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Road Trip with Teens – Tips for a Smooth Journey

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Want to be cooped up with angst-ridden, hormonal teenagers in a small space for hours and hours while speeding down the highway? This may not sound like paradise. But road trips with teens and tweens can be doable and (dare I say it?!) downright fun. That is, if you plan ahead. Buckle up for adventure with these 13 tips for planning a road trip with teens.

Plan ahead for a happy road trip with teens

Plan ahead for a happy road trip with teens (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

1. Consider renting a bigger car.

If you own a compact car, then you might want to consider renting something bigger for your road trip with teens, like a minivan or SUV. This is especially true if you’ll be traveling a long distance or you’re road tripping with two or more kids. Teenagers aren’t as little as they once were and need more space for those growing limbs. Plus, a bigger vehicle provides more space to pack more stuff, like shoes for those big teenager feet! Take a look at prices from various car rental companies all in one place with Expedia.

Get a vehicle big enough for your big kids for your road trip with teens

Get a vehicle big enough for your big kids (Photo credit: Olegkalina, Depositphotos.com)

2. Prepare teens for the journey.

Teenagers don’t like feeling out of control. (Who does?!) That’s why it’s important to tell your kids in advance all about the road trip so they know what to expect.

First, tell them when the trip will take place. If your kids are like my teen and tween, then you’ll probably have to remind them a few times as you count down the days until take off. Add the road trip dates to your family calendar, too, if you have one.

Then, tell teens how long you expect the road trip to take. This includes how many days you’ll be driving, how many hours per day you’ll be on the road, and how often you plan to stop. It’s best to show the road trip route on a map. Some teens may even be interested in researching some pit stops along the way.

Map out your road trip with teens

Map out your road trip with teens (Photo credit: Klanneke, Depositphotos.com)

3. Play travel games.

Entertainment is always a concern when planning a road trip with your offspring in tow. Old fashioned games like I Spy and 20 Questions are fun even for teens and tweens, if done in moderation. For even more play, buy some compact games like travel backgammon and Loaded Questions On the Go. Get more ideas from this list of travel games.

Lots of games for teens come in travel versions, like backgammon

Lots of games for teens come in travel versions, like backgammon (Photo credit: chrisbrignell, Depositphotos.com)

4. Listen to audiobooks.

Audiobooks provide great distraction for the whole family. This is especially true when you choose stories that appeal to all ages like the Harry Potter series. Take a look at additional audiobooks for family road trips.

Best audiobooks for family road trips for kids of all ages

Audiobooks entertain the whole family on road trips (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

5. Teens like travel toys, too.

You might think your teen or tween is too old for toys. But there are diversions that big kids will still enjoy during a road trip. Mad Libs, a Rubik’s Cube, and adult coloring books will help make the miles zoom by. Explore more travel toys for all ages before your getaway.

Toys like Rubik's Cube keep teens content on the road

Toys like Rubik’s Cube keep teens content on the road (Photo credit: MilenneT, Depositphotos.com)

6. Keep teens well-fed.

There’s nothing crankier than a hungry teen. Adolescents are growing fast and need lots of food to keep them fueled. Be sure to pack lots of snacks for the journey. Bring a cooler filled with healthy options like fresh fruits, sandwiches, individually wrapped cheeses, and trail mix. Allow some special goodies, too, like snack-sized candy bars or chips. In my family, we like to pack the good-for-you snacks and stop at a convenience store along the route to grab a “naughty” treat or two. Dig into these delicious travel snack ideas.

Pack healthy foods to eat during the journey

Pack healthy foods to eat during your road trip (Photo credit: fahrwasser, Depositphotos.com)

7. Let teens and tweens choose their own music.

Chances are, your kids have different taste in music than you do. Encourage teens and tweens to bring along headphones so they can listen to their own soundtracks on their smart devices. This will significantly decrease arguments over what songs to play.

Let teens choose their own music on road trips

Don’t fight about road trip tunes (Photo credit: lightpoet, Depositphotos.com)

8. Watch movies on the road.

There are plenty of unplugged car trip activities to keep your family content, but a bit of technology can go a long way on the road. If ever there was a time to allow kids to let kids zone out on videos, then it’s during a long car trip.

Rejoice if your car (or rental vehicle) comes equipped with a backseat entertainment system. I have even been known to climb into the backseat while my husband drives so I can watch movies with my kids during road trips.

Kids can also watch films and TV shows on their smart phones or tablets. Be sure to download movies or bring along DVDs for the journey. For travel-themed options, pick from this list of travel movies for kids.

Watching movies can make the miles zoom by

Watching movies can make the miles zoom by (Photo credit: cunaplus, Depositphotos.com)

9. Limit video game play.

Some teens will want to bring along handheld gamers or play video games on their smart phones. Keep in mind that playing video games in a moving car often makes passengers feel sick. Therefore, you’ll want to limit this activity on the road. Better yet, make teens and tweens wait until your family reaches your destination before they power up.

Save video game play for the hotel room

Save video game play for the hotel room (Photo credit: nito103, Depositphotos.com)

10. Be prepared for motion sickness.

Hormones often play a role in causing motion sickness. Since teenagers’ bodies are filled with an abundance of estrogen and testosterone, even if your children haven’t experienced car sickness in the past, they might during adolescence. Reading or watching screens in cars can increase motion sickness, so set technology limits before leaving home. Come prepared with motion sickness medication like Dramamine, just in case. To avoid or handle the nausea caused by movement, read our motion sickness tips.

Be prepared for motion sickness when traveling with teens

Be prepared for motion sickness when traveling with teens (Photo credit: JJFarquitectos, Depositphotos.com)

11. Reward good behavior.

To keep sibling fights and sassy backtalk to a minimum, offer rewards for good behavior. Yes, I am suggesting you bribe your teen travelers. Kids who go an hour or two without arguing or complaining can earn a Starbucks stop or convenience store treat. For teens with a valid driver’s license, offer the opportunity to drive for a portion of the trip.

Reward newly driving teens by letting them take the wheel

Reward newly driving teens by letting them take the wheel for a while (Photo credit: lenetssergey, Depositphotos.com)

12. Stop to stretch those growing legs.

Sitting still is not easy for young minds and bodies. When planning your road trip itinerary, be sure to make room for pit stops along the way. Scope out parks and interesting roadside attractions before leaving home. You might want to bring along a Frisbee or soccer ball for play at rest areas, too.

Cabazon Dinosaur Park road trip pit stop

Plan to stop at roadside attractions, like the Cabazon Dinosaur Park (Photo credit: mkopka, Depositphotos.com)

13. Go with the flow.

You may have misty water-colored images in your mind’s eye of the ideal road trip with your teens. You picture the whole family singing along to the radio and happily play the License Plate Game without complaint. As with any journey, however, a road trip with teens and tweens comes with its ups and downs. Spending hours crammed together can make anyone start to feel crabby. When parenting on the road, the best path is often the easiest one, so pick your battles and enjoy the journey!

Smiling parents and teens on a road trip

Road trips with teenagers aren’t all smiles, but they can be fun (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

Explore the world with your teens!

Big kids love Disney just as much as little kids. Read our tips for exploring Disney World with teens and Disneyland with teens.

Road tripping along the West Coast? Take a look at these Highway 5 pit stops for families.

Explore Arizona, Utah and Nevada with this incredible Southwest road trip itinerary.

Ready for a long-haul road trip with your teens? Check out these tips for planning a cross-country U.S. road trip from our friends at Crazy Family Adventure.

Red Arch Tunnel near Bryce Canyon

Red Arch Tunnel near Bryce Canyon, a portion of our suggested Southwest road trip itinerary (Photo credit: jaymudaliar, Depositphotos.com)

Save these road trip with teens tips!

For future reference, be sure to save these teen travel tips. Simply pin the image below to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Road Trip with Teens Tips

Do you have any questions or tips for planning a road trip with teens? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Matt Taylor says

    Those are all awesome road trip ideas with teens. We used to take long road trips (between 12 and 22 hours) in our 1974 Volkswagon bus and then a 1991 Plymouth grand voyager. We did many of those things you listed. Back in those days, there were no ipads, ipods, etc. One time we did rig up the car to be able to plug in the TV and VCR haha and watched movies. Good memories!

  2. These are some really great tips on travel. Road trips can be stressful if not fully prepared for it.

  3. I needed these tips. My oldest is a tween, and I can already tell I’m going to need these tips. She’s gotten a bit surly already.

  4. This was some solid advice, I have a 17 year old at home whom I am trying to get to go with us… I will try some of your tricks 🙂

  5. Gervin Khan says

    These are great and helpful tips and will definitely be following this once we go for another road trip. Thanks for sharing!

  6. These are really great tips and something that I will definitely use when we travel with our kids.

  7. Some brilliant tips! I thought the audiobook idea was a great one. 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Catherine – Audiobooks are such a great way to keep everyone entertained AND using their imaginations during road trips!

  8. Melanie williams says

    There are some really good ideas here for sure, I think the key is deffo to prepare in advance and be organised x

  9. Emily Fata says

    Ah, I can’t wait until we get to travel like this again! Patiently waiting for the COVID vaccine to be available in Canada for me to take. 🙂

  10. Dominique Walton Brooks says

    These are great tips! But fortunately for us, our teens are good travelers. My daughter plays with her tablet and my son listens to his music and sleeps. We took him off to college this summer and it was actually a good trip!

  11. Ntensibe Edgar says

    Hihi….you got that right when you shared that I should consider renting a bigger car. Teens always “demand” their space and this may be hard to come by, in a tiny car. Also, preparing them for the journey does wonders for everyone.

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