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Traveling Fulltime with Teens

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

We began our nomadic lifestyle when our kids were 8, 11, and 13… clearly in the tween stage, but in 2022 they leveled up into triple teenagers! And I must tell you, this has been my favorite stage with my children.

Salem, Jasper, Kemaya, & Rachel. One teen is in a stage of intentionally closing eyes for photos 🤣


Why do I love this stage so much? I’m not sleep deprived; I don’t need to micromanage their days; I love seeing the world through their eyes; and I'm super excited to watch them step into adulthood.


They help plan our travels; they’re responsible enough to go off on their own; and their insights and conversation topics range from silly and snarky to deep thoughts and impressive correlations.


But perhaps my favorite aspect of teens is that their senses of humor are off the charts! The snide remarks, the witty comments, and the ways they entertain themselves just crack me up.


Not too long ago I was having a coffee chat with some of our teens who stayed at the castle in Normandy with us. The chitchat and banter were teetering on completely inappropriate but also down-right hilarious. We were all laughing together and I said, “This is why I love teenagers!”


It took about a millisecond for the reply to come: “Isn’t that illegal??”


Teens & tweens at pop-ups in Normandy 2023, Normandy 2023, and NYC 2022

 

But traveling with teens has been an adjustment for our family. I’ve already blogged about Navigating the Needs of Nomadic Adolescents, those needs are the same for every teen whether they’re traveling or not. Teens and tweens need opportunities to spread their wings – they’re no longer in the mindset that what the family chooses is a done deal.


They want (and need) independence, options to make decisions relevant to their lives… and they want peers – lots of peers!


But what do our typical days look like? How do we keep everyone content (enough)?

Sometimes we're on our own, sometimes with friends! Ronda Spain; Caminito del Rey Spain, Madison Pop-Up 2022, Madison Pop-Up 2021, SCUBA in Cabo San Lucas Mexico, Merida Pop-Up Mexico 2022

 

We’ve found that our teens’ satisfaction with our lifestyle is dependent on how much say they get in designing a life that fits their wants and desires. Peers and autonomy top their list! So what does that look like? How do we accommodate this?


First, we keep communication open. I chat with my kids every day and when I notice something is off, we talk about it.


Sometimes they need more time for gaming with friends or just need a day (week?) holed up in a bedroom away from the family. Sometimes they’re very excited about our upcoming destinations and spontaneously research and create lists of activities that interest them. Sometimes they just need to snuggle and watch a few episodes of Seinfeld together.


The more we talk with our kids, the more we connect and get to know them. They know we’re interested and are paying attention.


And no, not every conversation is deep and thought-provoking (we have an ongoing dialogue about how lick-able bald people’s heads are) but they always know they can talk with us about what’s going on when the need arises.


PS Do not attempt to lick a bald person's head without permission, this was a fancy door in Prague.

 

Breakdown of "Daily Schedules" (we're so not scheduled)


Our typical days vary greatly depending on where we are, who is with us, whether we're traveling quickly or slowly, how badly we’re jet lagging, whether public transport is available, etc.


*A General Overview of Our Days:

In the morning, my husband and I wake up early and squeeze in a few work hours while the kids sleep in. Depending on what they’ve been doing the kids generally roll out of bed between 9:30 – 12:00. Teens definitely need their sleep, and this is a huge health benefit of homeschooling. As a teenager I would have loved this liberty, and as a parent, I appreciate the quiet time for coffee… or working without competing for bandwidth.

Note as of Dec 2023: We're currently in Southeast Asia and adults are working both mornings and nights... sometimes late nights to coordinate with the NY Stock Exchange hours. We adjust as necessary, the adults are sometimes sleeping in, too!

Afternoons are for activities. Whether we’re traveling with friends or on our own, we try to get out of the house to check out what’s going on in the neighborhood. I mention a few of our go-to excursions below. As unschoolers, we don’t normally have any class schedules or time set aside for learning, we’re just learning all the time (as an aside, not all worldschool families are unschoolers, many educate differently and some have set times for coursework... check in with your kids and see what works best for them).


Evenings we typically have dinner at home followed by time to watch a program together, play a game, read, or do our own thing (one of our kids always opts for online gaming). Parents typically head to bed first and the kids take care of their own bedtime.


Chores are shared and completed as needed.

We assign “dish week” at our house where one person is in charge of all the kitchen clean-up the entire week. Lance does a majority of our cooking, by choice. It’s how he unwinds, and it's a great way to play around with the local produce and other food products.


Laundry is done by whoever feels the draw, usually me but everyone helps hang. I don’t separate, everything is washed together... and if clothing makes it’s way to the laundry pile inside out, I wash it inside out (my dad would do that and it has saved me hours over the years). When clothes are dry we throw them on the bed and each family member grabs their belongings. Whether they fold them or not is their own business.


Spot cleaning, garbage/recycling removal, grocery shopping… hahaha, whoever is closest gets appointed! Proof-reading my blog posts and newsletters? That’s usually my daughter (because she’s my favorite).


 

Sample Days

There really isn’t a quintessential “day in the life of” schedule. We have a framework and then make modifications as needed. Oh, if we have a full day planned, the kids know our start time and pick their wake-up time before heading to bed.


*Travel Days: I pretty much write off travel days, especially because we try not to have many of them close together. Screens? No problem. Snacks? Sure. Taxi or public transport? Let’s decide together. $9 airport coffee? Ugh, fine.


Everyone is in charge of their own gear and we all pitch in to straighten up our rental before departure. Kids often help with navigation, it’s not uncommon that they notice the street sign / correct ticket line / platform number / exit door, before the adults do.


I love having their assistance as we move from one location to another, but don’t push them out of their comfort zone. Adults typically do the talking and ticket purchasing, but kids set up the driving directions. I know they’re capable of interacting with the clerk at the ticket counter but why push it on them if they’re not comfortable?


All my kids have navigated flights in the US on their own and have lots of experience watching us figure out timetables and chat with bus drivers to get to the right place at the right time. Do they need to practice these skills? Sure. I'll ask if they want to… but don’t pressure them if the answer is no thanks.

Everyone has a carry-on sized backpack, we check one roller bag (recently ditched the red suitcase so now our shared roller bag is carry-on sized, too). The extra bag is our daypack for drinks and snacks.

 

*Together Days: We have times when our family travels on our own, just the four of us (it used to be five but one decided to become an adult and is off on his own).


When we’re settled in one area for a longer exploration period (say a week to a month), we typically enjoy 1-2 activities per day including markets, museums, historical monuments, etc. Sometimes my husband stays behind to work so it's just the kids and me. In this case if there is something Lance wants to see (famous ruins, iconic museum, modern art, etc), we'll schedule family time to do that together when his work hours permit.

Paris 2023, PC Chong See Ming

 

*Kids-Only Days: Both my husband and I work online and tend to put in a few work hours every day. As we figured out our travel-work groove, we realized we’re much more productive without giggly (or sulky) teens around. Therefore, many days we kick the kids out of the house to go exploring on their own.


This approach works best when we’re in a walkable area (totally worth spending a bit extra on accommodations so there’s plenty to do right at our doorstep). If the kids have their own transport cards, that’s a huge bonus!


Our kids have navigated transport in NYC, London, Istanbul, Mexico City, Honolulu, Prague, and Washington DC, Athens, Seoul, Busan, Tokyo, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and have walked on their own in many other places such as Florence, Munich, Tampa, Bucharest, Paris, Seville, Granada... actually too many places to note. When we were in Mexico, they often Uber-ed when subways were unavailable because it was easier than talking to the collectivo driver. Typically they are in pairs or a trio, but they also go off solo as they feel comfortable.


I have my two youngest with me now (ages14 and 16). You may wonder what they do on their own? The 16yo is really good at poking around the area, I often get pics of churches and gardens and weird close-up face shots that they take with the 0.5 zoom. The youngest seems content enough to follow her lead because it's way more fun and engaging when the teens are together.


More often than not, the kids catch a coffee/hot chocolate somewhere (they love visiting Starbucks locations across the globe). Sometimes they hit a mall or go to a movie or lounge in a park for some prime people-watching. Heck, they’ve even gone into museums on their own! I don’t mind where they’re going, they have enough street smarts to stay in areas that are safe and I just want them to enjoy exploring on their own terms.


Coffees around the world: Bucharest Romania, Uskudar Turkey, Antalya Turkey + pics my kids have sent to me

 

*Friends-Nearby Days: When we travel in tandem with other worldschoolers we keep this same framework (kids sleep in, afternoons are for exploring). Families who know us know we often spend more than a single week in a pop-up destination. They’ll arrive at the destination early or hang around longer after the pop-up finishes. We jointly select activities for the families to do together, or just let the teens hang on their own. Anything goes, but we typically let the kids sleep in.


Hooking up with buddies in Istanbul and Door County Wisconsin

 

*Away Days: All of our kids have solo traveled to visit friends and/or family. This is super cool to have that freedom at a young age. It doesn't happen all that often but sometimes the kids can arrange a 3-4 week break from our family by joining another. I think it gives all of us an opportunity to reset our patterns and absence does make the heart grow fonder!


In fact, in June of 2022, Lance and I didn't have any of our kids with us for 3 weeks. That's the first time we were away from them for such a period. Heck, we didn't even know if the two of us would enjoy each other's company... but it worked out beautifully:


Hiking without any whining, longer scenic drives, going out for a dinner and only paying for two people... and best news, we found that we do enjoy each other! But I digress...


We booked a getaway to Arkansas' Host Springs National Park (hiking pic from Devils Den near Bentonville). Can't wipe off those smiles if you tried - ha!

 

*Fast Exploration Days: Occasionally we have a period of time when we book a series of 3-4 night stays. We know we'll be full-on exploring as a family until we settle into a longer-term rental. We often pack in parks and scenic areas, hikes, museums, tickets to a show, botanical gardens, an occasional amusement/water park, and any of the must-see activities in the destination.


Honestly, this type of travel wears me out, but the kids thrive when we have lots to do and many new places to see. If it were up to them, we 100% would fast travel… but it’s not 100% up to them. For a while we had a travel method of staying a month in each rental but the kids were not as thrilled. We had to make adjustments and we also added more big cities because this is what my younger two like to do. It's not mutual for all family members though.


I personally love staying a month in a rental because it eliminates the travel days and give us time to get to know the local community. Not only do we receive monthly discount on our accommodations, it also creates the freedom to explore gradually. We have time to fill the fridge with condiments, be lax on laundry detail (I don’t like traveling with dirty laundry), and not feel rushed to squeeze everything into a few days.


But I’m not the only person in the house. Kids like going faster, Lance & I like going slower. Now we do a mix.


Snapshots of our explorations from Antalya to Kas to Fethiye to Denizli to Kusadasi to Bodrum to Bursa. I don't even recall what everything is or where the pics were taken (took about 5 weeks). Good times, though!

 

*Pop-Up Days [aside: if you don't know us, we run pop-up events which are social outings for traveling families]: We're on the go with 3-4 activities per day. Teens often go off on their own (say if the group is at a playground for the younger kids) and meet up with us at the next activity. If we're there with families we know, the teens & tweens often swap households and have sleepovers. They arrange movies and mall outings with their peers... we love these days of unrestricted social time.


But it isn’t all-teens-all-the-time either. Kids all hang out together regardless of age… and adults, too. Many of our pop-up adult attendees with younger children like to quiz my kids about their lifestyles and travels, especially now that the oldest is a bona fide high school graduate (he quit traveling for a year to re-enter public schools and receive his diploma - blog post). There is always the chance for deep conversation.


Lots of our pop-up time includes all the families and all the kids. We play games, check out museums, go on nature walks, attend local festivals, stroll the markets, watch a concert. You can check out our pop-up recap and photo dump posts for a glimpse of all the ground we cover during the week!


Pop-up Teens in Florence 2023, NYC 2022, and Cabo San Lucas 2022

 

*Lounge and Chill Days: And most importantly, there are times we need downtime. I used to feel a bit embarrassed about this… here we are living in super cool places with so much to experience… and we just stay home.


Listen, not every day needs to be a picture-perfect example of what worldschooling offers. Sometimes we’re jet lagging; sometimes we are exhausted after a pop-up week; sometimes we’ve seen too many back-to-back museums & cathedrals; sometimes we don’t sleep well due to street noise or lack of black-out curtains (my nemesis).


If we need a break, we take a break! Heck, sometimes I sneak in a nap or binge watch a show. Give yourself the grace to take a rest when warranted.


Our lives are full and there’s no need to complicate things by forcing any of us to go out exploring when we really need a chance to relax, detach, and/or recuperate. Of course there are times when we’re traveling faster where our schedule is pretty packed for a few weeks, but now we realize we need to allow those down days.


Lounging with each other and their devices

 

*It Takes Intention: Creating a full-time travel plan with teens takes effort, and it’s wildly different than just "taking a vacation" with teens. We’ve learned to listen to each child’s wants and needs and then design our traveling philosophy around those desires. Finding a comfortable routine didn’t happen overnight, it took time and patience and a lot of trial and error. However, it’s 100% worth it for my family.


The extended family time we have because of fulltime travel is a huge bonus for us... yes there are times where it's harder because we're around each other 24/7, but it's also given us the opportunity to really get to know one another well, talk with each other, finetune as needed, and let everyone have a voice for how they want to design our travels.


I hope this article has given you some insights and strategies for accommodating your teens while traveling the globe. Part of it is letting go of how you think worldschooling should look, but, more importantly, talk to your teens. Find out what makes them tick and what makes them cringe. Be willing to try new approaches and attitudes... have fun together!

Use the 0.5 zoom on the camera phone and come in close for a funky pic


One of the things I marvel about is that we’ve learned to ask the kids how their lives are going and if there are any aspects of their lives they’d like to change... and that's something we never did when they were in traditional school. This lifestyle offers so much to us if we're just willing.


So how about you? How have you crafted your travel around the needs of your teens? What resonates? What alternatives can you provide? Please leave a comment!

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