Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to take a European vacation with my tween sons. For 19 glorious days we explored the sights, enjoyed our time together and made lasting memories. To this day, we still find ourselves talking about something we did, saw or ate. We definitely had a few missteps early on-from activities they found boring to food they thought was weird-but we soon found our footing and had a truly fantastic time. What I learned traveling with tweens can save you some frustration and money.
- Include them in planning. We watched several travel channel shows of our destinations then spent time during dinner talking about the cool places we would see or fun things we could do. They each chose the one place on our itinerary they were most excited to visit, then did some internet research to find fund facts for everyone to learn before we left. The months leading up to the trip connected us as much as the trip itself because they were part of it at every step.
- Pack light and do not check baggage. Travel is an adventure. Treat it like one. One of our favorite family shows is The Amazing Race. Inspired by it, I gave them travel backpacks and told them that if the racers could pack for every situation without having a clue where they were going, we could manage 19 days in known locations in the middle of summer. I saved hundreds on checked bag fees alone.
- Rewards Points. Our whole family signed up for United’s mileage plus plan at no charge-then paid a small fee to transfer their miles to me post trip. I was thrilled to learn that I had nearly enough miles for a free ticket.
- Daypacks are a must. We packed snacks and refillable water bottles (another great money saver) along with maps, sunscreen and whatever else we needed for a day of exploring.
- Give them a camera. Nothing fancy, a cheap digital or even a disposable works great. Now they can see and record their vacation, their way. Side benefits to you are lower souvenir costs and easy packing for the trip home.
- Budgeting lessons. I gave each of them 20 euro per day. It was up to them to figure out what was worth spending it on- be it souvenirs or gelato. The rule was: Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I promised not to question how they spent their money as long as they promised not to ask me for more. It wound up being a terrific lesson in money management for them. I’m proud to say that they each returned home with nearly half of their allowances unspent.
- Build in time for calls and updates home. We bought a calling card right away for nightly calls home. It helped keep away the homesickness that inevitably sets in on long trips. Internet cafes provided great (and cheap) opportunities to send emails and check in with family and friends.
- Build in downtime. Take a break from the museums, cathedrals and ancient architecture to explore the parks and shopping malls.
- Break the rules. This is your vacation. Gelato before bedtime won’t hurt. Neither will being up past midnight laughing, playing and talking. The parenting hat never truly comes off but there is nothing wrong with tipping it toward fun and memory-making every now and then.
- Enjoy the moments and enjoy your kids. This is a huge time in their lives and you do not want to miss a second of it.
Do you have any tips for traveling with tweens? Where are you traveling with tweens this summer? Charlie and I will be working on some DC and Baltimore travel.