When my kids were little and we went on trips, I envied the parents of teens. “They have it easy,” I thought. “No diapers. No car seats. No listening to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ play on repeat.”
Me in the airport: Desperately trying to breastfeed without flashing anyone. Them in the airport: Peacefully reading magazines while their teens listened to music on their earbuds.
Well, I’ve got news for my former self: Be careful what you wish for. Now I’m the mom traveling with teenagers — only it’s not the simplistic experience I predicted.
Being in the middle of a pandemic complicates everything, of course. My fully-vaccinated family errs on the side of caution, but this August, we did take a four-day trip to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas to research a book I was writing.
The first problem I encountered while traveling with teens is that they sleep like vampires. If you wake them up bright and early with a chipper, “Let’s get on the road, people,” they might assault you with pillows.
Once you finally roll them out of bed, feed them lunch and climb into the car, you encounter problem No. 2, the aforementioned earbuds. As soon as they’re trapped in the car, they’ll say, “Sorry, Mom, I can’t hear you.” If you offer to sync their music onto Bluetooth, they’ll decline because: “You wouldn’t understand my playlist.”
Traveling with babies in diapers is rough, but do you know what’s also hard? Road-tripping with tween girls who have exceedingly high standards for public restrooms. Problem No. 3 is the existence of port-a-potties. (Use your imagination on this one).
Challenge number four is dining without the price cushion of kids’ meals. You don’t need the $38 cedar salmon when the $9 salmon and steamed broccoli on the kids’ menu looks just as good, but they won’t give it too you because you’re too old. Meanwhile, your teenager scarfs down an $18 hamburger and is still hungry.
The fifth and final challenge of traveling with teens is the absolute hardest — the passage of time. It’s closing your eyes in the hotel room and trying not to calculate how many more family trips are left. “Is this it?” you wonder. “Is this our last big trip as a family?”
For me personally, the Olympic Peninsula is full of golden memories. That time we hiked in Hoh Rain Forest, my son in the baby backpack. A trip up to Hurricane Ridge that we said we’d repeat but have never done again. Flying kites at Ocean Shores. Dipping into Sol Duc Hot Springs. Camping at Kalaloch with the elk. Stopping in Forks to visit Bella Swan’s trucks from the Twilight franchise. Every trip has been memory-rich.
Now, traveling with teenagers, I can count on my hand how many vacations we have left as a family. That’s hard. It might not be as difficult as traveling with a toddler, but it’s still a challenge that cuts deep.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.