Keep teens engaged, involved with the family vacation

Planning the family vacation is pretty straightforward when your children are younger, and they're content playing in the hotel pool or spending the day at a theme park. During the teen years, though, these trips have to compete with friends, sports and summer jobs.

No one wants to spend a week cooped up with a surly, bored teenager, and in some cases the family vacation gets dropped altogether once the kids reach high school.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. The key - keep teens engaged in the trip by letting them help plan it.

For Joanne Savage, that has meant making sure that her 16-year-old stepson Michael has plenty to do on their trips.

"We try to do something he's interested in," Savage said, noting that Michael and her husband Rick both share an interest in windsurfing. "We plan for a destination where there are things he likes to do. Luckily for us, the things he likes to do are things that we like to do, too."

Kimberly Schwind, a spokeswoman for AAA Ohio, agreed with Savage's approach.

"You want to include them in the entire planning process," said Schwind. "If they come to you with a suggestion, take that into consideration. You may have to compromise - they get a say in what happens one night, while you get to pick the next night. Make sure they know this is everybody's vacation."

If possible, try to build some time into the trip for your teens to explore on their own.

"Cruise ships or resorts are good options in that regard, because they have teen programs and areas where teenagers can congregate," Schwind said. "That way they can be by themselves, but they're still safe."

Don't marry yourself to a jam-packed, set-in-stone itinerary. Your teenagers may change their minds (several times) about what they want to do once you arrive, so try to be flexible.

The Savages have both a teenager and a toddler - one-year-old daughter Lucy - which can make activity planning even more complicated; sometimes, that means splitting up for the day to keep both kids
entertained.

Because of the age disparity, the Savages usually try to rent hotel suites or adjoining rooms; otherwise, the whole family has to go to bed at 8 o'clock.

"We've also rented houses if we're going to be somewhere for a week or longer," Savage said. "That way we can cook, and everybody has their own space and their own bathroom."

Above all, relax and have realistic expectations.

"You probably won't get a big show of enthusiasm from a teenager," Schwind said. "You may just catch a glimpse of a smile here or there, little signs that they're having fun."

Tips for Traveling with Teenagers

Discuss rules and expectations ahead of time.

Make sure they have something to do (books, games, etc.) during long car or plane rides.

Have a plan in case of any vacation disruptions (flight delays, inclement weather).

Pick a destination that will allow them to connect with people their own age, or consider allowing them to bring a friend on the trip.

Source: Kimberly Schwind, AAA Ohio