Tips for Traveling with Teens and Older Adults

Multigenerational Travel Badge, Step 1 and 2

Traveling with older and younger members of a family has its challenges, but the benefits and rewards are so worth it. This post is jam packed with travel advice from travel experts and our own experience. We focus on tips for traveling with teens and with older adults as well as general family travel. So read on, and be sure to comment with any travel advice you have to add!

The reason we are focused on travel today is because we are working on earning a Travel Badge. You can see the Multigenerational Travel Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!

Step 1 is always about research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and travel tips we found below.

Step 1. Research

There are two types of research here: location planning research and trip experience research. Location planning is all about the spot you’ve chosen to travel. We traveled to Germany and Austria when working on this badge, but there is no need to go international. If you want to complete this badge, it can be done in a city near where you live! We’ll give more details on how to earn this badge in a week, close to home, and on a budget in a future post. 

I’ll start with the trip experience research. Here I wanted to learn how to make this trip the most memorable and smooth as possible taking into account the multiple generations represented in my travel party. Below, we’ve compiled a long list of tips for traveling with teens and older adults.

Use Find Friends or other GPS apps to find each other when separated or have peace of mind just-in-case someone gets lost.

Family Travel

Tips for Traveling with Teens 

The kids have been a big factor in all of our multigen travels! We started taking annual family trips with our extended family when my (Katie’s) daughters were three and four. They are now 17 and 18. I’ve learned a lot over the years about traveling with kids…and teens! I was happy to see that many of the tips I found during research we have been doing on these vacations for years. Below I’ve detailed some of my favorite tips for traveling with teens. 

Drive the Nation recommends the following.

When planning a trip let kids plan the day or a part of it, or at least include their interests and hobbies.  The entire trip does not have to consist of teen friendly activities (but it does help to remind them of the teen friendly activity that is coming up)!  It may help to pick out a few things that you think your teen will find interesting and then ask them to narrow the list down. An internet full of activities could be overwhelming, especially for younger teens.

You can also help create an interest in a location.  I always go out of my way to immerse my kids in the trip we are about to take before we leave.  This can be done as easily as watching a movie that takes place or is filmed in your upcoming destination.  You can also look for historical movies about your destination. A fun shorter version of this could be watching Youtube videos or listening to podcasts about your destination with your kids.  Prior to our Germany/Austria trip we watched: Monument Men, Good bye Lenin!, Amedeus, Sound of Music, and Schindler’s List.

Allow them to be on their phones.  I know this may be a hard one for parents and grandparents.  But who wants to listen to a teen being constantly reminded to put their phone away?  (Definitely not your teen). Asking teens to be separated from their friends and significant others for multiple days/weeks is a very big deal to them. Letting them maintain their phone connections allows for a much more peaceful trip and happier teenagers. Try a designated no-phone time for some tech relief. Dinner is a good option for a no phone rule… just make sure the adults follow this rule too!

Talk about highlights or lowlights at the end of the day.  This is something I implemented at the end of each day and again at the end of the trip.  It will help your teen (and you) remember the best part of the day and trip. Include everyone in the conversation.  Teens and grandparents will find it interesting to hear what others in the group liked best….And it will keep everyone focused on the positives!  Another idea is to have your teens make a FB/Instagram post at the end of each day with their favorite pics and activities for the day. Tag everyone in your group! These posts will be a fun record of the trip to look back on. 

Another useful site suggests the following.

Give kids a packing list-but letting them handle the actual packing.  My kids have been using packing lists since they were very young. Until a few years ago I would often double check their packing.  Now they handle it completely on their own. There is no better life lesson than finding yourself in Germany with not enough underwear…or in Chicago with no PJ’s!  (both true stories).

Let it go. Traveling with teens is never going to perfect. Like at home, I never know what version of my teen is going to show up! We have no idea what kind of drama is unfolding on the other end of their phones. I have found that a bad mood often passes quicker if I don’t point it out or try to discover what is happening.  

We all have the ideal family vacation in our minds (as seen on Pinterest).  In reality a 100% happy family vacation is rarely the case! Be prepared to be flexible and to run into some emotional, moody road blocks (and/or sibling bickering)!  

Be prepared for teens who only want to semi-participate in activities.  Sometimes they only want to be along for the ride. I recently took two teenagers to LA for a bus tour.  The day trip to see the LA sights was their top request for our California vacation. After four hours of bumper to bumper traffic we arrived.  We boarded the double decker tour bus only to discover that neither of our teens would wear the tour headphones. I have also seen this same behaviour in Paris, London, and Germany!  But instead of making a big deal out of it…I just let it go! And enjoyed the tour…with my headphones on!

Tips for Traveling with Older Adults 

The following tips are from Wolters World – he highly recommends travel with 3 generations – grandchild, parent, grandparent – because these trips make memories for life and strengthens the grandparent-grandchild relationship.

  1. Find a place you both want to go. Think about what calls to each of you and what overlap you have in that list.
  2. You don’t always have to stay together. You can find a cool spot to relax while others go off hiking/exploring, or spend an afternoon apart. For example, mom might go to a genealogy museum while her son meets up with some friends for a drink. If you do split up, don’t make your parent stay at the hotel all day! Help arrange an uber or drop them off/pick them up at an activity that interests them.
  3. Stick to places that are not too rustic (good smooth pavement), or if you parents are conservative, places that are fairly nice and clean (and be sure to stay in a nicer part of town) – second part not from Wolters but my own addition based on our experience!
  4. Have a discussion about what you each want to do and see after you’ve decided a location and identify what things you have in common on your list.
  5. Think about medical issues you may encounter. Consider travel insurance and make sure to fill prescriptions ahead of time. This goes for travelers of all ages!

Watch the video below for more details on each of the above tips.

A few other great sites to check out for more information on multigen travel, including travel with younger kids:

  1. My side of 50
  2. Families Go Travel
  3. Travels with Baby
  4. Y Travel Blog 

General Family Travel Trips

Although our current trip is a multigen girls only trip our family has been taking an annual multigenerational trip for 14 years (nephews, brothers, husbands, and grandpas included).  We call this trip DOBREWHA, which is a combination of our three family names (Dorrance, Brewer and Hall). This name has resulted in group t-shirts, tote bags, stickers, pennants, hats, etc.  The naming of this trip is intentionally inclusive and fun! Inclusiveness has always been a theme for these trips. Each year a different family gets to pick the location and we all go. Consider naming your vacation or vacation group. Ask your group to help pick a name! 

Since we did a similar trip with my mom, sister, and niece two years ago, I did everything I could to jog my memory about lessons learned from that trip (e.g., learning from my own past experience!). I’m counting this under the “research” part of this badge since previous experience could certainly be considered doing research! 

Take advantage of the shared interests of your travel party and play to your strengths. Traveling with my mom, sister, and niece is a very different type of trip than traveling with my husband, often in really great ways. When we visited Paris, there is no way I would have dragged my husband to the Palace of Versaille, but the opulence was appreciated by my female family members. 

Choose crowd pleasing activities. For us, that included a cooking class and visits to art museums. We also usually find a bus tour or river boat tour to cover a lot of ground and see parts of the city that would be hard to see on foot. I used to be anti-bus tour… but traveling with our mom taught us that sometimes the best way to see a place is on our butts… either on a river (river cruise) or on the top of a double decker bus in London – the best ones allow you to hop on and hop off so you can mix walking and getting up close to attractions with riding and resting. Walking tours are exhausting (avoid anything that requires major stamina).

“The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

Gretchen Rubin‘s dad

Be flexible. In London I was insisting we take the tube but it was hot and crowded. Our mom had some serious blisters. At one point my sister kindly said… we might just need to take taxis (but I think she really wanted to say… OMG what is she thinking?? A taxi would be so worth the money at this point). 

Plan for less. Downtime is important and the more people on the trip the harder it is to take down time spontaneously. Some advice we had received from (wine lady at Bergdorffs) was to have daytime activities and then plan for quiet afternoons back at the hotel/airbnb. We stopped often for drinks – sitting in a cafe along the sidewalk and people watching while you hydrates and rest is an adventure in and of itself.

Seek out Airbnbs that have multiple bedrooms and reviews that mention a central location. This can be better than hotel rooms that are not near each other or down a public hallway – and often end up being cheaper than booking multiple hotel rooms. Hotel rooms in Europe more commonly can sleep 4 or more in separate beds… but that can be a lot of people crammed into a room with 1 bathroom and no kitchen. Airbnbs with a washer/dryer are even better!

Print things! We print one copy for each person so everyone is armed with the details of where we are staying and what is coming up next. Here is what we printed: 

  • Itinerary with addresses, dates, times, and plans
  • Maps
  • Train tickets
  • Copies of passports
  • Activity confirmations (e.g., cooking class and bus tour)

Moving on, briefly, to location planning research.

We were traveling to 4 locations, 3 in Germany: Frankfurt, Munich, and Nurnberg, and to Salzburg in Austria. 

My go-to for European travel research is Rick Steves’ many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe. Rick is a man of the people. Rick is as American as they get and gives great advice, especially for traveling with older adults. He isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, tell you what’s worth your time, and what you should skip. He isn’t always right though… Rick said to “skip the big dull city of Geneva” – and I had a great time in Geneva, not finding it at all dull. So, I always supplement this research with NYT “36 hours” articles that share highlights if you are spending 36 hours in a city, consult with other travel books from my local library, and peruse Travel & Leisure articles online. 

Step 2: Learn from Others

Step 2 of the badge always involves learning from others. To complete Step 2, we decided to talk to others who had been to our location before. For this badge, talking to others who have taken trips with teens and older adults before would have worked as well. 

We spoke with Katie’s neighbor Hilda, who was born near Salzburg, Austria and lived there until she was 8. Hilda told us about her parents coming to Austria from Yugoslavia in the 1940s and what their lives were like while living in Austria and working on a farm. She told us about her hometown of Frankenburg in the foothills of the Alps and a Christmas tradition she remembers from childhood where St. Nicolas would come to her door with Rupert (his sidekick dressed as the devil!).

One of our favorite things she shared was about her family’s food traditions. Her mom made strudel, sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls), gnocchi, peach cookies, and a Croatian food called papatisa, or povatica bread.

I spoke to my German colleagues and others who have visited Germany recently to get their tips and their reassurances that German people often speak better English than Americans do! 

Also in Step 2, we learned from one another about our expectations for the trip. 

Before you go, have a conversation about what each person is interested in doing/seeing at your destination and try to take everyone’s interests into account when making an itinerary. In our case, I knew art-based attractions would be a crowd pleaser, so I focused on finding cities that offered this type of activity. For example, Alfred Durer’s workshop is available to tour in Nurnberg. When I saw this I knew… We also visited a modern art museum in Salzburg which, as a bonus, had air conditioning on a 97 degree day.

Sit everyone down together and talk about what to expect. You can Skype or Facetime if you live far apart. We held a “meeting” before talking to Hilda (see above). During this meeting we went over the itinerary as written and added things we wanted to do. We watched YouTube videos together to see what other people had done. We ended up watching quite a few of these Youtube videos ON the trip as well since it was hard to remember what those videos said for all 4 locations we visited. 

Curious about what a family might talk about when preparing for a trip? You can see our pre-travel itinerary meeting in action below.

Help everyone get familiar with the locations by watching movies together, reading to each other out of travel books, and sharing the itinerary early and often. I also like to Google Streetview the hotels/Airbnbs we are staying at to familiarize myself with what a place really looks and feels like. As we mentioned above, find movies that were set in the locations you are visiting to watch together before the trip. We had a movie night and watched Sound of Music together a week or so before the trip. 

Have a talk about luggage before you go. Especially if you are traveling from place to place in Europe, it is important that your group has easy to carry bags. Ask them to imagine hurrying through a train station with their bags. Could they do it? What might make that scenario easier? Even if you hope you won’t need to run to catch a train or flight, you might have to! And days of lugging bags around really add up. Most of our lodging, for example, required walking up several flights of stairs carrying our bags. During one connection I wore my backpack, rolled my carry on, and carried my mom’s tote bag so that she could move more quickly with just one bag. 

We’ve identified some luggage that is perfect for this type of travel. You can see our carry on bags – my pink one, Katie’s purple one with matching duffel that slips over the handle for easy transport, and my favorite travel backpack here. We’ve ordered three of these backpacks in our family alone! So many great pockets, a laptop protector, and waterproof to boot!

We hope you’ve found some of these travel tips useful. We’d love to hear from you if you have tips for traveling with teens and older adults of your own to share. Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram or send us a message. You can also use the links below to follow us. In our next post, we’ll share more about our actual experience taking the trip (Step 3 of the badge), so check back next week to read all about it. 

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