Once they’re a year or two into their teens, many youngsters simply don’t want to go on holiday with their parents any longer. Everywhere the latter go is ‘boring’, and everything they do is ‘embarrassing’. It’s nothing personal: teenagers are programmed to pull away from their parents, so they can develop their own identity to function as adults.
But this rite of passage does younger teens no favours when it comes to family holidays. They may feel that they’re too old to holiday with their parents, but they’re still too young to be left at home alone. This can result in holidays being a challenge for everyone, especially in the confines of a motorhome.
A note on exams
Touring might have to be curtailed while your teenagers are taking their GCSE and A-level exams. Both the Easter holidays and May half-term will be taken up with revision, often with sessions that they are expected to attend taking place at school. Remember to find out when UK exam results day is before booking a summer holiday, as well as the enrolment date for the following year. That done, you can agree some potential family holiday dates and get planning.
Here are some tips that we have found help make touring with teenagers more fun for everyone.
1. Let them choose the destination
One way to be certain that teenagers will enthuse about a trip is to let them choose where to go in your motorhome. To find out what they have in mind (without committing yourself to something that isn’t viable), pose a question such as: ‘Where would you go, if you could pick a trip in the ’van?’ We’ve been to music festivals, theme parks and capital cities using this method: all were a success.
2. Involve them when planning the trip
Get them on board from the outset: take a look at a map together and chat about what there is to do and see at a particular destination. We ask each family member to choose one activity that they particularly want to take part in while touring the area. This ensures we all get some of our needs met.
3. Get them to take the lead for a particular part of the tour
This keeps teenagers interested, and gives them some independence while enabling them to gain useful skills. To work well they need to want to do it, so it’s helpful to find something that really interests them. Our teenagers have enjoyed cooking meals in the motorhome, taking responsibility for map-reading while walking, and leading us on a Sound of Music tour of Salzburg.
4. Have a few surprises up your sleeve
When planning a trip, don’t divulge everything there is to do in an area. Hold some things back, especially those that you know will particularly appeal to your offspring. Throwing in a surprise adds a bit of excitement for everyone and gees reluctant teens along. Ours have included visiting a water park and a tour of a disused coalmine.
5. Enable them to have contact with other teenagers
Having the company of others of a similar age is often the most enjoyable part of our teenagers’ trips. We have orchestrated this in many forms all over Europe, by taking a friend with us on tour, and meeting or visiting family and friends with teenagers.
6. Give them some space and privacy
This is important for teens, but isn’t easy to achieve in a motorhome. We’ve found that giving them the use of a pup tent and a closed-off area where they can get changed in private helps. Allowing teenagers time to go off exploring on their own, as well as leaving them in the ’van for short periods while visiting somewhere they’re not keen on, reduces tensions.
7. Link visits to their favourite books, films and TV programmes
This works wonders for engaging teenagers in places of interest. We spent a great day in Cardiff Bay after visiting the Dr Who exhibition, ‘location spotting’ for Torchwood and Dr Who, and our visit to Lacock Abbey was transformed when our teens realised that spooky scenes from the first two Harry Potter films were filmed at Lacock Abbey and they recognised the medieval cloister walk from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
8. Get them an audio tour when visiting places of interest
There might be some initial resistance to an audio tour, but we have found that teenagers soon become absorbed in the commentary, and often have lots to say about its contents afterwards. Some attractions have audio tours as apps that you can download onto a phone or iPod before your visit.
9. Embrace their technology
Like it or not, teens will want to take their phones, iPods, iPads and other tablets and laptops with them on tour. It’s how they stay in contact with their friends, and the games and music on the devices will keep them occupied while travelling, too. We let our teenagers use their gadgets freely with a few provisos: they’re not to be used at the dining table, and no staring at a screen is allowed when we are sightseeing.
Charging the devices has caused a few tensions, especially as we do a lot of touring off-grid. We bought 12V chargers and we plug devices in on rotation when we are driving.
10. Know when it’s time to let them stop coming with you
It’s a big milestone for both you and your teens when they stop touring with you. With our eldest daughter, it happened gradually: often she wouldn’t be with us during a trip due to being at camp, or holidaying with another family. We marked her last trip with us by taking a three-week tour of Europe.
Essential equipment for touring with teens
We have a splitter that five sets of headphones can be plugged into, enabling our teens to listen to the same music or watch the same film. They find this particularly useful when travelling, as it allows them to hear clearly over the road noise.
These allow each of them to enjoy their own music or games without disturbing the rest of us.
Play safe by putting children's phones on Pay As You Go tariffs, as we do, so there's no need to worry about them running up huge bills when touring in Europe. Their provider offers a competitive rate for sending text messages from abroad, so they can keep in touch with their friends. As a bonus, most phone cameras are so good that there's no need for a separate camera each.
Mobile signal and Wi-Fi
Facebook and Snapchat are our teens’ favourite ways of staying in contact with their peers. Some teens like Instagram and Twitter or Google+ as well. Most places we’ve toured in the UK have had reasonable mobile signals, but so far we’ve relied on free Wi-Fi hot-spots when touring abroad.
Portable DVD player
These are great for watching films when we are driving: when the device placed on the dinette table, all three of our teens can see from their travelling seats. We use rubber matting to stop it sliding.
A teenager's perspective
After our last summer holiday I asked each of my three children to share their experiences of touring in a motorhome. This is what they said.
“I was 13 when we got our motorhome, and at first I was super-excited. However, the novelty soon wore off when I realised that I was spending two months a year in a confined space with my family. Our holidays in the UK seemed to be dominated by rain and being confined to the ’van.
“My top tip for touring is to head for warmer destinations, as it means that less time is spent in the ’van. My favourite trips were the ones where we went further afield, because we could get out and about more.”
“There were plenty of enjoyable aspects to pre-teen motorcaravanning, but when I hit my teenage years I lost all interest in going away with my family. One of the least pleasant aspects was sleeping in such close proximity with everyone in the motorhome. Being in my tent beside the ’van made things more bearable.
“I still found some things fun, like camping with our cousins in Slovenia and visiting Venice and Verona. My advice for touring with teenagers would be to avoid historic properties at all costs and try to include one thing a day that each person will enjoy.”
“I’ve outgrown the children’s trails at the historic places we visit, but still really like going to those places. I now prefer to listen to the audio guide, if there is one, as it makes the trip more interesting. My favourite part of going away in the motorhome is meeting up with family and friends, especially if they have children my age.”
Touring with dogs, touring with tots
Of course, if you happen to be touring with dogs as well as teenagers, you'll have a few more things to consider. The bonus of that, of course, is that most dogs and teens seem to form a mutual admiration society of their own, and taking the dog for a walk is the ideal excuse for any family member who needs to send a private text message or is feeling a bit cooped up in the 'van.
If you're touring with tots and younger children, however, that's a whole new ball game!