Holidays with teenage children: Tips and advice for travelling with teens

Taking teens travelling need not be all worry and no fun for parents or children, writes Tracey Spicer.

It was easier when they were babies. Sure, there was no sleep, lots of nappies, and intermittent crying. But they were happy to go anywhere, as long as it is  with you. This pleasant phase continues until the moment they blow out the last candle on their 13th birthday cake, or thereabouts.  

Ah, teenagers. Those spotty, surly, sardonic creatures. Suddenly, your family holiday is changed by the teen in the corner, who now has a fondness for sleeping and technology.  

But it doesn't have to be like that, according to our panel of experts (well, long-suffering parents). For starters,  they'll need Wi-Fi to catch up with friends back home and avoid the anxiety of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). 

So, let's take a look at the top #holidaysworthhashtagging

KEEP THEM BUSY

"It's best to look for activities you'll all get a kick out of, and that means stepping outside the grown-up comfort zone because, with teens, it'll usually involve adrenalin," says Deborah Dickson-Smith,  who is a mother in a blended family of seven, with kids ranging in age from 11 to 19, in Sydney. 

Believe it or not, zip-ling is safer than many other adventure sports. Ziplinerider.com/Australia has a complete list, including Hollybank Treetops Adventure in Tasmania. In the Pacific, try the Jungle Zipline in Efate, Vanuatu.

 While not quite as safe skiing is considered "cool" for teens. Val Thorens in the French Alps is party central, with snowboard competitions for ages eight-to-18, and an indoor multi-sports centre for football, volleyball, squash, tennis, and basketball. 

To just add water to your adventure, check out Adrenaline Fiji for parasailing, jet-skiing, and wakeboarding, or Sigatoka River Safari for jet-boating. If you want to take your teen diving for the first time, try heronisland.com, ladyelliot.com.au, or maloloisland.com.

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"I'll never forget taking my [then 14-year old] son for his first dive, at a grey nurse shark aggregation point," Dickson-Smith writes on her blog, where-to-next.com.

 "It was an adventure for him seeing sharks in the ocean for the first time, and a reassuring moment for me as a parent: He still trusted me to look after him. I'm not a stupid grown-up after all!" 

Theme Parks are perfect for a controlled adrenalin rush. Disney California Adventure Park in Los Angeles is the pick of the bunch: just don't lose your stomach on the Tower of Terror. 

For soft adventure, designate your teen as family photographer then create a photobook on snapfish.com.au. Cooking classes are fun for tweens. On a recent family tour of Vietnam, the 12 and 13-year-old girls in our group named Gioan cookery school in Hoi An the highlight of their trip. 

Voluntourism is a growth area for older teens. "Those between the ages of 15 and 17 can now embark on some awe-inspiring volunteer projects in the world's most exotic locations," according to the blurb on gviaustralia.com.au.

WHERE TO PUT THEM

For this age group, you can't beat youth hostels. It's even fun for mum or dad, to get a backpacking flashback.

 "It's a great introduction to the world of travelling before they think of a gap year and venturing overseas without their parents," says mother of two teens, and marketing manager of YHA, Janet McGarry.

A step up is the Accor range of properties, with Novotel offering 5pm checkout on Sundays for late sleepers. The Novotel Sydney Olympic Park also has a Monster Skate Park.

Overseas, the Centara Grand Mirage in Pattaya features a lost world-themed water park with five pools, a river, and 12 waterslides, while the Grand West Sands Resort & Villas in Phuket runs a comedy cabaret show for aspiring performers.   Many resorts now offer Teen Coordinators, including Holiday Inn, Vanuatu, Intercontinental, Fiji, and the Marriott chain. Eight teenagers have created original travel content, and curate social media, for a real-time guide ThisCityMyWay.com.au for Marriotts in Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane. "I really hope my tips on what I believe are the Gold Coast's best hidden secrets will help other teens have the best holiday here," 16-year-old teen concierge Chloe Gash says. "They'll be locals in no time!" 

Certain Club Med properties have Passworld, for guests aged between 11 and 18. These are themed areas with sound mixing, film production, trapeze acts, and beach parties. 

And the Lairo Teens Club at Fiji's Plantation Island Resort runs its own version of The Amazing Race

WHERE TO TAKE THEM

Really, you can take teens anywhere. But some destinations are truly worth hashtagging. 

"Vanuatu is great for teens, with a whole range of activities including 4WD buggy adventures, blokart racing, and zip-lining, within 15 minutes' drive of the major hotels," Nick Durham, marketing manager for Hoot Holidays, says. "You can island hop to Tanna for a trek up Mount Yasur, or over to Santo for a ride down the Riri River." 

There are plenty of jungle experiences in Thailand, too, especially around Elephant Hills. But, please, don't ride the elephants! (Log on to worldanimal protection.org.au for information on how to have a holiday that's free of cruelty.)     

In Bali, ride the waves at Uluwatu, or the slides at Waterbom in Kuta. "This is a huge hit with teens," Durham says. 

If you prefer guided tours, Intrepid Travel recommends these trips: the Inca Trail Family Holiday; Family Himalayan Adventure; and Botswana Active Family Safari, all of which involve trekking and rafting.  

Kerala, India, is among Lonely Planet's top 10 family destinations for 2014, because of the "beaches, jungles and wildlife parks, to keep everyone in the family happy". 

Also recommended is Hawaii, where you can walk through the Thurston Lava Tube at the Volcanoes National Park, swim with the dolphins off the west coast of Oahu, or cruise the waves at Waikiki. 

WHAT TO PACK 

How frustrating is it when your kids steal your chargers. Take a Korjo UBSx4 power hub, with international adaptors, to juice up all of your devices at once. 

Make sure you download Onavo Extend, a free app for iPhone, iPad and Android, to reduce the amount of data your teen consumes. And WhatsApp uses Wi-Fi for sending and receiving messages, instead of expensive texting.  

If you've got a budding travel writer in the family, they can blog on offexploring.com, mytripjournal.com, or etraveldiary.com

A digital luggage scale is handy for teens who like to put every single piece of clothing in their luggage. And check out trakdot.com, a Bluetooth baggage-tracking device to locate lost luggage anywhere in the world.

INSURANCE 

Here's  where it gets tricky: If you're deemed to have put yourself at risk, your claim probably won't be paid. "But, because teenagers have no fear of breaking bones  they do like doing adventurous things," Phil Sylvester from travelinsurancedirect.com.au says. 

Most high-adrenalin activities in the air (winged-suit base jumping, parachuting, skydiving, hang-gliding), on the snow (bobsleighing, snow rafting, heli-skiing, skiing, off-piste activities), or the land (mountaineering or anything involving ropes), aren't covered. 

Then, there are lost items. "We all know teenagers' brains haven't fully developed," Sylvester says. "Mostly they forget the iPad, game player or passport is in the seat pocket of the aircraft, and happily disembark." 

Whether an item is lost, or carelessly attended to, is a grey area. So make sure your teenagers have all of their belongings with them when they leave the plane or hotel. 

The good news for TID policyholders is that dependent children, or grandchildren under 21 years of age, are included for free. 

"Obviously if your teens still want to come on holiday with you, hopefully it means you're doing something right in the minefield of parent/teen relations,"  Dickson-Smith reckons.  

Now you know how to create a holiday worth hashtagging.   

The time of our lives (so far)

Five teenagers share their best holidays and proffer advice for destinations, resorts, and attractions to become more teen-friendly. 

Tom O'Sullivan, 16, Victoria.

The great Christmas trip to the States, including Venice Beach, Mount Big Bear, Las Vegas and San Francisco. 

I think the whole American vibe really is the thing that gets you going over there. To finally be in that space where everything goes "down" was great. The thing is to always have activities waiting around the corner, especially ones that don't involve your own parental supervision. Providing entertainment around the clock is a definite.

Bella Westaway, 19, New South Wales 

When I was 13, my mum and I went trekking in Borneo, which was amazing. We climbed a little mountain called Mount Kinabalu, in a typhoon!

 It was really the first opportunity I had to connect with my mum outside of everyday life. We had the chance to really communicate, just the two of us. No jobs, no phones, no bedrooms to tidy. There is something very special about being in a beautiful, foreign place, undertaking a physical challenge. Advice? Less kids club, more nightclubs ;)

Connor McIlwain, 13, Queensland

Val d'Isere, France. Because we got to ski all day and afterwards we got to relax and talk at the chalet. It also had a spa and steam rooms. Advice? Games rooms with decent games, good quality pools with diving boards, and some theme rides.

Holly O'Sullivan, 19, New South Wales (thatraveller.com

A week in a cabin on the snow at Mount Buller was so good because of the snow. Also, it was great fun having the whole family together, which doesn't happen often. There was plenty to do indoors or outdoors, we had a bit of freedom and there was no set plan – we could come and go as we pleased. 

Any attraction wanting to welcome teens is going to need Wi-Fi so that we can stay connected with our friends back home, as well as activities that aren't made just for the littlies. Nothing bores a teen more than watching everyone else have fun without you.

Abby May Alexander, 17, Victoria

Thailand with my mother and her boyfriend when I was 15. I was lucky that we met friends over there, so I had people to hang out with who were my own age. I really enjoyed it because it was my first trip overseas, and the weather was lovely. I also really enjoyed being able to have that family time with mum and Geoff, but also having the option to hang out with two very good friends from primary school was lovely. Resort advice? Free Wi-Fi. 

FIVE MORE TIPS FOR TRAVELLING WITH TEENS

Consider bringing a friend. That way, there's someone else who speaks the same language. 

Teenagers need space: mental and physical. Make sure both the schedule – and the teen – have room to breathe. 

Let older teens wander off on their own once in a while, even if it means getting an extra throwaway phone while overseas. 

Set a budget, using carrot and stick. Come in under, they can keep the rest; come in over, they lose technology privileges. 

Don't book in activities early in the morning. It's like trying to wake a grizzly bear.  

      

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