Give Children a Seat at the Planning Table

Posted June 19, 2018 5:21 p.m. EDT

Traveling with tweens and teens can be both special and challenging, according to Colin Farndon, director of leisure at Gleneagles, a property in the Scottish Highlands, and a father. “Kids in this age group are a lot of fun to engage with,” he said. “On the other hand, they don’t necessarily want to be with their parents all day, but they’re not quite old enough to be left alone for long periods of time.”

What’s the best way to get that balance right and make sure your family vacation is enjoyable for everyone? Here are some of Farndon’s tips.

— Involve Your Kids in Planning the Trip

There’s no better way to get tweens and teens excited about a family trip than involving them in the planning process. This starts with getting their input on where they most want to go.

Farndon suggested presenting your children with three or four different destinations and giving them a choice on which one they’re most interested in. “The more ownership you give them, the more they feel like the trip is theirs,” he said. Once you’ve settled on where, get their help in researching options for activities, sights to see and restaurants to dine at. Make sure to integrate at least some of their suggestions into the trip.

— Have an Itinerary

A schedule with at least a half-day of set plans is a good idea to avoid last-minute debate about what to do or where to go next. An itinerary also makes sure no one is disappointed if your child’s preferred activity or tour isn’t available, which can be common during peak seasons at your destination.

If you’re staying at a hotel, enlist the concierge staff there to help design your days. They can help book events, restaurants and tours, and can also recommend activities and tour guides best suited for children.

— Encourage Kids to Put Down Devices and Experience the Moment

Tweens and teens tend to be attached to their gadgets. A few rules around how and even if they use their devices are important on family trips so your time together isn’t spent arguing about too much or not enough screen time. Be flexible though: hard limits will alienate them, but encourage them to enjoy the experience in the moment, versus documenting everything on their phones. You can also make screen time educational by downloading apps and maps related to your destination and encouraging your children to explore.

Talk to your child before your trip about what your expectations are. Devices could be no-no’s during meals, for example, but allowed for a set period of time in the morning, before bedtime or while out and about town. Keep in mind your children will likely want to take photos and videos with their phones and share them with friends and family back home — just as you likely will. Similarly, whatever rules you put in place for them, make sure to follow yourself. Your children won’t appreciate limits on their screen time if you’re checking your work email while on vacation with them.

— Give Them Some Space

On family vacations, Farndon said that his children appreciate some time away from him and his wife. “Giving them room to be independent makes for a more enjoyable trip for all of us,” he said. If you have older teenagers, consider allowing them to explore your destination for a few hours on their own.

Many destinations, like museums, zoos, and nature preserves offer guided tours for this age group where children don’t need to be accompanied by an adult. Also, even resorts tend to have activities that tweens and teens can partake in without their parents (falconry and archery are two options at Gleneagles, for example).

— Consider Tween and Teen Tours

Several travel companies offer group tours specifically meant for families with older children. Booking one can take the stress away from the planning, and your child or children will be surrounded by others their age.

Examples include the active tour operator Backroads (which offers biking in Tuscany or hiking and walking in Iceland) and Intrepid Travel where a getaway to Vietnam and a nature excursion in South Africa are among the six possibilities. Butterfield & Robinson is another firm that can create custom itineraries for families. Expect to pay a premium for services like these, but they may be worth it if you’d rather leave the planning to the experts.