Is it worth travelling with teenagers?

Our journey starts with one teen telling the other that “no one wants you to come with us anyway”. A shove is given, tears well and my head starts to pound.

Maybe it’s not worth it, I think.

One child moans about his hunger for the entire drive. At dinner, he inhales a $48 steak then begs to be released the second he has finished eating, so he can watch TV in the hotel room.

I relent, then breathe a sigh of relief as the other child agrees to share the chef’s tasting menu at Maestro, part of Geelong’s new Holiday Inn, hoping to expand her palate.

I’m thrilled to see her try horseradish with the smoked salmon, especially when she (rightly) deems it better than the usual supermarket variety. She asks the best way to politely remove an olive pip from her mouth, and in that moment, I remember that there’s much to be said for what kids can learn on holidays.

In our family, holidays are always Yes Weeks. They are the polar opposite of everyday life at home, where the constant refrain is “Clean your room” or “Where do you think you’re going?”

On a Yes Week, if my kids see a signpost for an adventure park, they know I’ll turn into it if they ask me to. If they notice a bakery they want to try? Yes. If they think they’ve seen a Tasmanian tiger in the bush and want to follow it? Yes again.

It involves a shift in mindset that’s good for everyone. Saying no all the time can be incredibly exhausting.

Travel with teens beach

Travelling with teenagers isn’t just about social media and sulking. Photo: Getty

I’ve also realised that teenagers need plenty of downtime and, after years of being stuck in hotel rooms with the lights off at 7.30pm as I attempt to read under the covers once they’re asleep, they’re finally old enough to look after themselves.

I’m happy to leave them together in their rooms, in a town or on a beach, while I go off and explore the local shops, do a short tour or even drop into a bar for a drink.

On a recent trip to Apollo Bay, I did a two-hour walking tour with Wildlife Wonders. The kids would have loved it, had I been able to convince them to venture out at dusk to see koalas, pademelons and bandicoots in one of Victoria’s most stunning rainforest environments.

They preferred to remain snuggled up inside the glamping tent at the Big 4 Holiday Park, and it took another change of mindset for me to appreciate the benefit of that, which is that they’re old enough to live with the consequences of their choices, but I no longer have to.

Travelling with teenagers forces me to do things I wouldn’t normally do (hello zorbing in Vanuatu), and try foods I would normally avoid – chocolate pastries with cinnamon sugar for breakfast, I’m looking at you!

But the best part of any holiday is how my teenagers reflect on it afterwards.

When I ask what they felt were the highlights of our trip along the Great Ocean Road, as usual, they come up with something I would never expect. They don’t nominate the flash hotels or the fancy restaurants. They appreciate the little things – the juicy scallop pies at Apollo Bay Bakery, and hearing old fishermen tell tales of their life on the ocean at the Fishermen’s co-op.

As my teenagers near the end of their school journeys, these holidays are bittersweet at times. Their older brother has already grown up and left home, so there are only two kids on our trips now, not three.

I know there are only a few journeys left before these two turn into adults, forging ahead with their own lives, heading out on vacations with friends and partners in search of adventures that don’t include me. 

Teenagers travel beach silhouette

Travel with older kids requires a shift of mindset. Photo: Getty

There are moments, of course, when holidaying with teenagers makes me question my life choices.

When I’m teaching them to drive along one of the world’s most beautiful, heritage-listed roads, it’s fantastic to bask in the beauty of the view and revel in the fact that I have a chauffeur (of sorts).

But when we arrive at the stunning Maits Rest Rainforest Walk and the kids just want to look at their iPhones, it’s enough to break my heart.

Similarly, when they take off their shoes in the car and the air fills with sock odour. Or when they fight like warring nations over the top bunk, the flavour of the pizza, whose turn it is to drive/choose the activity/use the phone charger, etc, etc. 

Is it worth building memories with your teens, strengthening family ties, having laughs, walking on the beach, playing games, learning together, and giving them freedom in a new place?

Yes. It really is. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying it’s always fun, but it’s definitely worth it. And at least one of them knows what to do with their olive pips now. 

The writer was hosted by Big 4 Apollo Bay

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