We have just returned from our most recent trip to Europe and my kids are both in high school. My son will be a freshman and my daughter will be a senior. We went for two weeks and and visited three cities—Paris, Amsterdam and London. While our family trip included many frustrating moments including arguments over what to do next or where to eat, schlepping around suitcases, lost luggage, a heat wave, lack of alone time and the inability to make everyone happy at the same time, traveling with teenagers was incredibly special and a wonderful opportunity to grow and bond as a family. Below are the reasons I recommend everyone travel with their teenagers:
Traveling can be humbling
For teenagers who think they know everything, we learned that there is still much to learn. First of all, we Americans are incredibly lame when it comes to languages. Almost all of the Europeans we encountered knew English even though we were in their country. Our knowledge of French and Dutch was pathetically limited. Paying for things was complicated too because we did not know the currency and once we figured out Euros, we moved onto London where we had to learn pounds.
Bikes are king
In both Amsterdam and Paris, the bike lane was heavily used. You had to walk on the sidewalk or fear being run over. With the narrow and curvy roads, biking just made a lot of sense. It was a nice change of perspective since cars are clearly king in the US.
Air conditioning is used sparingly
Overall, being in Europe taught us that we Americans overdo everything. We were in Europe during a heat wave and never got to experience the intoxicating feel of freezing cold air whenever we walked into a store. Usually it was actually better to sit outside of a restaurant rather than inside because the inside the heat was actually worse. We walked around with a constant layer of sweat. Amazingly, we all survived and even, I dare say, got used to the lack of air conditioning, although my husband may have some PTSD.
We were constantly curious
We were incessantly asking questions of each other and wondered about everything. Google was our best friend and our dinner conversations were often spent trying to learn more about the city we were in. Natural curiosity and questioning allowed for intelligent and engaging conversations. There was never a lack of something to talk about which is a true gift when you are sharing every meal together.
Different strengths emerged as we were challenged as a family
When we lived on the fourth floor of a walk up in Amsterdam, my daughter flexed her muscles and helped carry the suitcases down the stairs so my husband did not have to make two trips. When we were walking in circles in Paris, my son took over the GPS on the phone and taught me how to tell when we were going the wrong way. My husband and I happily shared the responsibilities with our newly capable kids and enjoyed the trip that much more because of it.
Getting lost is half the fun
We often made mistakes. We ended up on the wrong bus in Amsterdam, could not find a metro station in Paris (turned out it was under construction), we couldn’t figure out how to work the key at our airbnb and many other moments. But these moments taught us that we could figure things out if we just took a moment to breathe and put our heads together. And sometimes getting lost took us to different neighborhoods that we would not have discovered otherwise. I hope we all were reminded that mistakes can sometimes open new opportunities and help us discover more about the world and about ourselves.
We appreciated the kindness of strangers
There were several people in each country that went out of their way to help us. The warm feeling of gratitude you feel when someone goes out of the way to help you is intoxicating. I hope my kids will remember what it was like to be confused and lost and will feel compassion towards others who are need of their help in the future.
Overall, our trip taught us that we can rely on each other and gave us an opportunity to meet challenges together. As our teenagers move towards adulthood I hope they always seek out our support and know that we have each other’s back. At the same time, I hope they appreciate their role as global citizens and help those in need beyond our family as well.