Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tips for Traveling with Pre-Teens/Teenagers - Our Trip to Rome

My daughter in St. Peter's Square
Having fun traveling with your pre-teen/teenager
Recently, I took a trip to Rome with my mother and my almost 12 year old daughter.  This is a new tradition that we started a year ago.  Having three girls covering a 6.5 year age span, it's not always easy (or inexpensive) to travel with all of them.  So a year ago, my mother who comes over to visit us in France once a year suggested that we bring one of them along on our yearly mother/daughter long weekend trip.  (This is a trip that she and I have been during since I moved to France - it's a great way to see another city in Europe and take advantage of reasonable European travel rates.)  But what is a good age to start this kind of traveling?
A selfie at the Coliseum
Last year we took my oldest (then almost 14) to Marrakesh, Morocco.  (That experience will be for another post) This year it was my middle daughter's turn.  She was just a few weeks shy of turning 12. She is my daughter who is quieter, calmer and more pensive.  She also often prefers to stay home or be low-key.  Yes, the lure of modern technology smartphones, ipods etc... have hooked her too - but at the same time she's always been this kind of low-energy, slower moving kid.  Honestly, having traveled alone with her and her sisters, I have had moments of frustration as none of us are having a good time.

Sometimes this happens due to different personalities.  M mother & I love traveling, exploring and filling our days with historic sites, museums, cafes and just strolling around the place we are visiting.  As travel buddies, our styles complement each other and our expectations of the trip are similar.  Our days are often pretty full but at the same time since my mother is in her 70's, (yes, she's probably reading this, so I won't reveal her real age - she's an active woman for her age!)  we have built in times of rest (a long lunch) and coffee/snack breaks for a reboots of energy.  So how does one travel with these varying personalities? How does one plan an itinerary to  meet the needs of a preteen or teenager?
With her nana at the base of the Spanish Steps
Typical teen with smartphone - at the Monument to the Fatherland - Victor Emmanuel

I'm not an expert here - but I certainly can share my experiences and things that I have learned about traveling with Pre-teens & Teens. Every child is different and we have certainly had our hard moments during our trips.  But I have found by thinking about these following tips - our trips have been a bit smoother and less frustrating for everyone.  Keep in mind, we learn by doing.

1- Have them help with planning the daily Itinerary.  - What interests them?
Now this tips sounds a lot easier than it really is to execute in reality.  I tried sitting down with my daughter before the trip to share pictures of Rome, I had looked at Trip Advisor and looked at the top 10 attractions - trying to get her reaction. I had created a Pinterest board so everything was easy to access and quick to find - full of photos.   I thought - photos, videos, etc might lure her interest so she could tell me " Yes" or "No".  Instead after about 5 minutes - I got the classic line - "Mom, are we almost done?".
Long and short -at the end, she told me "She didn't care" - I should just pick things myself. 

At the Trevi Fountain
The Forum

2- When planning days - keep in mind Preteens & Teens need some quiet alone time/down time.
Yes - this tip is a hard one to digest for those of us who love to travel and see everything that there is to see in one go....but I had experienced a little of this with my oldest in Morocco - times she just wanted to stay in the guest house, as my mother and I went out to do final shopping for a couple hours. In Rome, this was not possible as our apartment was located in Vatican City and other than a quick trip to the super-market a block away - I was not leaving my 12 year alone in the apartment for a whole afternoon or evening.  I still believed that we were all there to see Rome and it's attractions.
Crowds at St. Peter's Square
Outside the Panthéon

My compromise was to not rush out every morning.  She was not eager to get up at 7 or 8am for an early departure.  As she said, She was on vacation.  So on most mornings - we took our time and often didn't begin our day until around 11 am.  Yes - this could be seen as "costing" us an hour or so - but in the long run - I had a more cooperative and happy teen when we were out and about.  Only one day when we had a pre-booked Tour of the Vatican Museum did we have an early start as our tour started at 10am and we needed about 40 minutes to bus, walk and arrive 15 minutes early.  She accepted this day as the other mornings were not rushed.

Another tip around planning - nice lunch breaks & coffee/snack breaks help provide some rest and of course, for the "modern high tech" teen often some free wifi! Additionally, she was very much a part of choosing the restaurant.  Yes, my daughter ate pizza the whole week - but she was pleased with being about to have it!  Our joke was that she could tell us who made the best Pizza Marguerite at the end of the trip.  In these days and times where the teenage smartphone is also their camera and lifeline....My rule was she could use it at a restaurant up until food arrived and then all electronics were put away, so we could talk.  That gave her some time at the beginning to play around and feel connected but it was limited also.
Yes - a group selfie at a restaurant

We would also try to return back to the apartment by around 5-6pm - so we had some "rest" or quiet time before dinner.  In Italy - restaurants didn't open until 7pm and most people didnt' begin arriving until around 8 pm so we had some time.  This provided her some needed quiet/down time.  She seemed to appreciate this.  There was only one day that we couldn't return back before our evening meal but that was because were were doing a cooking class and it started earlier.  
Pizza, pizza!!
Tip number 3 - Plan a unique activity that interests the pre-teen.
I have found that when traveling with my girls - I try to find something more kid-friendly. This has often taking the form of bike tours around cities.  We have done this in Amsterdam and also in Brugge, Belgium.  Both of those times, all my girls enjoyed the activity and found it a fun way to see and explore the city. Boy times our guides were fun and amusing and the couple hours passed quietly (They learned some neat things too!).  I wasn't sure my mother was going to like a bike tour but when in Rome....mmm...there is just some about the food that is so much a part of the Italian culture.  So when I saw Cooking classes advertised, I asked my daughter which sounded more interesting to her - learning to make homemade pasta or a bike tour.  Hands down, her quick response was a cooking class.  She was definitely more interested at that point in our trip and asked what they would be making....score one for mom!! We all feel now that the cooking class was a highlight of the trip.

Making Ravioli
Cutting Fettucine
Enjoying our delicious meal!
With Chef Laura after our delicous meal & class

Tip number 4 - Keep your expectations in check.  What seems really interesting to an adult, might not have the same appeal to a preteen.
Even though we had a few moments of "Why are going here or doing this" or the classic "I'm ready to head back..".  The reality is that preteen/teenagers for the most part don't know what they will think until they are there and  to see or experience it.  So go, explore and then process afterwards. I know with my daughter, in the moment, she wouldn't say much - she was often quiet - so it was hard to tell if she appreciated it or not.   I would always ask my daughter at the end of the day - what she liked/what she didn't like.  Often with the phrasing - "Favorite attraction - today?"  "Least favorite thing we did?".  I was often surprised what she really liked and what she found okay....In Rome, The Vatican museum impressed her (here we had a super funny guide - which she enjoyed) along with the Saint Peters' Square,  Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, The Forum, and the Coliseum. She was less impressed with the quiet picturesque neighborhoods of Travestere & the various Piazzas around the city.

Tip number 5 - Plan some time to go Shopping
Now, this tip might be more interesting for girls - but I'm sure boys might have some kind of souvenir or something else in mind that they would want to find (Sport jersey or unique item to that area).  Again, I know, especially with girls - it's always been nice to give them a couple hours or so to peruse stores or shops to find that special souvenir or item. Every trip I've taken with my girls, this is a must!!  Benefit - they are happier afterwards and they felt like you did something they really wanted to do!!  (PS - it's often not about spending lots of money - it's more about them choosing how they spend their time!).

Overall, we had a great time visiting to Rome.  I am looking forward to returning sometime soon.  Even 2 months afterwards-my daughter still mentions certain experiences as she comes across her photos and videos now and again.  She will be studying Ancient Rome soon in school and I hope her experiences will make history come more alive for her, as she can truly imagine some of it now.
Having fun at the Forum!
Traveling with kids is definitely a different experience than traveling by yourself or with other adults but it's rewarding in its own way.  These are just a few pointers that I have learned and I hope they are helpful to other parents. I am by no means an expert and I would love to hear from other parents who have found other tricks.   Go and explore - I know as a child of parents who traveled - I still have fond memories of many great places and I hope to give this similar experience to my daughters too!
Selfie at the Monument to the Fatherland - Overall fun trip!


  1. What a beautiful trip. My daughters are still toddlers but I truly enjoyed reading this post. Such beautiful memories your girl will have. My youngest resembles your daughter. She is only two. I hope (pray) someday when she is older we will enjoy a similar experience. Lots of blessings to your and daughter.

  2. Fab tips! I am especially interested as we will be taking our teen-aged niece on our travels this summer, so this is helpful. Also curious: would you recommend your cooking school? We were thinking to do a pasta class while in Rome, but hadn't yet looked into the options. Would love to hear if yours was a good one. TIA!


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