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About Clint Glenn

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Ten trips for dads traveling with teenagers

Traveling can be very stressful, and traveling with teens doubly so, for reasons that are completely different than for traveling with smaller children. Teens are developing their own interests and more than ever, you have to plan around how best to incorporate their needs, however exotic or seemingly selfish into the program. Here are ten ideas to help the trip go smoother this time.

  1. Remember who your fellow travelers are. Just as you wouldn’t take your sports-ambivalent wife to a week of baseball training camp, try to figure out destinations the whole family can enjoy. That doesn’t mean it has to be Disneyland or the least common denominator. Think instead, of places that will have real highlights for all members of the family. New York City for example, can satisfy many many different types of people with museums, sports legends, nightlife, theatre, and even great parks. But pick a single-interest destination, like say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the entire family better be into rocking out, or have other reasons for being in Cleveland.
  2. Ask your teen to help plan. We like the City Walks cards series because you can spread them out and deal them like cards. Easier for everyone to see than passing out a book, the cards give everyone a chance to pick an itinerary and there will still likely be things of interest for the whole group. They also come in a more limited series for kids. Either way, have everyone look through the guide books or websites and choose at least one thing they really want to do, so no one feels like they are being dragged along an entire holiday.
  3. Try to stay near the center of your destination and activities. Nothing aggravates family dynamics and the fatigue factor like long car trips or transit. Even if it means cutting back elsewhere, a great location can really ease a lot of tension when a trip back to the hotel is easy.
  4. Consider an apartment rental or hotel apartment. Nowadays, there are many more options than having the whole family stay in a single room. That’s not a vacation for you or your teeen. Short stay apartment rentals give you more space for your dollar and feature a kitchen for more casual meals (pizza!) and cheaper breakfasts.
  5. Let your teen choose things “you didn’t come all this way to do.” Even if you’re in National Park and your teen wants to spend an hour in the hotel arcade, let him have a little break from the stuff you “should” do.
  6. Set up a vacation budget. It’s better to give out a fixed amount for souvenirs and extras before the trip starts. If you say that the money is theirs to spend as they see fit and they keep whatever they don’t spend, you’ll create a strong lesson in budgeting, but you’ll also be amazed at how many things now seem unnecessary for them.
  7. Let them bring a friend. Obviously this isn’t a possibility on all trips, but when it’s possible, it might make for a great solution for you to get some downtime. Of course, now you’re responsible not only for yours, but someone else’s, so take this advice with a grain of salt based on the personality of your child and his or her friend.
  8. Go easy on the “no iPod/no video games” rule. While you may not let your kids be constantly plugged in at home, vacation may the time to let them escape into their own little world during long car, train, or plane rides. It gives them a little privacy and a little down time that might make everyone a little less stressed out than if you make them interact with you at close quarters during the entire holiday.
  9. Check yourself before you speak. It’s easy to get caught up in slights and disappointments during a tirp and to keep bringing them up. Small little fights are likely inevitable, but you can short circuit a lot of longer fights by counting to ten or just saying to yourself what you’re tempted to say out loud.
  10. Pack light. With airlines finding new ways to charge for previously free services, a large added expense may be checked bags, which, at $15 each one way, can add up very fast for a small family. Packing simply will also save a lot on back-breaking lifting, which usually is dad’s job.

Planning major travel with kids

We made a promise to our kids that when they reached their twelfth  birthdays, my wife and I would take them any place in the world they wished to go. We called the program “Twelve and Travel.” There were several pre-conditions to the travel. The first one was, we had to be notified of the choice at least 12 months before the birthdate and there had to be some kind of rationale for it. That provision gave us time to organize and plan the trip.


Second, each child had to apply for a passport and know why a passport was needed. We helped with the application process, of course, but the initiative had to come from the kids. 

We required each child to produce at least $50 for currency exchange of the selected country. We required them to follow the exchange rate as published in the New York Times or on the Internet but we left the decision as to when to exchange the money up to each child.


We made a family-affair out of the itinerary with the 12 year old leading the way. This meant learning how to read maps. On the trip, the 12 year old got to sit up front with a map and guide us according to our agreed travel plan.


The 12 year old had to select a travel theme. Usually that theme developed from the rationale we required at the outset. For example, the child who selected Scotland and England for his Twelve and Travel program identified literature as his theme. In the planning stage we identified and highlighted Shakespeare country, Thomas Hardy country, Robert Burns territory and where the location out on the Hebrides Islands was were Robert Louis Stevenson did some of his writing. In all honesty, the thematic part of the trip was rather cursory, but we did visit specific sites associated with the identified authors, and we did read a little bit of their work when we were on location. 

One child chose Italy for his Twelve and Travel. He couldn’t decide on a specific theme so he created an acronym: ALARM.  A =art, L = law, A = architecture, R = religion and M = music. So ALARM became our point of reference. We would ask as we pointed to a classic piece of art, “What does that represent?? Ans: Art. Good. And so on and so on.


The Twelve and Travel program proved to be wonderfully successful so we offered it again as the “Sixteen and Travel” program. There has been one of these so far. The 16 year old chose Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. All the conditions of the Twelve and Travel program were re-stated and the planning began. When asked why he made that choice, he said he was studying WWII and wanted to see some of the places his class  had discussed.

We concurred with that decision and negotiated a deepened theme. We proposed that we would approach the trip within the time frame of the 30s and 40s, but that we would contrast two subjects or themes: How this period and this part of Europe produced ‘the best’ and the ‘the worst’ of humanity as experienced in Western Civilization.


En route, we discussed Mozart, Freud, Beethoven, Bonfoeffer, the Confessing Church… and we discussed Hitler, visited salt mines, Eagle’s Nest and Dachau. It was an extremely valuable three weeks.


As this is being written, another trip to Italy is being planned. We leave May 24th for two weeks in Tuscany. This time it is a high school graduation celebration for/with the child who chose England and Scotland for his Twelve and Travel.


Of course anyone can readily see variations on this theme. Aunts and uncles can inaugurate a travel program for nieces and nephews. The choice of travel can be narrower (the US only, Canada, Mexico), the age of the child may vary, etc.  The important thing is to enjoy the togetherness such a program offers. It can mean a whole year of family planning, two or three weeks of unforgettable travel and years of remembering once it is over. And, perhaps most valuable of all is the introduction of young people to other cultures and expose them to the larger world.