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Road Trippin’ With Teens

Lessons from a Colorado road trip with two teenage boys.

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Call me crazy, but yes, I did it. I voluntarily hit the road with a bestie and her two full-blown teenage boys. Beautiful souls, smart, polite to every waiter, and kind to people they meet, but, you know, teenage boys…in a car…for three days. At 16 and 13, they were equipped with a wealth of eye-rolls and monosyllabic responses, but we grownups had a Costco-size box of Goldfish crackers, 18 years of friendship and traveling together, and control of the radio (which the teenagers didn’t care about at all).

We set out for the Colorado mountains determined to have a relaxing long weekend. Our itinerary included favorite spots and new locations for each of us, and required a sense of adventure for maximum enjoyment. We did some advance planning, but left parts of the schedule open to what time and the weather would allow.

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Traveling with teens can present challenges, but it also brings an opportunity to experience the fascinating thoughts and ideas of these kids on the verge.

What were we thinking? That it could still be fun to travel with teens? Well, it can be. Here’s what we learned as we traveled down the road.

Stay Connected on the Road

Day one for us started with an introduction to the car we were borrowing—a Chevy Traverse—and its features, including a pretty sweet on-board infotainment system. After packing the car and grabbing a quick bite of lunch, we merged onto the interstate. We drove happily for about 30 minutes before arriving at the parking lot that is I-70 West on a Friday afternoon. Our giddy anticipation came to a screeching halt, but the boys were well-equipped with enough digital juice from the car, which served as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The first “how much longer?” wasn’t uttered until about an hour into the trip.

If you don’t have a traveling Wi-Fi hotspot in the car, check your data before you leave home, remind kids to switch to airplane mode when not connected to free Wi-Fi, and track your usage each day to head off any surprises when the bill arrives. Before leaving home, download videos and games that can be played in the airplane mode, and book accommodations that include free Wi-Fi. Yes, plan plenty of unplugged activities, but save your sanity and budget for the weekend by having a solid digital plan.

Make Sure There’s a Pool

No matter where you stay, a swimming pool should also be on the list of amenities. At the end of the day or when a planned activity is a bust, jumping in the water seems to melt away bummer attitudes. Plus, pools may offer teens a chance to meet up with other kids. Grab your own refresher or cocktail and sit back on a comfy recliner poolside while the kids play.

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Break Up the Drive

Since we weren’t on a tight schedule for our trip, we broke the driving up into a shorter distance each day. Day one we arrived in Breckenridge, and followed it the next day with a little more driving to reach Glenwood Springs. It’s not hard to finish the full three-hour drive to Glenwood in one day, but we had the time and wanted to be able to explore along the way. Anytime the drive can be broken up, with some activity in between, everyone will have a chance to stretch their legs and expend some energy.

Provide Plenty of Legroom

My one-time little buddy, who I once threw on my shoulders and into the air was now a six-foot-tall 16-year-old. His younger brother, at 13, equaled me and his mom in height, so, yes, we needed s-p-a-c-e. Even teens who aren’t towering over their parent can use that extra space to nap, spread out, and have room for a border between siblings. I was hopeful that our Traverse, with a third-row seat, would be plenty of space, and there was plenty to spare.
If your main car is a sedan and there is more than one teen in the family, consider renting something a little bigger for the road. No need to go full RV, though. Many of today’s larger SUVs provide ample legroom and would be worth the rental fee to reduce backseat arguments.

Go Condo

Space in the car will reduce spats, but extra space in your accommodations may prevent an all-out war. A standard hotel room leaves the family stepping over each other and fighting for bathroom time. Condos, on the other hand, offer the extra space—extra beds, living rooms, and sometimes extra bathrooms—needed for multiple people with multiple backpacks, suitcases, and travel paraphernalia.

Pack Snacks

As the grocery receipts from any family with teens will reveal, teens eat a lot—especially boys. A larger car makes toting a cooler filled with snacks and drinks to appease feisty or cranky teens convenient. If you stay in condos, they also generally have kitchens, making it easier to save money by buying groceries and cooking in the room instead of always eating out. Plan to have breakfast in the room and pack lunches for the day’s activities, whether it’s a trip to a lake or more driving. Reserve eating out for dinner when you can relax and listen to the kids’ impressions of the day’s events.

As a bonus, pack wine or beer for yourself, and savory cheese and dips in the cooler (or buy at your destination) for your own in-room happy hour at the end of a long day’s drive.

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Let them Pick

It may be tempting to plan all the activities for the trip on your own, but for the most buy-in from teens, give them a chance to interject their ideas. If the adults want to visit a museum, balance that with your teen’s zipline request. Just be sure to reserve any teen’s choice activities in advance to avoid massive disappointments.

While our grown-ups’ choice hike was not the teens’ favorite activity of our trip, it did give everyone a chance to stretch their legs before getting back in the car for a little more driving. All was well, though, when we hit the water the next day for the teens’ choice stand-up paddleboarding, just before packing up the car for the trip home.
Back in Denver, we unloaded the car and the boys said their thank yous before heading in to the house. For teens, it was a pretty enthusiastic response. It reassured me that hitting the road with teens is an adventure worth taking, no matter the miles or the destination.

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