I may not have my own kids, but as a teacher in New Zealand, I travelled domestically and internationally (often in sole charge of a group of up to 20 students) so now I’m confident of how to plan, book, and execute a trouble free trip they’ll love.
The average age of students in any group was between 16-18 from a variety of socio and economically diverse backgrounds, including many who had never left the country, whilst others had already travelled around Europe.
I escorted students on trips to Taupo, Rotorua, Picton, Auckland, Samoa, Tonga, New Caledonia, and Sydney. Some of those locations was also a first time trip for me.
The key to a successful trip with teenagers basically comes down to three things:
The ‘Buy In’
A successful ‘buy in’ is crucial from the start and should include:
> Why you’re going in the first place
> Why they should be excited about a trip
> What they will gain or learn from it
> How it will benefit them
> How it will help them right now at this stage of their life
> Why they’ll love it
They don’t care how experiencing different cultures may help them grow as an adult in ten years time, in many cases all they want to know is if they’re allowed to get drunk. Make sure you appeal to their interests, whether it be shopping, beaches, snorkelling, food etc.
Get them involved
I found it helped to get them involved in the planning process so they felt valued, and the more activities they had chosen, the more they were excited about the trip.
When it comes to saving money, many teens find it hard to stay motivated when they are used to receiving instant gratification. So make it visual. Make a poster or get a whiteboard and draw a chart with a savings goal. If possible, match their savings and provide visuals with what they’ll be able to buy, with their savings, in another country to help them get excited.
Brochures, documentaries, travel shows, books or movies about the destination; anything you can think of to help keep up the vision of the trip and the excitement for them.
On the trip, Keep them busy
Regardless of who they were, or their interests, every trip required one key element; keep them busy! An idle teenager is a bored teenager which can only lead to trouble.
Due to the nature of the trips I escorted, (my students were studying tourism and had to learn what being a tourist entailed; good and bad), there was always an element of compromise, but as long as they knew ahead of time, the boring parts of the trip, and the exciting parts to follow, they were agreeable.
After my first solo trip with 24 students to New Caledonia, which ended with me getting verbally abused and punched in the face by a drunk student, I came up with a strict policy about alcohol.
Whilst 18 is generally the standard legal age in many countries, it’s common knowledge that in parts of the world it’s rarely enforced.
I had one of my first beers in a nightclub in Taiwan when I was 11 years old, which I purchased myself, from a 7-Eleven. It’s important to have a discussion and come up with open and honest ground rules ahead of time, rather than a blanket, ‘no’. Because the last thing you want is them sneaking off to get drunk and getting lost, in a foreign country.
Which comes back to keeping them busy. Up early, hopping from attraction to attraction, lots of walking, so by the time you get back to your hotel, they’ll be so tired they’ll fall asleep and be way too exhausted to even consider going out.
For those teens that want to go off wandering and exploring on their own, for your peace of mind, include that in the itinerary, and ensure that you’ve taken them around first so they can recognise the local neighbourhood. Or else go somewhere central, like a shopping centre or markets and let them wander on their own with a plan to meet them afterwards at an easy to find location like Starbucks.
The time apart will give you something to talk about, they’ll have more respect for you for treating them like a grown up and they may even come back with a souvenir for you.
Plus ensuring they have their own spending money, will make them feel responsible and teach them about conversion rates. They may not manage it so well first or second trip, but part of the trip for them, is the stories they’ll tell their friends back home, so make sure they have some stories to tell, even if it’s just about wandering on their own and bartering in the markets for a sarong.
Whilst it’s good to keep them busy, a tired teen can also be a grumpy teen so make sure you allow time for the occasional sleep in or chill out day as well.
Fussy eaters can be wooed with some comfort snack food from home, hidden away in your bag. You may need to do some research ahead of time so you can head to restaurants with food they like, or at the very least a McDonald’s (I know, I know). But a hungry teen is an angry teen, likely to have an outburst, and run away (speaking from experience).
One thing I hated at the time, but I still have it and so I’m thankful now, is when I travelled with my mum at 11 through Asia and Europe, she insisted I write a diary every day. It was a little ritual. It’s by no means a masterpiece but reading those simple entries about who we met, where we ate, and things we did, all spark memories from 30+ years ago.
Buy them a nice diary, with some stickers or gel pens and create an evening ritual. It’s okay if they want to keep it private, it’s theirs.
Lastly, lead by example. Learn some of the local language, try new food, don’t allow minor issues to become a major problem.
You’re teaching them the joys of travel and in return, they’ll leave you when they’re old enough to live and work overseas and miss future birthdays and Christmas.
But you’re helping to create a future of traveller’s, who aren’t fearful of other cultures, who love foreign food and who have seen the good of the world, and will thus help end racism and hatred.
My (now 19 year old) sister, hated travelling as a teenager, unless it was to Disneyland or a shopping expedition, but the joys of travel were instilled and now she’s planning a big family trip for the rest of us. Proof that travel changes kids forever.
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