Doctors’ Notes


Traveling With Children, Part III (School-Age & Teenagers)

This is the last installment of Dr. Springer’s three-part series on traveling with children…

Traveling With School-Age Children

Once kids reach school-age, they really begin to have opinions about where they do — and don’t — want to go. One of our family’s best trips grew out of a fourth-grade “State Fair” assignment, which began with this telling opening sentence: You might have thought that Utah was boring, but after you read this report, you’ll want to go there, like I do. We had a great time hiking the canyons of Utah, with hardly a cranky moment!

Some iconic places are worth waiting for, as well. On a trip to Washington DC, my then-six-year-old daughter complained mightily about having to stand in line to see, “some boring old papers under a moldy green light.”  Two years later, after learning about the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, she proclaimed, “That’s what those were? Cool! Can we go see them again?”

Avoid long days in museums or places that don’t allow kids to move and make noise, and be sure to leave time for serendipity. On that same trip to DC, the hands-down favorite of my kids and their cousins was the Museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution. We stopped in because it was open, and because it seemed likely to have a bathroom for a child who couldn’t possibly go 15 minutes earlier. The museum turned out to have a terrific collection of Revolutionary War era toys, with docents eager to play with them four kids in our group who were equally excited to be allowed to touch.

Long car rides are always best broken up. Get the kids involved in finding quirky attractions along the way. (The world’s biggest ball if string might become the stuff of family legend!)  Movies and video games can make long trips tolerable, but also use the time for fun games of “I Spy,” family sing-alongs, and sharing family history. Have the kids plan questions to interview older relatives, to learn what life was like back in the dark ages before Facebook and texting. When traveling by plane, older kids can be allowed to sit in a row across from, in front of, or behind parents.  They’ll feel very grown up, and parents can enjoy a few quieter minutes together.

Always remember that wet kids are happy kids, so hotels must have swimming pools!  Don’t forget booster seats, bike helmets, sunscreen, and, of course, the cameras – plural now, because kids can have a great time taking their own pictures, offering different perspectives on the trip which can become very special additions to the family photo album.

Traveling With Teenagers

Almost as challenging as traveling with toddlers, traveling with teenagers — who would rather be anywhere but with their parents — can be an adventure all by itself. By including them in the planning, acknowledging their body clocks, and allowing for some separation from parents, a good time can still be had by all.

Remember that most teens are not morning people. Plan parent activities in the mornings while the teenagers sleep in, then re-group for your lunch/their breakfast. Enjoy afternoon and evening activities together.  Learn what internet and cell phone service will be available, and agree ahead of time when these will be allowed to keep in touch with friends back home, and which activities will be “family time” with cell phones put away. Look for attractions that match your teen’s hobbies and possible career interests, and consider visiting colleges that might be a good fit for those interests.

Talk ahead of time about what kinds of activities teens might be allowed to do on their own, and then scout out specifics once you arrive. Lay clear ground rules for what is and isn’t allowed, and have clear expectations for communication between parents and teens when you are apart. Learn local laws and curfews for teen drivers, and remind them that seatbelts are required on vacation just like at home.

Just like younger children, most teens still enjoy that hotel pool. As always, don’t forget the sunscreen, bike helmets, and camera. Who knows — you might even catch that teenager smiling!

Dr. Sarah Springer, a Kids Plus Doc, serves as the Medical Director of Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania.

For more on this subject at other ages, see:

Part 1, Overview & Traveling With Infants

Part 2, Traveling with Toddlers & Preschoolers