As Chloe exclaimed several dozen times during our recent trip together, “London is awesome!” Indeed, London was awesome. But London isn’t awesome simply by virtue of the fact that it exists. Our trip was great in Chloe’s eyes because she experienced almost everything she wanted to experience. Which had everything to do with research and planning before we boarded the plane.
So, for those of you who would like to take a special parent-child trip with your teenager, here are some tips to ensure your experience is as memorable as ours.
(1) Use a calendar to plan your activities. One of the things I despise most when we travel is to wake up in the morning not knowing what what the plan is for the day. The idea of wasting precious hours of our vacation arguing with my brood about what they want to do makes me cringe and forget that I’m on vacation. So I plan. And I plan some more. Before we left for London, I created a calendar and mapped out the highlights of each day. That calendar had a lot of flexibility – for weather, for changing our minds, for serendipity. But it served as the bones of the trip for both of us and it prevented those stressful wishy-washy morning conversations I detest so much.
(2) No need for a calendar on beach vacations. The exception to my cardinal rule #1 above occurs when we’re enjoying a beach vacation, where doing nothing but relaxing is the entire point of the trip.
(3) Make sure your teen provides input about what she’d like to see and do. As part of Chloe’s gift announcing our trip, I gave her a few travel guides and asked that she make a list of the sites she wanted to visit and the things she wanted to do. If your kid is anything like Chloe, however, she won’t look at those guides until a couple of days before the plane takes off. Don’t take it personally. When she finally stops procrastinating and gives you her hit list, talk it over with her and make sure to include her priorities on the calendar.
(4) When creating your itinerary, wear your teenager hat. Remember, you’re taking this trip to bond with your child. If you were taking the same trip with another adult, chances are you’d have different priorities. Likewise, if you were taking the same trip with the rest of your family, you’d also have different priorities. If your child doesn’t let you know what she wants to do until the last minute, put yourself in your child’s shoes when you’re doing the preliminary planning. For example, here are some of Chloe’s likes: books, flowers, books, theater, books, museums, food, books, clothes, books, Harry Potter, books, history. Needless to say, a city like London makes it easy to cater to Chloe’s every whim. It was hard for me to go wrong when I channeled her inner tourist. When she finally came up with her own list, we had many sites and activities in common. But she also found some gems that were the highlights of our trip. And because she knew we’d be doing things she wanted to do, she was much more open to doing the few things that I really wanted to do.
(5) Scope out your transportation options before you arrive. One of my favorite things about city travel is discovering a metropolis via its public transportation system. I was talking to a friend the other day about her family’s upcoming trip to London and she asked whether it’s worthwhile to take one of those hop on/hop off tourist buses to get an overview of the city. We discussed the pros and cons, and I suggested she use the public city buses instead. London’s bus system is pretty amazing and a few of the routes hit all of the main tourist sites. When we weren’t walking, Chloe and I always tried to find a bus that would get us where we wanted to go. This worked out well for us and made us feel less like tourists and more like locals.
(6) Plan, but don’t overplan. One of the reasons we were able to favor buses over subways is because our schedule wasn’t too tightly packed. We left ample time for leisurely discovery and bus travel. We stopped at cafes, lingered in bookstores and visited sites we wouldn’t have otherwise seen, all because we had the luxury of time.
(7) Be flexible. Teenagers are notoriously fickle. If your child suddenly decides that she no longer wants to visit the place that was number one on her list, make sure you’ve prepared several alternatives. That way, you won’t find yourself dealing with the “what are we going to do today?” nonsense I railed against in #1 above.
(8) Keep your cool and create distractions. Keep your cool so that when your kid asks to visit her 20th used bookstore or 15th vintage clothing store, you take it in stride and think about the glass of wine you’ll reward yourself with at dinner. Create distractions, because your kid will need to be distracted when her indispensable electronic gadget disappears forever only four days into your trip. Let’s face it, had Chloe lost her iTouch at home, she would have driven us all insane. But the fact that she lost it in London lessened the blow significantly.
(9) Be ready to learn things about your kid that you didn’t know before. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we embarked on our mother-daughter trip together. We were going to spend eight full days exclusively in each other’s company. That’s a lot of togetherness when you’re not used to so much togetherness. We had a few arguments. But because we were out of our element, we didn’t argue nearly as much as we would have had we spent eight days together at home. We spent a lot of time talking. And laughing. And being silly (actually, Chloe was mostly the silly one, but I had my moments and made her laugh when I didn’t mortify her).
(10) Don’t forget photos. Whatever you do, don’t forget to ask people who seem to know what they’re doing with their cameras to take photos of you and your child with your camera. I realized a few days into our trip that I had plenty of photos of Chloe and a couple that she took of me, but very few of the two of us together. I then made sure to ask people to take our photo as much as possible, in the hope that I’d have at least one that would be worthy of inclusion in our album. And when your kid rolls her eyes at having to pose for yet another photo with her parent, don’t hesitate to remind her that she’s in this magical place all thanks to you.
(11) When’s our next trip? After what will most certainly be an amazing vacation together, be prepared with an answer when your darling offspring asks, “Where are we going to go next?” That question was the highest compliment Chloe could have paid me. But once I stopped feeling flattered, I realized I needed to set her expectations. “Well, you do remember I quit my job, right? How about this. When we win the lottery, which I don’t play, I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”