The Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling with Teens
The adolescent years may be tumultuous, but you can still find common ground and have the time of your lives in the RV.
Many families start their RVing adventures toting along their small children. Often these little ones are eager to spend time at the campground with their parents. But then, something happens—the tots turn to tweens and teens. And tweens and teens are a whole different story when it comes to family travel. Sometimes, they are just not excited to spend time “trapped” in an RV with their parents. Plus, they seriously do not want to disconnect from social happenings at home.
Despite their mercurial nature, however, adolescents can be convinced—or conned—to be good RV travel companions. How do I know this? My family has gone through this experience with our two sons.
Traveling with Our Teens
My only regret about our RV travels is that my family didn’t start earlier. My husband and I bought our first RV when our boys were 10 and 13. Our first travel trailer was 19 feet long and it didn’t have a slide. It didn’t have a real couch or a dinette; it didn’t have any privacy. And yet, we trapped our sons in it for a 25-day journey through the American Southwest and California.
We learned to live together in a whole new way—a way that was fraught with uncertainty and inconvenience. But those feelings existed alongside wonder and togetherness—two things I was craving, especially as my sons grew from excitable little boys into independent young men.
Those 25 days ended up being 25 of the best days I have ever lived. In the years since we’ve chased that thrill in adventures near and far. Along the way, there were times our boys were somewhat enthusiastic about the journey. Other times, they expressed reluctance.
As parents, we’ve tried to honor their wishes when planning our excursions. By doing so, I like to think this led them to be more open-minded about RVing, even when it would intrude on their own wishes, goals, and social lives.
Our sons changed from tweens into teens, and now one is away at college. Even if they are not fully on board with all of our trips (or skip out on them altogether), I am looking at the long game. If we are lucky, they’ll be traveling with us well into their adult years.
Why Teens and Tweens are Reluctant to Travel
Teens and tweens have reasons for staying home, other than being contrary. In describing his “Stages of Psychosocial Development,” psychologist Erik Erikson described the ages of 12–18 as a time when humans explore their identity. As part of this, they form relationships with peers and become integrated into social groups.
During this time, adolescents increasingly have lives of their own, outside of the family unit. Whether it be jobs, school events, sports, or social happenings, your older children are very busy (likely, you’ve noticed this). Dragging them away on an RV trip forces them to separate from their whole existence at a time when this socialization is central to their identity.
In this day and age, leaving home can also cause teens and tweens to come down with some major FOMO (fear of missing out). Social media only enhances this, especially if kids are away, watching events unfold without them. Instead of having friends out of sight and out of mind, adolescents now stay immersed through shared digital photos, comments, and conversations. This makes it hard for tweens and teens to disconnect from their friends—even for a short time.
Finally, developing autonomy is a natural part of the adolescent stage of life. It is normal for teenagers to rebel or to have some conflict with their parents during this time. This tug-of-war for control forces parents to step back and allow their children to turn into young adults.
It’s one thing dealing with such conflicts in your own home—it’s an entirely different thing to deal with them in a small RV, where privacy and space are lacking. Despite the challenges, you can make the best of the adolescent years by keeping the following do’s and don’ts in mind.
Do’s for Traveling with Teens
Cherish the Time Together
In a few short years, your teenagers may leave the roost, and life will change Any time you can get the kids into the RV should be cherished. Now that our older son is away at college, I am so thankful for memories of late nights when our family’s laughter was so loud we thought we would wake the neighbors in the RV next to us.
Once your teenager has a job or extracurricular activities to plan around, it can be harder to get away together. While you can plan trips around some events, inevitably things will pop up. Then, you have to decide whether to cancel, adapt your plans, force your child to go anyway or allow them to stay home.
Expand Their Horizons
Part of the joy in traveling with tweens and teens is that they can fully appreciate the experience. This is a great age to expose them to new landscapes and cultures. Looking back on our travels makes me so happy my boys have seen so much more than the tiny sliver of the world that is our hometown, population 12,000.
Involve Them in the Planning
Let your adolescents select locations and attractions. Our younger son told us that hiking in nature was boring to him. I had been planning all kinds of trips to national parks and realized that I needed to include some cities and other attractions in our travels. Consider their passions and interests when developing your itinerary.
Allow Some Screen Time
If they are giving up a few days or weeks to travel, don’t take away all of their connectivity. Make time during the day where they can use devices, without interrupting your family time.
Don’ts for Traveling with Teens
Don’t Take it Personally if Your Teen Expresses Dismay
It is natural for teenagers to push back on things their parents enjoy. Don’t take it personally. Ignore what you can and look for compromises.
Don’t Overlook the Tourist Attractions
I tend to pack our trips with free and inexpensive activities, like hiking and kayaking. However, I’ve learned to throw a few big-ticket experiences on the agenda to entertain our boys.
For instance, at Niagara Falls, my younger son wanted to do a zip line that goes over the Niagara River, with the falls in the background. This was pricy, and no one else wanted to join him. However, since he was excited about it, we made sure he got to do it, and now it’s his favorite memory from that trip.
Don’t Overpack the Itinerary
Allow for downtime while traveling with adolescents. My teens like to sleep in, so I plan our days around this. Since I’m often working from the road, I can do that in the morning while they sleep. Then, we spend a few hours exploring, before returning to the campground. They might prefer to play video games or chat with friends online instead of joining their dad and me around the campfire—and that is totally okay.
Don’t Fret About Leaving the Kids Behind
We have sometimes left our sons with their friends and grandparents, and as they got older, we started leaving them home alone. Even though this makes me question whether or not I am a bad parent, I have realized I am not. It is completely okay to let the kids stay home (if possible), while you go travel and enjoy your RVing. This may support their need for socialization and autonomy while giving you time to practice empty nesting.
Don’t Assume This is the End of Traveling Together
Even though it may be more difficult to plan vacations with your kids once they become young adults, it is not the end. Many times, grown kids can still join their parents for vacations on occasion, perhaps even bringing their own kids along someday. In fact, my husband and I bought our own RV after many wonderful trips with my in-laws in their rig.
Our family travels are in a time of transition, as our older son becomes a more independent young adult. I miss the days when it was easier for us all to get away in the RV—even if the boys grumbled at times along the way. Despite their occasional attitudes, I have no doubts my sons will cherish these memories as much as their dad and I do, and that makes it all worthwhile.