Advice for traveling with teens

Is there anything worse than traveling with a recalcitrant toddler?

DJ area at Crush teen club at Atlantis Resort in Bahamas

Actually yes-a recalcitrant teen. They want to sleep all morning and party all night. They think you are alternatively embarrassing and boring. They’re uncommunicative. They sulk.

Caryn Kboudi certainly knows the score—from both sides. She’s an executive with Omni Hotels & Resorts and the mother of a 15-year-old.

“Finding a balance with teens can be daunting at any time,” she said. “Vacations can be an ideal interlude from the daily grind for parents to engage with their teens. But, while the parents are trying so hard to reconnect, teens are working so hard to be independent. And teens certainly don’t want to feel “locked in a vault” with their parents. Hotels need to respond with ways to give teens their own space to explore and appreciate things through their own lenses while also giving parents a safety net.”

Kboudi says Omni is actively exploring way to better engage teens.

At the inaugural FamilyTravelConference held recently at the Omni Berkshire Place in NYC, attendees said they wished hotels and resorts would take a page from cruise lines and offer more activities for tweens and teens. Teens certainly wouldn’t like the adorable backpacks Omni distributes to younger kids nor would they buy into any too-0rganized program.

Atlantis, for one, has a huge Teen Club Crush that has everything from a huge gaming “tree” with 56 game stations to multi-touch computers and surface tables (want to send an e-post card to a friend? Post a photo on your face book wall?) and a dance floor that rivals many clubs. Of course there’s a mocktail bar. My only complaint: the steep ($25) cover charge.

That’s why I hope as Kboudi and other hoteliers evaluate how to best market to teens, they’ll look to the cruise line industry, especially on the lines that carry the most families—Disney surprisingly does a terrific job with teens as does NCL, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. They’ve designed spaces—they get better on each new ship–separate for teens and tweens (we all know older teens don’t want to go anywhere near middle schoolers!) They are staffed by enthusiastic, cool young counselors. There’s music, movies and most important, a space—at no extra charge—where they can get away from the grownups. This works for the cruise lines too as they don’t want teens wandering the ship.

Most important, the staff doesn’t dictate activities; they ask the teens what they want to do.

I know this is easier aboard ship but I commend Kboudi for trying. I think what teens want most is just a place they can hang out where they can come and go freely. Music would be nice. Maybe a ping pong or foosball table?

Many resorts have begun to offer special teen spa treatments, among them the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, Co . Ski resorts tout special teen clinics and beach resorts special teen outings, though teens might not want to be forced to commit for an entire day—or even a few hours– with kids they don’t know.

It all makes you wonder why you want to bring them! The good news is when you get teens away from home, their friends and their phones (for a little while anyway) you may well have a meaningful conversation. You may see a place in an entirely new way, through their perspective. You may have an adventure you didn’t expect, following their lead.

Besides, they’re going to be grownups soon enough. It’s important to make the effort to create experiences they’ll enjoy and that they might want to share with us while they’re still kids.

Thanks Omni for trying.

To be fair, I’ve had some wonderful experiences with my teens—the best when we did something active they enjoyed (skiing and sailing trips are big hits.

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