Family Travel with Teens: A Bonding Exercise

It’s the season for summer vacations! We now have a reason to plan a sweet escape and get away from it all, together. Your teen is just starting to learn about who they are and how to make their way in the world. That means family travel time is the perfect opportunity to open their perspectives, broaden their horizons, and get them excited for everything life has to offer! If your teen tends to be a little distant, not to worry. This is your chance to go the extra mile, or thousand miles, to spend some quality time with them, away from the fast-paced and complicated life you and your teen normally lead. So buckle up, we have the tips you need for the best family vacations with teens.

Get Excited

Find somewhere where you and your teen can feel truly excited for the days ahead. Use this time to take an adventure, sharing a bond in the mutual feelings of adrenaline and endorphins. A zip line quest or rock climbing expedition perhaps? If instead you and your teen are looking for some down time, get mutually excited to lay out on the warm beach or have a relaxing spa day. Pick something that taps into that child-like spirit in your teen that we know is still there, even if they often forget! 

Showing your own excitement to do something your teen wants to do will be infectious. If they like Star Wars, make a trip to Disneyland! If they have turned their room at home into a jungle, why not visit a real one! Whatever gets them up off the couch and away from their screens, find a way to integrate it into your family travel so you can share that moment of excitement with them. If you can find something that no one in the family has done before, even better! That way it will be a new and exciting experience for you to explore all together.

Chill Time

With all the stresses of planning a vacation, you might forget to actually enjoy it! If it feels like work, it will be difficult to bond. So, be sure to schedule in some relaxation time. Feel free to bend the rules so it feels like an escape from the day to day. For example, don’t force your teen to go to sleep or wake up at certain times unless you have a reason (like a mountain hike excursion that leaves bright and early). Keep in mind that it is hard for teens to go to bed and wake up early. So instead of enforcing regular strict sleep habits, let their circadian rhythm join in on the family trip too. Going to sleep after 11pm and waking up after 9am might just be the welcomed reprieve your teen needed. This is a great chance to relate to your teen and show them that you understand the challenge that is the regular rise and grind.

Give them some space. Teens require alone time to relax and enjoy the rest of their vacation. So if there is something they really don’t want to do, it’s ok to go do that activity without them. Something as simple as letting your teen relax into at-home habits, like using cell phones, listening to music, or just sitting in a different room, can be a good way to provide the space they need. Unless your teen is a happy busy body, don’t overbook yourself with events. Between classes, homework, and extracurriculars, teens have enough on their normal schedules.

Say What?

What if you’re not the one saying no? Yes, if your teen is acting distant and refusing to participate, here are some family travel tips to get them excited and engaged. Start by asking why. Let them know that you have an exciting day planned. If they aren’t so excited about the day’s activities, maybe there isn’t something planned that they are interested in. It also might be that they need time to just relax and check in with friends. Show them that you understand. Don’t be afraid to go and do an event without them if they really do not want to participate. 

If your teen is particularly distant and only opens up with their friends, or if your teen is an only child, consider letting them invite a friend on your trip! This will have them on their best behavior and will help you get to know your teen better through interactions with their friend. Your teen is likely to be extremely grateful for you going the extra mile to make sure they are happy and you will be thrilled to see them smiling! 

Au Naturale 

There is something surreal about reconnecting with nature, especially after lots of time spent indoors studying. Invite your teen to watch the sunrise or sunset at a special spot on your vacation. Find a famous lookout, or visit a nice beach. If your teen loves animals, consider going to a spot to see them! 

Horseback riding, skiing, hiking, or snorkeling are all great ways to help your teen get in touch with the outdoors. The world has plenty to offer: reefs with fish, beaches with pigs, hills with dogs, and so much more. And if they are ready to get back to the screens, help them get great pictures and selfies so they can share their adventures with their friends.

Creativity, on a Budget

Remember, you don’t have to go far away or spend thousands to have an amazing vacation with your family — many of the most wonderful things to see exist right within our own communities. Whether you opt to go on a day trip, a quick camping adventure, or a staycation, there are surefire options for you to get your teen excited about family bonding. 

If they just want to sleep, throw a slumber party! If they love to eat, find a cooking class in the region you live or the one you are visiting! If they prefer the beach, take a surf or sand castle building class! If they’re more into art, go to a museum or take a painting class together. If they love music, find a cafe with live music or go to a concert! All of the things you do to show your teen that you care about what they want are excellent for bonding — and help to make the trip one they’ll never forget!

At Tilly’s Life Center, we are here to help you and your teen have the most positive relationship possible. Taking time for family travel can transform your teen’s state of mind and kickstart a deeper bond. If you’re looking for more connection when you get back home, check out our social and emotional (SEL) workshops. Our SEL classes encourage teens to feel and use their support systems, just like you! To learn more, visit