They say we only have eighteen summers with our kids. In reality, it is even less. When our 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 create memories that you will all treasure forever. Who knows, your teens may enjoy your family trips so much that they even want to continue traveling with you after they fly the nest!
Family vacation ideas for teenagers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Some of us have adventurous teens, while others have teenage kids that are homebodies and need to be coaxed into trying something new. Just like all family travel, you need to find the right balance that appeals to their interests. We have found that the best memories are created when we break our bad habits from home (primarily our phone addictions) and spend time actively engaged in experiences together. It doesn’t always take something epic or expensive 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
- Stay busy! We have found that one of the tricks for traveling 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.
- But don’t forget the downtime. I found the sweet spot for family travel to be between the ages of eight and twelve. Before that, kids tire easily and after that, we have found that teenagers actually need more downtime than tweens. So don’t push it, if they like to sleep late then don’t schedule early morning activities. Make sure there is at least one day without a scheduled activity. Give them time (and space) to decompress at the end of the day.
- Take a tech break. Our family has found that forced technology breaks (e.g. “no phones on vacation”) just doesn’t work — for any of us. But the easiest way to get a real break from technology is by staying busy and doing activites together. Because when we are actively doing something, we don’t have any hands free to hold our phones. This gets a whole lot easier when you are somewhere that doesn’t have great cell service or WiFi during the day (e.g. national parks, international trips with cellular turned off). Since we live our lives online, we always allow time for everyone to reconnect over WiFi at the end of the day, so no one is going cold turkey on breaking the phone addiction. That balance has been enough to keep our teen happy.
- Engage in activities and experiences together. I like to plan activities where we are doing things “shoulder-to-shoulder” when thinking about where to go on vacation with teenagers. This could be climbing a mountain, paddling a raft, taking a cooking class, or learning Moroccan drumming. The idea is that you are doing it together and it gives you the opportunity to struggle, fail, suceed, or show how to handle fear or challenges. But most of all, these experiences tend to be where the stories come from — the funny things that happen, the silly thing someone said, or the way you worked together on task.
10 Best Vacations for Teens
I’ve put together a list of some of our best vacations with teens, and if you aren’t in the teen years yet, here are some recommendations for the best vacations for kids too. And, if you are planning a special graduation trip, I have some ideas for those as well.
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. It is a great way to disconnect, enjoy nature, and have some good old-fashioned fun as a family.
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.
And while dude ranches are most popular with families in the summer, they can also be a lot of fun when there is snow on the ground, either around the holidays or if you have a February or March break. We spent a March spring break at the Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and it was incredible to enjoy snow shoeing, Nordic skiing, snow tubing, horseback riding, and other snow activities in the Rocky Mountains. Plus, Vista Verde Ranch has an amazing culinary program — I’d go back just to enjoy the food and bring only my stretchy pants.
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 and will be much less crowded. Given the popularity of national parks in recent years, be sure to check the park website or social media to learn if you need reservations to enter (especially Rocky Mountain National Park and Glacier National Park) or a permit to do certain hikes (like in Arches National Park).
Some of our family travel favorites to national parks have been:
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota (no crowds, beautiful scenery, and great wildlife)
- Smith Rock State Park in the Bend area in Central Oregon (amazing rock climbing and not too far from the stunning Crater Lake National Park
- Grand Teton National Park (great hikes and lakes)
- Yellowstone National Park (amazing wildlife, landscapes, and thermal features)
- Custer State Park in South Dakota (as well as Badlands National Park) in the Black Hills
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 now, Disney has certainly stepped things up with the addition of Galaxy Edge for Star Wars fans and the immersive Pandora – The World of Avatar, in Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. I know plenty of “big kids” (ehm, young adults) that still love a theme park vacation — including my nephews who have gotten engaged at Disney or have taken a honeymoon to Disney.
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.
Plus, an all-inclusive resort gives teens a little independence and you don’t need to worry about the tab they are running up for virgin Pina Coladas at the swim up bar.
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.)
We have tried some luxury resorts like the Ritz-Carlton Aruba and the Four Seasons Costa Rica, and even the kid-centric Atlantis that have been nice too, but the kids really love the relaxing atmosphere and freedom they can have at a stand-alone, all-inclusive resort. My friend Kirsten has some great suggestions for all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica.
5. 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. Perfect for adventurous teens, these outdoor trips offer opportunities for family bonding in a way that few others are able to. And remember, if you aren’t sure if a full-on adventure trip is for everyone in the family, just pick a destination that offers a variety of outdoor adventure activities and mix these in between other sightseeing or relaxing.
Some great outdoor adventure trips (both domestic and international) include:
- 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. If you aren’t ready to commit to that long of a trip, you can always add white water rafting into a vacation to many different destinations.
- 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.
- Some families might also enjoy a sailing adventure, like a Maine Windjammer Cruise or a Caribbean sailing charter.
- A great outdoor adventure destination is Iceland. If you have the budget, Iceland is an excellent choice because of its proximity to the USA, 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.)
- For summer hiking, we have also loved our trips to the Adirondacks and Lake Placid in New York
6. CITY BREAKS
Not every kid is cut out for outdoor adventure, or wants to spend their time sunning on a beach. If you have a kid that loves art, theater, museums, and food, a city trip is just the thing. Visiting a big city is a perfect way to learn some valuable life skills too, like safety awareness/street smarts and how to navigate public transportation.
When visiting a city, it is important to do some research and have a plan before you go because just wandering aimlessly can get tiring and boring — unless that is exactly what they had in mind. Look up food tours, Instagram spots, street art tours, scenic lookouts, and other cool, new attractions that would appeal to teens. Remember, being the first to post from a cool spot like the Vessel, the Highline, or the Summit in NYC give a teen great street cred.
Some of our favorite USA city trips have been to:
- New York (Broadway, museums, scenic spots and everything else)
- Chicago (affordable theater, great museums, public art…)
- Milwaukee (remember, sometimes the smaller cities can be more affordable and manageable)
- San Francisco (ride the street car, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Chinatown)
- Los Angeles (Santa Monica pier, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood, LACMA…)
- Miami (Wynwood Walls, Little Havana, South Beach)
- Seattle (MoPop, Space Needle, Pike Place)
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 the 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.
See our tips on visiting these European cities with teens:
- Amsterdam with teens
- Florence with teens
- London itinerary
- Lisbon itinerary
- Planning a trip to Paris
- Dublin with teens
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 on our own before we went to a local home to learn to cook traditional dishes. And in the Sahara Desert, we stayed in a tent and learned about the local culture along with a camel ride and some time spent sand boarding on the dunes.
9. Wildlife Experiences
Another experience that brings smiles to teens’ faces is getting to see exotic wildlife up close and in their natural habitat. Te teen years are 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. And if that type of trip isn’t in the budget, but you have an animal lover, try to visit some of the national parks like Yellowstone, or plan a trip to places like Cumberland Island in Georgia or Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia to see wild horses roaming free.
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
This post is written in partnership with Allianz Travel, my preferred travel insurance provider. All opinions are my own.
For the last few 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.