goes into play.   

Let Your Teens Go

Your teens love you, but they want to go off by themselves, at least for a little bit. If they’re capable and you feel safe about your location, offering to let them have some alone time will score big points, and allow parents to do things with younger sibling that would bore teens to no end. Give teens a couple of hours to shop the area you’re in, or do activities by themselves such as surfing lessons or just hanging out by the pool. Agree on an easily found meeting place and time, and have your teen set an alarm for 30 minutes prior in case they lose track of time. Make sure they can recite where you’re staying, just in case. Online maps are great, but also provide them with a paper map from the front desk with your hotel circled as a backup. Letting your teen go off on their own in a new place is scary for parents but thrilling for teens, and the show of trust won’t go unappreciated.

Less is More

Kids – and adults – often over pack as a sort of security blanket to overcome the anxiety of leaving home. A favorite toy or other item is fine, but too many things only cause problems later on, and can get lost. Toddlers and younger kids should be able to carry their own backpacks, and parents need to think about what happens if they wind up having to carry the kiddoes and their luggage, especially through airports. If kids start packing their rock collection, explain to them that their things will be happier at home, and that extra space can be filled with souvenirs. For older kids who aren’t used to traveling, make sure they don’t try to pack hairdryers and the like if the hotel will have them.

Divide and Conquer

When traveling with young children, parents are never off the clock. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy time at the spa or playing golf while their partner spends time with the kids. Adults should figure out before hand if there’s something special they’d like to do, in addition to activities for the whole family. Having this set and priced before arrival makes sure everyone has something to look forward to.

Keep ‘em Fed

Armies travel on their stomachs, and so do families. Be preemptive about hanger and keep snacks readily available in-between scheduled meals. Also, eating before the dinner rush will help ensure choice seating and faster service, and provide thinner crowds at attractions afterward. Getting dinner out of the way gets toddlers into bed at a decent hour, lets teens have down time, and may even give parents a few quiet moments.

Nap Time

It’s tempting to cram as much as possible into a trip, but notch out some down time for the little ones back in the hotel room, if possible. It’ll let them recharge their small batteries while parents do the same, or enjoy some quiet together time enjoying the room and balcony they’re paying for. It also makes sense during the heat of the day. Teens, with their boundless energy, can use this time to explore on their own or hang out at the pool without their lame parents (we know you’re cool).

Let Teens Ride Shotgun

Offering to let teens sit in the passenger seat while an adult sits in the back shows the teen the respect they want, and is fun for the little guys in back as they don’t often get to sit next to Mom or Dad. Having your teen ride up front is a great way to get their nose out of their phone and start a conversation, and they can learn the art of navigation as well. If your teen has their driver's license and you feel it’s safe, having them drive for a spell on a new road begins their vacation before you reach the hotel.

Anytime You’re All Together, Savor It

A few years ago my parents and my and my brother’s young families went to Disneyland. Between different nap schedules, melt downs and the laser focus of counting noses to make sure we didn’t lose anyone, little time was actually spent as a group. Our favorite photos were taken on the concierge lounge couch, when we could all be together, the kids were happily snacking, and the adults could actually have a conversation. Not that the park wasn’t fun and worthwhile, but just that down time of hanging out all together would have made the entire trip worthwhile. Anytime your whole family is together, make sure to enjoy it.

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