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The Best Trips for Families with Teens

Because my 16-year-old cousin was just in town, I've been thinking about how I love traveling with my teen cousins because they're so adventurous and curious about the world. Of kids’ first 18 years, few fly faster than the last four, when teenagers – involved in high school academics, extracurricular activities, and the college admissions process – have the least free time. Travel not only introduces teens to foreign cultures and teaches them about world history, but it can also make them better stewards of the planet and even help prepare them for their future careers. 

Here are some incredible journeys designed to inspire the whole family!

LEARN FROM THE ANCIENTS As an academic exercise in memorizing dates, history often gets a bad rap. But travel – from seeing dinosaur prints in Utah to contemplating Egypt’s pyramids – brings history to life and makes it relevant to the present. Having reached the age of intellectual reason, teens can digest the achievements of historic cultures rich in science and letters, spanning the ancient Greeks and Romans to the New World’s Maya, Aztecs, Inca, and Navajo. CLOSE TO HOME: Explore the great Mayan cities of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to learn about the culture’s advanced knowledge of planets, seasons, mathematics, and more. Try an eight-day customizable trip to Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Edzná, and Campeche’s Museum of Mayan Culture that also fits in some beach time and stay in hospitable haciendas. FARTHER-FLUNG: National Geographic Expeditions’ seven-day Peru family trip takes guests to the mountain citadel of Machu Picchu and includes a hands-on weaving lesson at the Sacred Valley’s Center for Traditional Textiles.

GO WILD Nature is a ready classroom that manages to harness the native energy of teenagers, who are often more keen to do than to see. It also forces travelers to engage with the world, not a screen. The more remote the travel, the more likely your family is to slip the grid and return to that much elusive face-to-face time. Most importantly, nature-based trips – from the Grand Canyon to the Galápagos – instill a love of the outdoors and the imperative to preserve it.

CLOSE TO HOME: The small-ship line UnCruise Adventures trades ports in Alaska for extended time in the wilderness, anchoring in pristine bays, launching kayaks, and guiding hikes on game trails. Their eight-day Discoverers’ Glacier Country cruise even over-nights in Glacier Bay National Park. FARTHER-FLUNG: Lindblad Expeditions’ 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavor II visits the Galápagos Islands year-round. Ten-day itineraries provide time in the setting that inspired Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. Onboard naturalists and National Geographic-certified photographers guide excursions to hike among endemic lava lizards or snorkel with sea lions.

GIVE BACK Helping kids cultivate a sense of gratitude is a long-term objective in the parent playbook. But making time for philanthropy while you’re vacationing can be a powerful promoter of the practice. Travel operators in remote regions, such as Aqua Expeditions, which cruises the Amazon River, encourage visitors to bring school supplies for children they’ll encounter in villages. Others organize more in-depth involvement that may span several days or perhaps an entire trip.

CLOSE TO HOME: The 181-room Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo operates a robust outreach program to support local communities. Guests can volunteer with students by reading to classes, teaching arts and crafts, helping with school maintenance – even playing soccer. FARTHER-FLUNG: Abercrombie & Kent runs an entire charitable arm dedicated to improving communities where it operates. As part of its 28 philanthropic projects spread across seven continents, travelers can visit a center in New Zealand dedicated to preserving the endangered kiwi bird or tour Zambia’s Nakatindi Village by bike as a way of patronizing shops set up by the charity to provide transportation to villagers and improve the local economy.

GET TO THE ROOT OF IT Before the kids leave home, explore your family history together. The experience is bonding for everyone and teaches children to appreciate where they came from and who helped get them there. Consider a heritage trip so teens learn about their roots and gain perspective on their identity before heading off to college.

Contact me for an educational travel experience the whole family will love!

Article excerpts above by Elaine Glusac for


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