Enjoy a family road trip with teens by balancing their need to feel included and independent. Foster your teen’s inclusion by including them in the planning process. Let them select stops, music for the journey, and take photos for their social media. Show them you respect their independence by allowing personal screen time in the car and not relying on them to watch after younger siblings.
This post contains lots of tips for planning the perfect teenage road trip to create lasting memories.
It’s important to remember your teen’s sense of independence is new! They want to be part of family events, but they also have a strong need for space and autonomy. Striking this balance will mean an enjoyable teen road trip for you and your family.
Include your teen in the planning process
Include your teens in the planning and research process! Let them know when the road trip will take place, where you are headed, and where you will be passing through.
Armed with that information, ask them if there is anywhere on the route they would like to stop and see. Suggest they google things like big malls, nature reserves, or certain museums based on their interests. I know teens can be tricky to get responses from, so try offering up a few suggestions yourself; “There’s a huge mall in this city, and they have an *insert teens favorite store here*, I thought we could do a rest stop there.”
Check out our Family Road Trip Packing List to help make preparation for you and your teen easier.
Know your teen before you leave
Are they morning people or night owls? Do they like to join in, or do they do best when they’ve had a little alone time? You are going to struggle if your teen likes to sleep in and your driving schedule has you out the door every morning at 7. It’s natural to think of your teen as your child, but they are growing into young adults and a little understanding of who they are will go a long way.
Need some help finding attractions that will appeal to your family? We’ve got some advice on How to Find Tourist Attractions on your Route. Take a look for help picking stopping points on your teen road trip.
Avoid scheduling a road trip that takes up an entire school break
A family road trip with teens can be really fun! But your teen won’t appreciate spending an entire school break on constant family frolicking in tight quarters. This is especially true for teens involved in a lot of sports as their free time is so limited. Summer is generally the best time as you can have weeks on either side of the trip for your kids to spend time with friends.
Make sure you have the right car for the trip
While a family of 5 may fit in a sedan, they won’t want to live out of one for a week. Teens (like all of us) can be touchy about space and alone time. If you need to, consider renting a car with a little more legroom and plenty of space for luggage in the back.
The right hotel will make all the difference on the road
Traveling with a family can be a lot of work, especially when you have a mix of younger kids and teenagers. Kids eat a lot and it gets expensive, so having breakfast taken care of and a place where you can store and prepare food is a huge money and time saver.
A hotel with a pool, especially an indoor pool, is another huge plus. It provides free entertainment after a day’s driving and everyone LOVES a little night swimming.
Keep the seating arrangement moving
I don’t have any teenage children yet, but even now I take turns sitting in the back seat with my 4y/o. No one likes to feel like the odd one out! Let kids that are old enough take turns sitting in the front. It is a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with them even in a car full of people.
Offer age-appropriate teens a shift behind the wheel
Teens that are old enough, and that you trust, can share in the driving. Check your route to see if there’s a quiet stretch of road and let your new driver have a crack at it. It’s a great way to keep them involved and build up their driving competence.
Make sure you check the learner permit laws in the states you’ll be passing through.
Remember, your teen is not free child care
It can be easy to think how tired you are after a day of driving and just leave your oldest to watch the rest so you can have one on one time with your partner. DON’T! This is the fastest way to burn your teen out and make them loath road trips.
Instead, negotiate with them, it’s their vacation too! See if they would be willing to sit at the hotel one evening and in return, you can do a special stop with them on another day without the little ones.
Take a loose approach to technology regulation
Every family has its own rules and ways of dealing with the world of incessant personal technology. However, you may want to consider the uniqueness of spending hours on end in a small space with your kids. Teenagers especially, as young people just starting to experience independence, can feel trapped and overwhelmed by this environment.
Letting the kids have their personal devices allows for everyone to spend some time on their own without the fight of finding entertainment that suits both your 7 y/o and your 16 y/o.
If you want to support them in this you could consider getting them some awesome headphones for teens.
Let everyone get involved in making playlists
Let each of your kids come up with a playlist for the journey and take turns sharing in one another’s music without judgment. It may be a good idea to ask them to come up with several shorter playlists to shuffle between so you aren’t stuck with an hour of Disney show tunes or whatever hip sounds your teen turns up with.
We’ve got 250 Best Road Trip Songs to help you put together your own playlist contribution.
Try some audiobooks
Audiobooks can be tricky if you have kids of varying ages, but teens may be more interested in reminiscing in childhood favorites than they will let on. Harry Potter is always a great choice, as the stories grow with the children and are usually captivating for a wide audience.
If you have mostly teens and tweens, let them suggest some titles and do a lottery to see which titles you listen to.
We have a great article on Best Road Trip Audiobooks with a special family section for you to check out too.
Check out some family podcasts
If you have all older children, you may feel comfortable letting them offer up some podcast suggestions. It’s a great way to connect with them over something they find interesting.
If you have more mixed-age kids, you may want to screen any suggestions first.
We have a list of 40 Best Podcasts for Road Trips with a special family section to help get you started.
Reserve judgment on your teen’s suggestions
A road trip may be your first time hearing your teen’s favorite podcasts, music, or listening to them talk freely. Teens are only just beginning to form their identities and can be really sensitive, even a small critical comment can cause them to shut down. Try asking questions like “what is it you like most about this band?” or “what is your favorite part of this podcast?”
If anything truly alarms you, save it for when you get home. A fight about taste in music trapped in a car in front of the whole family isn’t going to end well for anyone.
Surprise everyone with personally selected coloring books
Not everything has to be about a screen or stereo. Adult coloring books can be a great activity that doesn’t include headphones. Gift each kid with a coloring book that pertains to one of their interests (they make them for virtually every movie, show, and celebrity you can think of these days) and a set of new coloring pencils. I guarantee they will get that little back-to-school shopping rush.
Word games are great tech-free entertainment
Mad libs, taboo, the License Plate Game, or even travel bingo, in short doses, can be fun activities to raise the energy in the car. Know what kind of games your family likes and choose your moments carefully.
Need more suggestions? We have more great ideas for Word Games to Play in the Car.
Have a genuine conversation
You have to time this just right, maybe the moment your teen is having a turn riding upfront with you, or a moment when everyone in the car is in high spirits. Tell a story from your childhood or ask an open-ended and engaging question.
Don’t worry, we have 71 Fun Family Road Trip Questions to get you started.
Break up the silence with a joke
If everyone is getting a little tired, or desperate for the next rest stop, then use one of our Road Trip Jokes to bring some good vibes to the ride!
Look out for insta-worthy moments
Your teens and tweens may or may not be on social media yet, but chances are they are starting to show an interest in taking photographs for Instagram or quirky videos for Tik Tok. If they have their own accounts, foster their creativity! Point out great photo op spots and offer to take photos or let them take photos. If they aren’t quite old enough, give them control of your account. It’s a great opportunity to see the family experience through their eyes.
Still feeling a little daunted? Don’t be! We’ve can help you get started with our Planning a Family Road Trip article.
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Lisa Hurd is a born and raised Californian currently living with her husband, daughter, and labrador in the UK. She enjoys road trips with her family and has fond memories of cross-country adventures with her 3 sisters while growing up. She misses the sun… send vitamin D and quality Mexican food ASAP!