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July/August 2005
Family Vacations—
Happy teens make for happier times

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"Remove your teen from his/her social circle for too long and their world screeches to a standstill and they'll make you pay for how isolated and miserable they’re feeling!"
Earlier this summer my 25-year-old daughter and I went on a two-week “Let’s explore Poland by train” adventure. With only our backpacks and no hotel reservations, we flew from London to Warsaw, then traveled by rail to Gdansk, Turon, Poznan, Wroclaw, and finally to Krakow. What an incredible opportunity to learn about the Polish people and their fascinating history and culture. It was also a wonderful chance for the two of us to rediscover what we’ve always enjoyed about being together. And what fun to be strangers in a strange land, relying on our senses of wonder, of humor and our abilities to problem-solve!

Since my return, I’ve thought a lot about what worked and didn’t work during other family vacations my husband and I have taken with our daughter and son. I share these tips in the hope that any family vacation you take this summer will produce good times together and lots of happy memories.

View of Wroclaw, Poland from the tower of Cathedral of John the Baptist (c. 13th century)
View of Wroclaw, Poland from the tower of Cathedral of John the Baptist (c. 13th century) – click for larger image

Here's what's worked for us:

  • Get input from your teens about your vacation destination — Obviously if you’re expected at a family reunion, then that’s where you’re going. But if you haven’t finalized your plans, let the kids in on the discussion. They might not get the same voting power as the adults, but if they feel respected and listened to then you’ll get teens with a positive attitude. That’s worth all the souvenirs in the world!
  • Be realistic about how long you’ll be gone – If you’ve got a social teen, 2 weeks away may be torturous. Remember: A teen’s world doesn’t revolve around her friends it revolves because of her friends. Remove her from her social circle for too long and her world screeches to a standstill and she’ll make you pay for how isolated and miserable she’s feeling!
  • Encourage each family member to decide what they’d like to do for part of each day — This practice works great as long as you’ve got this ground rule in place: If anyone mopes around during someone else’s chosen activity, then the party pooper loses his/her right to choose an activity that day. Even when our son was 5, he was cooperative for just about anything knowing that in a few hours, he’d have his chance. He also realized that being an unwilling participant took away from everyone’s fun, including his. If a 5 year old can make that connection, your teen certainly can!
  • Maintain schedules — Schedules create a rhythm for the day and that reduces some of the inevitable stress of being away from home. Your teens may not admit this, but they feel security (and comfort) knowing that at 7 PM the family sits down to dinner. Without getting rigid about it, a sleep schedule’s important too. Sure you’re on vacation, but if teens don’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour then they’re likely to sleep past noon (or later) and that’s probably going to:
    1. irritate everyone else who wants to get an early start
    2. compel you to drag your Sleeping Prince out of bed forcing everyone else to put up with a foul-tempered, sleep-deprived adolescent
  • Get novels on tape or CD for road trips — If the books are well chosen (mysteries are great) then getting back in the car for 8 more hours is actually something everyone looks forward to (got to find out what happens next in the story!).
  • Factor in jet lag — Traveling internationally or just across the country? Jet lag can really knock you off balance for a day or more. At its worst, jet lag can make you feel like you’ve been flattened by a steamroller then injected with a flu virus. Studies show that people with strong internal clocks (circadian rhythms) are most susceptible to jet lag. Got any of those in your family? Go easy with activities for the first day or so if necessary. To prevent jet lag, here are some tips: drink water in flight, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and walk around the cabin periodically. There are also some homeopathic remedies available in health food stores that some people swear by. One we’ve had great success with is appropriately called “No Jet-Lag” and is available at many health food stores, or can be ordered online.
  • Warsaw Uprising Museum, opened in 2004, Warsaw, Poland
    Warsaw Uprising Museum, opened in 2004, Warsaw, Poland – click for larger image
  • Explore your new environment as a family, but pace yourself — Feel compelled to see every single thing listed in the guidebook? If it feels like you’re rushing around then you probably are. So temper your expectations and slow down, you may see less but you’ll also stress less and enjoy things more.
  • Give yourself permission to abandon some of your attitudes — Vacations take you out of the norm, so they’re great times for self-exploration. If you choose not to limit yourself by your normally strong opinions (“I don’t like boats.” “I never eat anything with coconut in it.”), you can become a “freer” you, at least for a while. And who knows? It might help you to become more openhearted, open-minded on a permanent basis.
  • Relax — You’re on vacation. Consciously choose to leave stress-related worries at home (they’ll be fine without you). Give your mind as well as your body a chance to regain equilibrium. When you’re not stressing you give your best side to your spouse and your kids. In my book, that’s the best part of any family vacation.

Whether you and your family have a far away journey in store, or some day-trips close to home, enjoy your time together, be safe, and happy travels!

In friendship,



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