Trav­el­ing with teenagers? Give them a break

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE -

Imag­ine be­ing a teenager forced to spend your sum­mer va­ca­tion with robo­tourist Rick Steves (aka “Dad”). My kids, Jackie and Andy, now in their 20s, did that a while ago. I had to think hard about what would make our trip to Eng­land ed­u­ca­tional and fun for travel part­ners who dubbed the Bea­tles tour in Liver­pool the “most bor­ing” one on our itin­er­ary. Turns out most teens couldn’t care less about where Paul McCart­ney went to grade school. But they were more en­thu­si­as­tic about the “Bizarre Bath” walk­ing tour in the English spa town of Bath, which pro­vided two hours of jokes and not a bit of his­tory.

High school stu­dents be­lieve that sum­mer break is a va­ca­tion they’ve earned. If your Euro­pean trip is not their trip, you be­come the en­emy. Make it their trip, too, by ask­ing for their help. Have your teens watch some video clips or flip through the guide­book and point out things they want to see or do. Un­like you, teens may not ap­pre­ci­ate the mag­nif­i­cence of a Michelan­gelo statue or the sig­nif­i­cance of the Parthenon frieze. Teens may find a day of shop­ping or beach­comb­ing more fun than vis­it­ing a mu­seum or a ru­ined abbey.

And keep in mind that for young adults new to travel, a trip abroad is eye­open­ing ex­po­sure to a broader world, a shift­ing of per­spec­tive that can feel like an emo­tional earth­quake. When you come from a large and pow­er­ful coun­try, it’s easy to think your way is the norm. But on my first trip to Europe with my par­ents as a 14year-old, I dis­cov­ered that travel is a crow­bar, and my home­town per­spec­tive was its tar­get. My strong­est mem­o­ries from my first trips are ev­ery­day mo­ments and peo­ple: Aus­trian vil­lagers eat­ing bread spread with lard; an old man with a con­cen­tra­tion camp iden­tity num­ber tat­tooed on his wrist; Nor­we­gian women watch­ing their chil­dren play in a foun­tain. These seem­ingly mun­dane mem­o­ries are pressed into my brain like evoca­tive coins stuck on the mossy ceil­ing of a wine cel­lar.

This bound­ary-ex­pand­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of travel has lit­tle to do with check­ing sights off a list, so con­sider your teens’ sug­ges­tions, no mat­ter how or­di­nary or un­ortho­dox, and make real con­ces­sions. Then give them own­er­ship: En­cour­age them to plan the de­tails of a visit, such as how to get there, whether ad­vance tick­ets are needed and what ev­ery­one in the group should know about the place or ex­pe­ri­ence ahead of time.

Teens are usu­ally ea­ger to ex­plore in­de­pen­dently. Set a time and place to meet when you ar­rive at a mu­seum or other sight so they can ex­pe­ri­ence it on their own. Mu­seum au­dio guides help them get the most out of it. Let them go out alone to ex­plore the neigh­bor­hood around your ho­tel; just make sure they carry a map and the ho­tel’s name and ad­dress.

Guided tours and walk­ing tours help in dis­cov­er­ing new cities and let teens keep their dis­tance from em­bar­rass­ing par­ents. Teens might balk if you try to read your book’s walk­ing tours aloud while lead­ing the family down the side­walk. In­stead, pho­to­copy the req­ui­site pages for them or, for those walks cov­ered by my free au­dio tours, en­cour­age your teens to lis­ten on head­phones.

Young­sters will likely want to keep in touch with friends at home us­ing apps such as What­sApp (very pop­u­lar in Europe), Snapchat, Google Talk, FaceTime or Skype. Read­ily avail­able Wi-Fi helps keep on­line habits af­ford­able if your plan doesn’t in­clude un­lim­ited data. Oth­er­wise, con­sider buy­ing an in­ter­na­tional data plan to avoid ex­ces­sive roam­ing charges.

When home­sick­ness sets in, take your teenager to see a movie; Amer­i­can movies are com­mon­place. Un­less you want the amuse­ment of watch­ing it dubbed into the lo­cal lan­guage, make sure your screen­ing is in English with sub­ti­tles. (In France, look for “VO” in a list­ing for the orig­i­nal-lan­guage ver­sion.)

Eat­ing and drink­ing in Europe may be a high­light for your young travel part­ners. It’s cheap fun to get take­out food like bratwurst, crepes or fish and chips from a street stand and eat at a park or on the top deck of a tour bus. Be aware that the drink­ing age varies be­tween 16 and 18 across Europe. Be ready for your teens to point this out (and de­cide on the family pol­icy be­fore they do). Or­der­ing his or her first glass of wine with din­ner at a Euro­pean restau­rant may be a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence for an Amer­i­can kid.

Watch­ing your child dis­cover a wider world and en­gage with a new cul­ture can be uniquely grat­i­fy­ing. Be­sides build­ing mem­o­ries, your in­vest­ment in a trip now is a down pay­ment on de­vel­op­ing a true ci­ti­zen of the world. It’s great par­ent­ing.


Teens might ap­pre­ci­ate Europe’s finer things, such as af­ter­noon tea at Lon­don’s May­fair Ho­tel. It’s im­por­tant to con­sider your teens’ sug­ges­tions.

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