Inside: What is the 14 trip andwWhy traveling with your teen or tween can be one of the best things you do for them and for your relationship
Written By Jill Whitney, LMFT
When my kids were in elementary school, a wise friend told me that when they each turned 14, I should take them on a trip. I followed her advice and it was one of the best parenting decisions I ever made. It has had a lasting positive effect on my relationships with my teenagers and it is why I can’t encourage you enough to travel with your teen too!
Traveling with Your Teen – Why 14?
I’m not sure it’s that exact age that matters. It’s really more about the stage of life.
The tween and teen years are often socially and emotionally difficult. Kids can start to feel like their school is the entire world and like the social problems and role they have now will define them for life. It’s also often a time when the relationship with your teens become more contentious, and when hormones and mood swings are in full force.
Taking them into a new environment helps them see how the world is full of possibilities and different ways of being.
It’s also a way to deepen the connection with your teen.
Building a solid relationship in the tween and early teen years creates a healthy foundation for the more shaky teen years that are ahead. Family vacations are great, but the one-on-one time you can get with your big kid is irreplaceable.
If you want to start this tradition of a “14 trip” with your family, here are some tips to get you started:
How To Plan Your Own “14 Trip” And Why Traveling With Your Teen Is So Important
Set parameters, especially regarding the length of the trip and its cost.
I told my kids it had to be a domestic trip. (International travel is wonderful too if you can afford it. But my goal was showing my kids more of the real world, not museums, attractions, and sight-seeing.)
It might be a weekend in a city a couple hours away. You could even consider volunteer work or a mission tripw here you help people recover from a natural disaster or do a project in a disadvantaged area. You set the framework based on whatever is realistic for you. There are tons of great teen travel trip ideas.
Ideally, the less-connected parent should go.
Often a child has a stronger relationship with one parent—due to temperament or common interests–and less connection with the other. Teens benefit from having a good relationship with both parents. The 14 trip is a chance to even things up a bit, which can be helpful if you hit a rocky patch at some point during the teen years.
Choose somewhere new to both of you.
The goal is not to show your child around somewhere you already know, but to explore someplace together. A new place will offer a sense of adventure for you both, which sets the tone that you are on more or less equal footing.
Don’t go to a resort.
This is not the time to go to Disney World, a cruise in the Caribbean, or a ski resort. What you want is someplace real, someplace ordinary people live. The goal isn’t to spend all your time in a fancy hotel room or at a theme park. That’s especially important if you live in a well-to-do area where most of what your kid sees are “successful” people with fancy houses. There are many, many different ways to live a good life. There is a wide world out there.
Enjoy the planning process, together.
Having your child join in planning the itinerary is a big learning experience—an introduction to some of the realities of adult life (it’ll be here soon!). Budgeting (including financial trade-offs), route planning and map reading (including paper maps), and the process of booking tickets, scheduling activities and choosing hotels all develop skills your kid probably hasn’t practiced before.
Build off your teen’s interests.
If you can, start with a location that ties into something your child is passionate about. You might have the centerpiece of the trip be a concert, a sports event, an outdoor destination, or anywhere your kid is curious to see. Kids in my extended family built trips around auto museums in Michigan, Broadway musicals in New York, historic sites in Philadelphia, and a NASA facility in Florida. From that core, you can create a trip. Anywhere you go—whether it’s a rural area or a big city–there are interesting and unexpected places to discover.
Set parameters about using devices.
The 14 trip is about connecting with each other and noticing the wide world. That means neither of you should be looking at your phone the whole time (although a selfie with your teen is always welcome!) As part of the planning process, agree that devices (especially social media or video games) will be used only at specified times of day, maybe a half-hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Your older kids may howl at first, but will likely enjoy the break from social media once they settle into it.
Traveling with your teen means negotiating.
Much of the trip will focus on your teen’s interests, but the experience is for both of you. My son at 14 was obsessed with cheeseburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese, so we ate in a lot of places that offered those, but I’m too much of a foodie to do that every night.
A couple of evenings we chose restaurants where I could get something I’d really enjoy and he could manage. Same with activities. If your kid gets to see something that interests them, then they can be open-minded about doing something you want to see or do. The give-and-take about all this teaches valuable listening and negotiating skills and helps your kid see you as an actual person, not just Mom or Dad.
Let the conversations unfold naturally.
But don’t bring an agenda. Exploring a new place and making decisions about how to use your time gives you plenty to talk about. If “important” topics happen to come up, that’s just an added bonus.
Ideas for Trip with Your Teen
As we mentioned above, you should let your teen guide the vacation planning process, but we have all encountered the apathetic teen who acts like they don’t care, so here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- San Diego: a great city to explore with great science, zoological, and water sports (and you can’t beat the Mexican food!)
- Whitewater rafting (we recommend Yellowstone)
- Zip lining: A fun adventure that’s available in many cities and rural areas. Zipping high above a valley or mountainous terrain can’t be beat.
- Gatlinburg, TN: This is a treasure trove of hiking and unique activities.
- San Antonio, TX: The natural bridge safari park is fun for everyone.
- Cherry Blossoms in DC
- Turning leaves in the mountains
- Hiking part of the Appalachian Trail
- Drive up Route 1 of California
- Gettysburg, PA if you have a history buff
- Redwood National Park on the west coast
- Cascade Loop of Washington
- Exploring a new city within driving distance
- Camping at a nearby state park
Traveling with Your Teen Is about the Journey, Not the Destination
Traveling with your teen doesn’t have to be a big production or cost a lot of money. But it is a decision you will never regret. The memories of your time together with last a lifetime and strengthening the bond between you will be invaluable as the years ahead will certainly put your relationship to the test.
So get out a map, buy a few travel books or bookmark some of your favorite travel sites and starting planning.
Parenting teens is hard. Here’s a few of our favorite books that helped us build stronger relationships with our big kids.
131 Connecting Conversations for Parents and Teens: How to build a lifelong bond with your teen! (Creative Conversation Starters)The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and DistractionUntangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into AdulthoodDecoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising SonsBoundaries with Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say NoFourteen Talks by Age Fourteen: The Essential Conversations You Need to Have with Your Kids Before They Start High SchoolParenting Teens with Love and Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible AdulthoodThe Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults
Jill Whitney, LMFT, is the mom of two twenty-somethings and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut. In addition to her clinical work, she conducts workshops on talking about sexuality, writes at KeepTheTalkGoing.com, and has been quoted in dozens of articles on relationships and sexuality. She’s passionate about improving communication about sexuality, especially between parents and kids.