A few months ago I was walking in the streets of New-Delhi with my 13 years old daughter. We walked just the two of us, from the quiet neighborhood where we usually stay while in Delhi, to the ‘touristic’ neighborhood, that has a tikka store we like.
While walking, my daughter raised the interesting point that there are almost no women in the street. Surprisingly, with all the great masses crowding the Indian streets, you barely see any women. And definitely not young women. And if in the city you do see them sometimes, around bars mostly, than when you leave the big cities and go to the villages you hardly see any at all.
Just like that, in the middle of the street, we developed a fascinating debate on women in India, or in Nepal, or other places we’ve been to. On the reasons, the implications, and what does she think of those things.
‘My daughter is growing up’, I thought to myself. And however much that it is hard for me (who doesn’t want them to wait just a little bit more with growingup…) that’s how much it is also wonderful.
I have two teenagers. One is almost 17 years old. The other is almost 14. When we started traveling, almost 6 years ago, they were all still little kids. Everything was different. Now, things look completely another way.
I’ll try to write here a bit from my experience. I divided the subject by sections according to the teenager’s needs and how does traveling meet them.
♦ The first and most crucial need- hunger. Teens eat a lot. They’re very often hungry. That causes them to be irritable, impatient, and very negative to their surroundings. That’s why the first thing is making sure they get the amount of food they need, and that food will always be accessible. I can’t describe how important that is and what difference that makes. Don’t close that corner with snacks, but try as much as possible to make it healthy and nutritious food.
♦ Sleep- almost like hunger, when a teens are tired or don’t get as much sleep as they need, the whole environment. And it’s not fun. Hence- do your best to make sure they sleep properly. In our house, a day after a Chelsea match (that happened very late at night) doesn’t look like a day in which the 16 years old slept properly. Especially if they lost.
♦ Hygiene– very much dependent on every person’s personality, the way I feel, that’s a need that you need to think less on, but if you have a teen that is sensitive to the subject- it’s very important to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible, even in Southeast Asia, even in India, even in an old local bus. And maybe that’s actually an opportunity to work on the subject, to allow them to get used to slightly less comfortable conditions, develop flexibility and an immunity to it. Talk about it, get prepare and don’t ignore.
◊ Pimples- products for face cleaning are everywhere, including soaps, creams, and salves. Can also find naturals. I buy for them the organic product (in the organic shop in Pokhara, Nepal) and remind them to use it when I see a need for it (which doesn’t happen often)
◊ Female hygiene- can find almost anywhere, but it’s important to make sure you always have it accessible. If the teen got stuck, forgot, just took the wrong bag- have a spare roll. Always.
♦ Privacy– the average teenager needs his privacy. In my opinion that’s one of the most critical points when traveling with teens, because their difficulty is very real, authentic, and very pressing. All day spent with the family (something that is simply illegal when you’re a teenager…), stuck in the same car with them, or the same hotel room, everyone has to go to the same places all the time, all the meals are eaten together, and if that’s not enough, they have to pretend that they’re actually enjoying it, because it’s a vacation after all.
They don’t enjoy it.
They don’t like it.
And we are never going to change that.
Not even if we try really hard and even if we’ll be the coolest parents and the sweetest young siblings. It has nothing to do with us.
What I do:
? When it comes to packing first of all- their own bag (I don’t have my own bag…), with all their stuff, without any adult supervision what-so-ever, to give them complete responsibility and privacy over their own things.
? When possible I get them their own rooms. I try to balance between periods where they have to share a room with their siblings and relaxed periods where they have their own room. Surprise them with their own room and you’ll see how easily you made one soul in this world happy.
? The subject needs to be ‘on the table’, talked about. So that when they feel the need for privacy they can feel comfortable enough to tell you, and to know that there is someone that understands and accepts it. Even in a one week vacation.
? And more than that- sometimes I go to them myself and tell them of a place I saw that might interest them, suggest a restaurant with food I know they’ll love (and suggest they go alone or in a constellation that works for them), or an activity they like (“you know, when I walked with Gali to the beach I saw on the way a group playing basketball… it’s really near here”).
? I give them freedom in everything regarding family meals. If they prefer to stay home alone for a bit, while we all go to eat I cooperate and simply bring them some take-away. Or if they prefer sitting at a separate table (yes yes… teenagers) I don’t make a big deal out of it. Free on the house. When they do decide to sit with us I always mention how nice it is for me.
? Pictures- I have one that hates having his pictures taken and one that takes selfies all day. I don’t argue. So much so that sometimes people ask me where is my son and if he even travels with us. As much as it pains me that he doesn’t let me document him, I respect his wishes. On some rare occasions I try to convince him that he should, just sometimes, document some of the moments he goes through, just for the memories. Sometimes I even succeed.
♦ Independence– the travel is an excellent opportunity to sharpen their independence skills, let them try new experiences on their own. Deal with new environmental conditions. This can be an experience that hugely increases their self-confidence, if and especially if your private teenager has some social difficulties or is going through a tough time.
? Let them walk around on their own, go buy something for everyone, look for and ask for information, pay for services, and go shopping all alone.
? let them taste and try the experiences that the place you’re at provides. From conversations in a new language, with people from different places all over the world, and to going on treks/rafting with friends, and everything in between. Encourage that, gibe them your support and don’t make faces if they ask to try some crocodile BBQ. They’re developing their own self, and that’s wonderful!
? I also warmly recommend that they have someone (that isn’t you) to talk to. Before the trip, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a long trip or a short one, open a channel of communication with someone to which they feel close enough, make sure they can talk anytime they want (considering, of course, the acceptable hours). It’s impossible to describe the effect of one small ventilating conversation, to the teen’s mental state and to the overall family mood and the success of the whole trip.
Depends on the teen, of course. But a large percentage on teenagers refuse to ever hear about going abroad with family, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for four days or four years. They refuse, under any circumstance, to be separated from their friend for even an hour. It’s a subject that drags with it arguments and stress and mess. It’s not easy with those teenagers.
? Talk with them about a trip that includes places/activities that interest them. Show them you know and accept that they need to be connected to their friends 24/7, and that’s why you want to ask them how you can go as family, in a way that everyone enjoys. Give them a personal example and use that difficulty to have a deal with them that is based on listening and understanding, and not on “you’re coming with us and that’s it”. Show them you treat them as mature, show your side openly and sensitively (“it’s very important to me that you come with us, we don’t have much time left with you… in a second you’ll be going your own way”, or anything that you might be feeling) and let them express themselves.
? Now, because my son is also this website’s translator (from Hebrew), I have to be very loyal to reality. So I have to add that this sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes I have to force him (it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen with his younger sister, simply because of her different personality) but I only do it in cases where I know for sure (I know him very well) that moving to a new place will be a better experience for him, in the end.
? I’ll always try to fit the place we’re going to, to my children’s wishes and requests. Hence, we were this year for example in Nepal (my 13 years old wanted), we were in Vietnam (everyone were into that), in Singapore (my 10 years old’s choice), and in a very specific island in the Philippines (to my 16 years old’s request). The plan is to go to Ladakh in the summer (everyone wants that, each for their own reasons). On the other hand, if we only did what I wanted, we would now probably be on a mountain top in Kyrgyzstan…
♦ The friends at home: today that is not a problem. All you need is Wi-Fi. Allow them that freely. And I do mean freely. No making faces, or saying things like “you’re always on your phone”. Let them go through this process by themselves and understand that the friends at home can wait a moment, because the view from the window right now is something you’ll probably never see again. The more comment on it, the more you’ll find them glued to their screens. You brought them here, and now it’s their choice what they’re going to do with it. And it’s possible they’ll regret later. And that’s also fine, it’s another kind of learning…
♦ New friends from the road: a wonderful experience. Meeting people from all over the world, all ages, all sorts and colors. Let them, because every person they meet, and it doesn’t matter who or what s/he is, will enrich their world. Every. One. Let them have deep conversations with people they just now met in a restaurant, these people will listen to them with a very different viewpoint than anyone else (that knows them for a long time) will listen to them with. They’ll enjoy it so much, simply because they can show them their new ‘self’, the mature, smart, thinking, self. It’s an excellent and important experience in every way and I can’t even describe how vital and teaching it is. Doubtlessly one of the greatest gifts I give my children by living as we do.
? Do your homework and try to find destinations where it’s easier to make friends; or at least try to balance between those places and places where it’s harder. For instance, in India and Nepal it’s easy to make friends. In Vietnam it’s harder.
? let them by themselves. Never ever interrupt, don’t try to ‘matchmake’. They will choose themselves who to connect with and in what language. Let them explore. Out of their need they’ll also find a solution. If they thirst for friends- you can be sure that they’ll find them. And if they want some quiet, your ‘matchmaking’ will only burden them further.
? Together with what I wrote here, traveling can also develop their social skills range from the other side: simply to be alone. To be alone and enjoy it. Do things alone, think alone, go alone to a surfing class and come back with a few new friends. All the arc of “alone”, including feeling lonely. It’s a part of life, and the ability to feel it and deal with it in a healthy way can be very important. So don’t get worried and don’t run away from it. In my opinion, the ability to deal with it eventually gives a strong feeling of confidence and security and because of that- freedom. Not relying on anyone but themselves. Power.
Exposure to ‘sensitive’ subjects:
♦ Hookers in the street, hard drugs, light drugs, tattoos, piercing, drunks in the streets, lots of free alcohol and cigarettes, little children driving motorbikes and scooters, street kids, strip clubs on the same street as your guesthouse, bad offers (“psst, marijuana…”- drug dealers in India don’t really care how old you are. Even 13 years old is fine), a million free girls with and without swimsuits at the beach, families with small children where the parents sit and smoke pot right next to the babies, Kama-sutra cards in the stack next to the regular cards and more and more and more…- you won’t be able to avoid all those. And even if you don’t see every single one of these things, I promise you’ll see at least a part. I allow my kids to observe everything. I use those sights sometimes, to start a discussion on the subject, depends on the child’s age and on what they raise themselves. I can tell you that I put a lot of thought into how deal with those things. To ignore, try to hide, try to avoid the truth (“mommy what’s that?” – “ah… nothing. Want some ice-cream?”), or to give them truthful answers. I decided not to hide the truth. Meanwhile, my two private teenagers, maybe because they saw the results and the ugly sides of the above list, really aren’t too excited to try for themselves. I trust them 100%.
♦ Their parents and “sensitive” subjects- when you go traveling, you go with everything you are, even the things that during the everyday the kids aren’t exposed to. How we deal with tough situations, our passion, our delight, our weaknesses. Go for it. Give them a pick into what kind of people you really are, without the house matters, mom-and-dad’s-driving-services-pvt-ltd office. It’s a wonderful opportunity. Dance, swim, sing, jump in the water, be sexual, be human, be desperate, be happy, be curious, adventurous, cowards. Be everything you are. It’s likely that some of the things you do will be the most embarrassing things your teenagers will experience, but looking back, they’ll appreciate it. And if not than your dance in the middle of that street in Bangkok will be a funny family story that will be remembered forever.
♦ Condoms, pills and other safety measures- if your teens are sexually active, make sure they have them (especially Condoms), and if not- equip them in advance. And anyway, you can get those everywhere.
♦ Phone, Wi-Fi, Tablet, Mirror, Music player, Earphones, and everything that is a ‘must’ in their lives. I try as much as possible to fill those needs 100%. I don’t argue, don’t try to show them that “you can do without”. To me these are small things, which they’ll discover, I’m sure, in some stage of their growth, by themselves, and what more, each one of those things is important to keep them happy.
1. The iron rule: don’t leave them hungry or tires.
2. Create a balance between family activities and freedom, independence, and privacy (and surprise them with their own room).
3. Let them find the solution to their own social need themselves.
4. Show them sides of you they don’t know, give personal example, give and encourage them to try for themselves as they want in this experience.
And to close off- a short description on my 16 years old son of his life as a traveler (I didn’t touch anything…).
“What’s it like to travel? Well, it’s freedom. To me, it’s mostly social freedom. I’m not stuck in a closed environment with only a set number of people and told to pick my friends from among them. While traveling, I Meet a lot of people, all kinds of people, from kids my age or younger, to pensioners and everything in between. People that do everything, from every culture and place. I get to choose my social circle. And if I choose to avoid people for a week for some reason, well I can easily do that too without any judgment from anyone. But it’s not just the social aspects of travelling that I find so appealing, it’s the different sights, and smells, and flavors. There’s nothing I like more than going to a new country and trying out all of its street food. I can’t imagine ever living differently”.