NEW YORK (MainStreet) Disclaimer: if your teenagers are good and sweet and think you are fun and smart, then go ahead and travel with them. This does not apply to you.
When I told my friend Carol that I was planning a really fun summer vacation to Arizona's Grand Canyon and Lake Powell and Utah's Zion and Bryce Canyons that I thought my teenagers aged 19, 17 and 16 would be excited about, she warned me sternly.
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"I took my teenagers on a trip to Europe when they were 17 and 15, and it was not fun with them," my friend said. "No matter what you are planning, and no matter how much money you spend, they will complain, and they will not want to be with you. You will probably cry before it's over."
But did I listen? Of course, not. I was on the fantasy island of a last-ditch effort to improve relations with my kids, and I thought going on this adventure trip together would be a great way to do it. What's more, I was bolstered by another colleague whose two daughters (aged 19 and 17) travel with their father every year to South America, live with a local family and take part in volunteer work in the village in return for room and board and learning Spanish.
I guess it depends on how well you know your kids. Some teens are more mature and family-oriented and although I was wishing mine would be, they are not. I also mistakenly thought that once they saw the actual canyons and environment, their natural curiosity would be stimulated. But I was so wrong. All they really did was fight over outlets, both in the car and the hotel rooms, to charge their devices. When asked if they would get up on any morning to partake in that day's adventure, the girls said, "All we really want to do is sleep and tan, so no, we're not getting up at 8 a.m. to go hiking or climbing." I actually think my son got short-changed and would have liked to do more, but wouldn't go against his older sisters in favor of going with us. I know he is definitely not interested in tanning whatsoever and that he likes climbing and jumping off cliffs, especially into water.
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Will that be cash or credit?
Thankfully, I spent cash from a bonus I received and didn't put the entire vacation on a credit card as many Americans do, or I'd really be crying when faced with the bills. In fact, it's hard to avoid using credit cards on vacation, especially with teenagers who want to partake in exceptionally expensive activities. "Most vacations have a credit card component to them to some extent," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com. "You need to use a credit card for car rentals, hotel and activity bookings and airline tickets." He says that using a debit card is a worse idea because of the "hold" amounts they put on the account in excess of the actual charges which block up your cash access.
And I found that to be true. The rental car added $200. Some of the hotels added $125 for each night extra. And the power boat rental company placed a hold of an additional $400.00. What I did was use a credit card to make all the bookings (with the holds), but when it came time to pay the actual bill I used the debit card where I deposited that bonus check. So at least I didn't have a whole bunch of credit card debt along with the heartache.
Anyway, I called up family finance expert Ellie Kay, parent of seven older teenagers and young adults, author of Lean Body, Fat Wallet to ask her what I should have done to make that trip with my teens more successful.
Have a family meeting and a vote
If the kids say they don't want to go before you've even left, stop the trip planning right then and there. But what if two out of three kids want to go? What if they are fickle from day to day? Kay says to hold a family meeting to discuss where to go on the trip, what type of trip it will be, a budget for special activities and to let kids choose and agree on the special activities. This way, they have those activities to look forward to and they've participated in the trip planning and are anticipating the fun. This is an important aspect in trip success, so don't skip this step, no matter how hard it is to get teens together at the table or how much they grumble about not caring.
Kay says that when kids learn to be grateful for what they have instead of complaining about what they don't have, they learn delayed gratification, a very important financial lesson. They learn to earn what they want and wait for it. So if some of my kids did not want to hike the Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon and experience the awe of that trip, they still cannot ruin it for those of us who do. "Tell kids if they are not grateful for where they are and what they are doing or experiencing, they won't get to do the part they want to do [for example, the power boat on Lake Powell]," she says.
Complaining will not be tolerated
For teenagers in particular, sit down with them and talk to them as adults to adults.
Explain to kids beforehand (who may really not understand) that a vacation for five costs a lot of money. Break down the air fare for five people across the United States, a rental vehicle that fits five adults and all their luggage (a seven-passenger SUV for eight days rented at the airport), seven stays in hotel rooms, food for five adults for eight days and how much the activities chosen are going to cost ($500.00 for just the motor boat!).
Kay says sometimes setting boundaries for behavior on the trip helps teens act more like adults instead of like toddlers.
"Tell kids that there is a boundary for complaining and that you will not pay to bring them somewhere to ruin your time together," Kay says. "If kids have nothing nice to say, they shouldn't say anything."
If you think it's necessary, you can even draw up a vacation contract that outlines the trip plan and further lays out some consequences for anyone who tries to ruin the fun such as being left in the room, forfeiting activities or even losing allowance or driving privileges upon return, says Kay.
Leave them behind
This actually happened to us. On the day of the ATV rentals for the sand dunes and slot canyons, our middle daughter refused to participate even though the other two kids were begging her and telling her how much fun it was going to be. She flatly refused and we left that 17-year old toddler in the hotel room for the entire day. We didn't get back until 10 p.m. "Don't waste time dragging kids when they refuse," Kay says. "Take away their audience and quickly leave them behind and get on with your fun, especially if some of the kids are ready to go."
So, in hindsight, I would never plan a vacation with my teenagers again. One reason, aside from the emotional pain of being snubbed by not just one child (which would have been painful enough) but all three at a time night and day for so many days in a row, I literally wasted thousands of dollars that would have been better saved. On the plus side, my husband and I had a fantastic time together and did every trail and climb we set out to do and we really did have fun with the kids on the boat exploring Glen Canyon which surrounds Lake Powell Glen and in the ATVs in the sand dunes in Kanab, Utah.
My friend Carol was right, though. I cried exactly three times before the vacation was over.
--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet