They say we only have eighteen summers with our kids. In reality, it is even less. When kids become teenagers, things like athletics, friends, and jobs start stealing them away long before they leave for college. If you want to make the most of the time you have, plan the best vacations for teens that will keep them engaged and the family connected.
Many family vacation ideas for teenagers don’t go far enough to break the habits teens have at home, when the headphones go on and the phone comes out. But in those circumstances you are spending time side-by-side, but not truly together. It doesn’t always take something epic to break those bad habits, but it does take something special and these vacations with teenagers are a good start.
Tips for the Best Teen Vacations
We have found that one of the tricks for travel with teens is keeping them busy. It is way too easy for the grumbling and whining to start the second they feel bored. So don’t let them get bored. Keep them moving, active, and interested. Then when you do have downtime, it feels precious and welcomed.
The other trick requires taking a break from technology — for everyone. Because lets face it, we are just as addicted as our kids. I like to plan activities where we are doing things “shoulder-to-shoulder” when thinking about where to go on vacation with teenagers.
This means we actively doing something together, with no hands left free to hold our phones. This can be skiing, hiking, rowing, or even cooking or crafting.
It also helps if you pick teenage vacation spots that don’t have easy access to WiFi or cellular data. Then it isn’t you telling them to put down the phone. It isn’t even ringing or buzzing, because there is no service. As long as they connect during downtime at some point in the day they will survive. You don’t need to go cold turkey.
To give you some ideas, I’ve put together a list of some of our best vacations with teens and some recommendations from friends. (See also my recommendations for the best vacations for kids.) And, if you are planning a special graduation trip, I have some ideas for those as well.
10 Best Vacations for Teens
This post is written in partnership with Allianz Travel, my preferred travel insurance provider. All opinions are my own.
1. Dude Ranch Vacation
We did a dude ranch vacation at the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana a few years ago and it is still one of our best teen vacations. There is just something about the way the kids and adults come together and bond over a week-long experience in nature.
Dude ranches come in all levels of luxury and amenities so you need to pick wisely to best match your family. I would recommend a ranch vacation for families with tweens and younger teens, unless you call ahead and find a week when many other teens will be visiting. And you may need to find one that offers activities beyond riding like waterskiing, ziplining, hiking, fishing, boating, and more.
2. National Parks Trip
When you are looking to take a break from the busy, technology-filled life, there is no better place than our wonderful National Parks for the best vacations with teenagers. But don’t just drive through on road trips, make sure you stop and get outside.
Most parks offer amazing hikes and wildlife viewing and others have access to activities like horseback riding or kayaking. Often there will be a state park nearby that has even more opportunities for adventure.
Some of our family travel favorites have been Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (no crowds, beautiful scenery, and great wildlife), Smith Rock State Park in Oregon (amazing rock climbing and not too far from the stunning Crater Lake National Park), Grand Teton National Park (great hikes and lakes), and Custer State Park in South Dakota (as well as Badlands National Park.)
3. Theme Parks
Yes you may have done the obligatory theme park trip when the kids were young, but it can be a whole different experience with teens. Instead of Princesses and Character Meet and Greets, it is all about the rides and immersive experiences. As the Universal Orlando commercials show, some parks are more for big kids.
Between the thrill rides, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and special age 13+ events like Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Orlando is a great pick for teens. And if they love water parks, Volcano Bay and Margaritaville’s H2O Live both offer truly innovative features and attractions.
And coming soon, Disney World’s Galaxy Edge will take Star Wars fans to a new high with a brand-new themed hotel and “land” that will make you feel like you are in a universe far, far away.
4. All-inclusive Resorts
All-inclusive resorts are great for when you want to plan a multi-generational trip to make memories with the whole family. However I have found that it helps to either bring a friend for older teens if they don’t have any family members the same age, or make sure you find a very teen-friendly resort.
Two amazing resorts for teens are the Grand Velas Riviera Maya and Beaches Turks and Caicos. Grand Velas has a tricked out teen club and tons of activities. Beaches is the only resort that I’ve seen that includes activities like snorkeling and scuba diving (as well as a gigantic X Box Lounge.)
5. Domestic Outdoor Adventure Trips
National Parks are great but if you want to kick the adventure up a notch, an active adventure trip will keep everyone going. A great family friends option is a multi-day rafting trip with OARS. You will spend most of the day on the river and then camp at night. It is good for families that like to camp or aren’t afraid to try roughing it for a different experience.
Another option that keeps you active but has a little more comfort is a multi-day biking trip with Backroads. You will bike by day through beautiful settings like the Black Hills of South Dakota, and then head to a hotel at night to relax.
6. International Adventure
There are so many international adventure travel destinations that are sure to wow your teens including Iceland, Costa Rica, Argentina, and New Zealand. If you have the budget, Iceland is an excellent choice because of its proximity, amazing landscapes, and fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experiences like glacier hiking, ATVing on a black sand beach, snowmobiling on glaciers, taking a zodiac boat between icebergs, and riding a super jeep through rivers.
Costa Rica is another great vacation destination for moderate budgets with activities including rafting, hiking, waterfall rappelling, and ziplining. If you are looking for a more affordable alternative to Iceland, try the Canadian Rockies. You can zipline, climb a Via Ferrata, hike, go horseback riding, glacier hike, and more for much less (especially thanks to the weaker Canadian dollar.)
7. European Experiences
If your teen hasn’t been to Europe yet, there may be some eye rolls and sighs after too many museums or churches. However, if you find fun interactive cultural experiences, they can learn and have fun at the same time.
Italy, England, Spain, Portugal, France, and Greece are all great for a first trip to Europe and offer recognizable landmarks and historical sites. Companies like Global CommUnity offer experiences like laser tag in Cold War bunkers in Russia and painting in Italy. There are also cooking classes like baking macarons in Paris and unique experiences like learning to row a gondola in Venice. All these experiences help create deeper, more meaningful experiences.
8. Cultural Immersion
For a more immersive experience, help your teen gain a better appreciation of the world and different cultures in a non-Westernized country with a strong local culture. A few good “beginning” experiences in cultural immersion would be Japan, Peru (hike the Inca Trail), Thailand (jungle, city, and beach), Israel and Jordan, or Morocco.
On a cultural trip, your family can see what it is like to be completely out of your element when it comes to language, food, and culture. Many of these destinations also offer opportunities for active adventure and the ability to interact with locals. For example, on our Morocco trip, we took a cooking class that includes a visit to the souk to buy spices and ingredients.
9. Wildlife Experiences
Another experience that brings smiles to teens’ faces is getting to see exotic wildlife up close and in their natural habitat. During the teen years is the perfect time to visit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, take an African Safari, visit the penguins in Antarctica, or see the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.
These are all bucket list trips that may be best to save for a graduation gift, but if you keep a close eye out for good airfare sales and work with vetted local tour operators you can save thousands.
10. Service Trip
If your teens need a big dose of reality before heading out into the world, how better to show them the advantages they have in life than with a service trip? The thing about voluntourism is to make sure that your efforts are actually helping the local constituents and not just something that makes you feel good.
Me to We offers student volunteer trips, but also family trips that allow you to work side-by-side with local families to build schools, carry water, and learn the local culture.
Read my post about 20 Service Trips for teens to find more options for summer or school break service trips.
What do all these trips have in common besides the ability to create lasting memories? They all represent a significant investment and need to be insured.
Why you Need Travel Insurance
For the last two years I have had an annual travel insurance plan with Allianz Travel. We always think about insuring large international trips that are paid in advance, but there are actually so many reasons to insure every trip.
Each year, I have had to use my travel insurance, both times for small domestic trips. But every time Allianz came through, once when I had to cancel a flight because I got the flu. The other when our flight was cancelled and rescheduled for the following day and I was able to utilize our trip delay benefits.
Here are just a few reasons why you should get travel insurance for your next trip:
- Trip cancellation — many trips, especially vacation packages, cruises, safaris, and custom trips require an upfront deposit and have strict cancellation and refund policies. The only way to protect yourself against the unexpected is with travel insurance.
- Trip interruption or delay — if your trip is delayed due to weather, flight cancellation, or other reason, travel insurance can help cover your expenses such as hotel costs, food, transportation, etc.
- International Healthcare — many people don’t realize that often your U.S. health insurance plan does not cover medical care or emergencies overseas. A simple fall or illness can be devastating without insurance, especially if it requires emergency transportation or an upgraded seat on the flight home to accommodate a cast or laying flat.
- Delayed, Lost or Stolen Luggage — travel insurance can reimburse you for the purchase of essential items if your luggage is delayed for 24 hours or more. And if it is lost entirely, the baggage loss and damage benefits will reimburse you for the cash value for the repair or replacement of lost items. Just keep in mind that different policies have different levels of coverage so if you have expensive bags and clothes, you may want to look for a plan with high benefits.
- TravelSmart app and Travel Hotline — with Allianz you have access to a 24-hour hotline if you need help rescheduling your travel, reaching airlines, or managing your trip. The TravelSmart app also helps travelers with quick access to emergency numbers, a medical translator, location-based access to pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, police, etc. The TravelSmart app is available for everyone, but Allianz customers can also track claims online and contact Allianz customer service.
- Keep in mind that plans vary and not all plans include all of these benefits. When purchasing travel insurance, you will need to figure out your needs and work with Allianz to find the best plan with the benefits you are looking for.
- If you plan on traveling more than a few times a year, you should also look at the advantages of having an annual travel insurance plan.