Photo: Making terracotta in Hoi An.

Suggesting travel to a family with a teenager often results in a less-than-eager response. Take a teenager to a foreign country? With no iPod? No Wii? No text messaging? Sure, not everyone will think it's the most fun they've ever had, but give it a try. Parent and teen may find the experience better than they could have ever imagined. This is part seven of a ten-part series on travelling with kids in Southeast Asia. A new story will appear on Travelfish every Monday with a new installment.

I first took my children abroad when they were 14 and 9 years old. Nearly everyone thought it was a kamikaze mission: one mum, a teen boy and a nearly tween girl. Over the next six months in Vietnam, we made shifts in the way we functioned as a family and I learned to let the tethers loose a little. By the time we made our second trip to Vietnam in the summer of 2009, I had two highly-independent 16-year-old boys to deal with (my son and his friend), in addition to an inordinately wilful 11-year-old girl. Everything we'd learned on that first trip had to be put to use, then altered to fit our new situation. Between fights over meals and movies, while I was getting the silent treatment and before the sun woke the kids, this is what I came up with to keep the peace and get us through our four weeks with all our sanity and affections intact.

Give them a say

There's nothing like a teen to give a fresh perspective on just about anything, including travel plans. For every destination, there are more things to see or do than can be accomplished in one trip, so why not let them have some of the responsibility for choosing? For my son, this was by far the most important consideration -- having his opinion count. Most teens love having their way; if you can finagle the itinerary to include what they want to do it can make the entire trip more enjoyable. Make a list of the places to see and give them a vote. This includes younger kids, too. See what they want to do and work together to incorporate everyone's interests. No one person makes the decision and everyone feels like their voice is important in the decision-making process.

If your travel itinerary isn't set in stone, ask for their ideas on where you should go and what they'd like to see. While, as a parent, I wanted to show my kids all the historical sights that I could, it didn't take too long before they began complaining that if you'd seen one pagoda, you'd seen 'em all. And truth be told, when we varied the destinations, we all had more fun.

Advice for travelling with teens in Asia

Give them space

Travelling cramps everyone's space, especially a teenager who can never seem to get enough. Restaurants are noisy. The streets are non-stop people and traffic. Parents monologue often. No matter what, there will be a point when life abroad with your family just feels too crowded and everyone needs some room for being alone. This is especially critical for teens.

The good news is that it's fairly cheap and easy to give them the space they need. Hotels all over Southeast Asia offer single rooms that are super cheap (some for less than US$10). Get the kid (or two, as in my case) a room of her own. I gave the two boys their own room several times and while it is an added cost, the joy of not having to argue over what to watch, who's sleeping where and what time to turn off the light more than made up for it.

This need for some space doesn't just mean sleeping, either. Let the kids sit at a different table or wander down the beach. It's amazing how the bickering nearly stops when everyone has some breathing room.

Advice for travelling with teens in Asia

Give them time

People need time apart or we tend toward ideas of injury; this is ten-fold for teens. So to keep everyone on the sane side, you'll need some time apart. Trust me. The easiest way to manage it, I found, was to get the kid a phone in addition to my own phone. He could go for a walk and if he got lost, he'd call me. If I needed him back, I'd call him. It worked especially well in areas that we already knew fairly well, but even after a day in most cities he knew the area surrounding the hotel well enough to go out. On our third day in Nha Trang, the boys were hungry before my daughter and I, so off they went to an eatery we knew near the hotel. By the time the two of us passed by nearly an hour later, they were happily munching on a pizza.

Teens have a bad reputation, one that I'm sure I influenced a couple decades ago, but when you give them a chance and trust them just enough and allow them the freedom to grow, you may just find they make pretty good travel companions.


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Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

Getting started

How to plan


Health & safety

Money & costs

Travel with kids


Food & drink


Volunteering & work

What to pack & gear advice

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