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Road Trip with Teens – Are You Crazy?

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Usually my Disney-loving family flies to sunny Florida every other year to visit Mickey Mouse. This summer, however, I will be driving with my wife and two teenagers from central New Jersey to Orlando. My 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter merely tolerate each other’s company, at best. Right about now I can hear some of you saying, “Are you crazy?”

Well, maybe I am crazy…but we have people and places to see this year during our journey south. We will be traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit close friends and attend their son’s Bar Mitzvah. Rather than make this just a very expensive weekend we decided to turn it into a family vacation. Here’s how we plan to stay sane along the way.

road trip with teens

Research Travel Options

I spent considerable time researching all of our travel options. What made the most economic sense was to rent a car for the drive down so that we can then fly home after our adventures. We determined a minivan would be the most desirable vehicle, not only because it provides ample room to separate the kids but also because a van allows us to bring along a lot more STUFF! I scoured the internet for online coupon codes and car rental deals but I was surprised by the lack of available minivans.

I began having nightmares about our journey: I pull out of the driveway and my daughter screams at the top of her lungs that her brother is staring at her. Then my son starts with, “Her foot is on MY SIDE!” It ends with my wife yelling so loud that I can see the veins popping out of her neck as I pull on to the shoulder of the freeway and slam on the brakes.

As the nightmares continued, so did my search for a minivan rental. Persistence pays off!  I finally found a minivan through another car rental agency. An added bonus was the price, which was approximately $100 less than the last-resort SUV I had reserved, just in case.

Preparation is Key

It will take us approximately 12 hours to travel to Charlotte for our two-night stay. Then it should take us roughly 10 hours to reach Walt Disney World. How can we possibly enjoy such a long drive in a confined space without our children killing, or at least, maiming one another?

Even with the kids sufficiently spaced apart in our newly booked minivan, on such a long trip there are bound to be some edgy nerves and arguments. Young or old, kids are still kids. The success of this trip will depend upon how my wife and I manage our expectations (perfect behavior isn’t possible) and our children’s boredom (by providing a multitude of entertainment options).

Over the last couple of weeks I have asked friends, relatives, and co-workers if they have ever driven double digit hours to reach their family vacation destination. I asked in-depth questions of those who had embarked on such a journey to get some tips for success. I got very similar advice from all, regardless of the children’s ages.

Keep Kids Busy

Of course, the most important factor of any long car drive is keeping your children occupied. So, what will we do? We’re going to try family favorites like 20 questions and iSpy. Plus we’ll ply the kids with their favorite snacks and drinks (being careful to limit the amount of liquids so we don’t spend the whole trip seeking out rest stops for bathroom breaks!).

Then there are the toys and electronic gadgets. Suggested items to bring along for teens include: travel versions of board games, a DVD player and plenty of movies, hand held video game players, and iPods.

All of the parents I interviewed said their kids handled the long drive better than they expected with just a few, but very controllable, episodes of impatience. Surprisingly, many parents said traveling with younger children was easier than travel with tweens and teens because the little ones were easier to keep occupied with simple toys or diversions and because they napped longer than big kids might!

Although my wife and I aren’t exactly looking forward to the long drive, we plan on making it a safe and fun-filled family experience. I’m bringing some earplugs along though…just in case!

What do you think – is a road trip with teens a crazy idea or a fun way to spend time together? Let us know in the comments!

disney geek dad and family

Travel Daddy Stuart Sternberg and his wife, Michele, live in New Jersey with their two children, Bret and Haley. Their favorite vacation spot is Walt Disney World. Outside of work the only things that distract Stuart from thinking about Disney (besides his family) are Yankee baseball and seeing Bruce Springsteen live in concert. He writes a blog on all things Disney called Disney Geek Dad and he contributes a weekly blog post to the Disney Driven Life, home of the Neurotic Disney People.

Top photo purchased from

  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Thanks for writing a guest blog post for Travel Mamas, Stuart! I was kinda hoping this whole travel-with-kids thing was going to get easier as they age. Oh well, new (& exciting?!) challenges to look forward to, I guess. Let me know how the road trip goes this summer!

  2. Lisa @ The World is Calling says

    Good for you! We do an 18 hour road trip (one way) every Summer to Montana, and the kids have actually gotten to the place where they look forward to it. Be aware, however, that excitement and enthusiasm On The Way To The Destination tends to be absent On The Way Home–which makes the return trip more difficult. Do you have Red Boxes on the East Coast? It’s great to pick up a couple NEW DVDs (that can be returned anywhere)and break out a new game that can be played in the car. Good luck!

  3. This sounds like quite the adventure. Our triplet 14-year-olds present some of the same challenges you mention. We apply the space, snack and entertainment strategies you mention. One of the kids deals better with long stretches of driving if he has a map and knows the “plan”. For another kid we need to build into something she can look forward to each day to make the waiting easier. The other kid likes books on tape with a storyteller who brings the tale to life. I always enjoy the family memories that we bring home with the trips. Hope you make some great ones!

  4. Alison Lewis says

    Wow, you are treating your 17 and 14 year olds like they are 5 year olds! How about letting them help plan the trip, buy the food, drinks, and ice for the cooler (and pack it), let them tetris the whole family’s luggage into the trunk, put them in charge of the maps, the GPS, and gas calculations en route. And wouldn’t the 17 year old want to do some of the driving, too? I’ve done multiple road trips with teens. They bring along ipods and DVD players but we spend most of the time talking about politics, religion, philosophy, science, etc. If you think kids find those things boring or schooly, you’re just not letting them do enough of the talking. We also dream, scheme, and plan together what hikes and campgrounds we’ll do while at our destination or along the way and even dream out loud together about where to go on the next road trip we do. They use the laptop, ipad, or GPS to envision and plan future routes while we’re talking. If someone gets “edgy,” “bored,” or “impatient,” on our road trips, they are reminded that we are ALL stuck in the car and told to get a grip and quit ruining the fun for everyone. They aren’t 5 year olds.

  5. Hey Stuart! i have a trip coming up really soon. Me and my family are going to Disney this isn’t our first time driving there. But we tend to get bored and fall asleep for the whole trip. I have a toddler and an infant. What would keep them busy?


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