How to survive a road trip with teenagers

Alternate title: how I drove over a thousand miles with three teenagers and managed to not completely lose my mind or abandon them on a highway

We have just got back from our CleasbysAmericanAdventure, a two week road trip from Long Beach up the Western coast of America to San Francisco and it has been a blast! But as any parent of teenagers can imagine, there were times when traveling in a car with 13, 15 and 17 year olds wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. There were tears, shouting and tantrums and that was just me!

I adore my kids, but honestly, sometimes parenting teenagers can be challenging and putting a family into a tin box of an SUV for 14 days becomes a bit of a pressure cooker situation, but hooray! We survived it! And so I thought I would put down a few of the lessons learnt from road tripping with the family.

surviving a roadtrip with teens

Space matters

Whether it is in the car or a hotel, space matters. Go for the biggest car you can afford, squashing multiple teens into the back of a mini is asking for trouble! If possible, can you get a car with two back rows? We went for a medium sized SUV, basically the biggest we could get on our budget and to be honest, it was still quite small.  This meant daily arguments of who went in the middle, who was touching whose leg, who was breathing in an annoying way…

Move around, let them swap seats for different sections of the journey, I also sat in the back sometimes making sure each of them got (equal) amounts of time in the front passenger seat.  This actually was quite nice, it gave Timm a change in front seat buddy, a new DJ and I got to hang out and chat with the other two.

The same goes with accommodation, due to us being a family of 5 it can be tough on a budget.  We tried to get family rooms or airbnb apartments but this still tended to mean two double beds and a single meaning two of them had to share… You honestly would have thought we’d asked them to tear off their faces and rub them in salt rather than to share a sleeping space with a sibling.

In hindsight I wish we’d paid more attention to this, as the air bnbs where everyone had their own bed were so much more peaceful!

Your idea of relaxing and theirs may be completely different – and that’s OK!

So imagine the scene, we pull up to a buffalo ranch, like actual real life buffalos are roaming in the garden, it’s the most beautiful site I have ever seen.  The house we are staying in looks like it’s from an old western movie and we are surrounded by trees, animals, sky and little else.  It was amazing and I was so proud that Id found this hidden gem.  We quickly unpack and I am raring to get out and enjoy the views, I grab a sun hat, a g&t and a book and head to the garden to take in the awe inspiring beauty.

I look around, waiting for the teens to join me, after all what else would they want to do? But they are no where to be seen! Have they fallen down a well? Has a buffalo gored them and are they lying injured calling to Lassie to find me? No.  The little shits are all in their own beds, searching for the internet code, watching youtube, playing computer games and messaging their mates.

For a moment, I was FUMING.  Were they taking the piss?? We’d brought them to the most heavenly place, I had been planning this for months and they wanted to lay in bed on phones and ipads??? THE UNGRATEFUL LITTLE SHITS!!!!

Then I took a breath.  I remembered that we had all been together for the past 6 hours in a car, we’d stopped at multiple view points where they’d trailed out of the car and posed for photos at the spots I loved.  I remembered that for me, relaxing is sitting in the sun and reading a book but that for them, it was chatting with their mates or playing a game and I realised that is all ok.  We can have chill out time in our own ways, whether I understand them or not.

surviving a roadtrip with teens

Electronics – yes or no?

Do you have a total ban on phones/laptops/ipads on your road trip? Well if you do, you are a better person than I am.  Honestly, the devices saved all of our sanity and kept them happy.

I don’t allow electronics at the dinner table, that’s my only rule and they were left in the house when we were on days out, but otherwise I let them amuse themselves with their devices.

Also there were times where I just wanted to scroll through Instagram and look on pinterest and so it would have been a bit hypocritical! And teenagers can sniff out hypocrisy and unfairness at a mile away!

On a similar note; find the wifi codes asap, they are the best currency you will ever have.

surviving a roadtrip with teens

Ask for their ideas

Get them involved in the planning stages, ask them where they want to go, what they want to do. I got mine to do a bit of research and let me know their ideas.  A family holiday with teens is nothing like a holiday with younger kids where they go and do whatever you want, this should be a collaboration.  If you want them to go see a bridge you want to see, then expect to do something they want to do too.

As it happens, my kids ideas ended up being some of the best days out.  They all wanted to go to Universal Studios and to be honest, this is not mine or Timm’s idea of a good day out, but it was the only thing the three of them agreed on and so we went for it, and it was joyous!! We all had an absolute blast and they appreciated that we listened to them.

Other examples were the Getty Museum, the Queen Mary ‘haunted’ ship and breakfast at Denny’s – all brilliant times and things we may not have thought of otherwise.

The joy of teens is they’re (usually) OK to be left alone for a while!

I have done my time of having a child attached to my hip 24 hours a day, those days are passed and now I can leave them for periods of time. Praise be!

When we rolled into Santa Cruz after a long day of travelling and sight seeing at around 8pm, the kids groaned and flopped onto beds and put the TV on. Timm and I needed to stretch our legs and not watch repeats of Seinfeld and so we left them in the motel and headed out for a few hours.

I do still worry about leaving them, especially in another country, but the eldest is almost 18! We left them with a phone and instructions to not open the door and to call us if they needed anything and went out.  When we got back a couple of hours later, they literally hadn’t moved a muscle.  And we’d had a nice time!

surviving a roadtrip with teens

Cold, hard cash

Before we went away, we explained to the kids that we would be buying everything we needed and a few treats thrown in but if they wanted to buy extra things then they needed to make sure they had their own cash.  We gave them plenty of warning for this to save wages/spending money and then gave them free reign to spend their own money as they wanted.

This meant that the eldest had £300 whilst the youngest had £30 but it worked for us, there wasn’t any unfairness as it was money they’d all earned separately. (The youngest does chores for weekly spending money, the middle one did some extra jobs to earn spends and the eldest works in a bar/restaurant so had his wages).

We still treated them, they all got a Harry Potter wand from Universal courtesy of us and we bought American candy and obviously all food/drinks/treats but it meant we weren’t having to say ‘no’, we were saying ‘can you afford it?’

Get used to listening to them talk crap

This may sound harsh, but it is true. At least in my family! I spent two weeks listening to them bang on about this youtuber and why he is amazing, and that computer game and detailed explanations of the best ways to smash level 57.  I’ve heard about how Jack and Leonie did it at Julia’s party but Jess told Simon that Louis had smoked weed and passed out in Bella’s sister’s bed…

There were times when I smiled and nodded but inside I was imagining what it would be like if I ever met Oprah and how we would become BFFs, but there were other times when I revelled in these glimpses into the usually unseen and unheard lives of my kids. Times where it was wonderful to have the time to lie on the beach chatting to my kids rather than rushing about trying to juggle work, housework and life in general.

Have some idea of a plan. And then ignore the plan

I am a planner, I love to organise and to find new and exciting things for us to do, Ive spent the last few months on pinterest scouring the internet for all the best places we could go and I had a general plan for each day we were away.  I do this because I don’t want to miss out on anything that we would regret later. BUT it is also important to not stick so strictly to a plan that any spontaneity goes out of the window.

There will be hiccups along the way, days when your plan just doesn’t work out, or when you find something so much better! Especially if you are disabled or have a chronic illness, there were lots of times during our holiday when I just wasn’t well enough to do the things we’d planned.  I could have let this get me down but instead I tried to just go with the flow, my kids have grown up with my illness and are aware of my limitations and so sometimes you just have to give in to it.

surviving a roadtrip with teens

Enjoy them

I may sound like the teens are a thorn in my side, that holidaying with them was a chore. This simply isn’t true, I have adored spending time with them as a family unit but also one to one.  Yes, there have been times where their arguing over whose leg was slightly over the imagined barrier between them in the car or when they take forever in the shower whilst you are all queuing for the same bathroom, but I have loved it as a whole.

Someone who’s kids were all grown up once told me “You never know when it’s your last” – be that last time they get in your bed after a nightmare, the last time they hold your hand to cross the road, the last time they genuinely care about your opinion on whether they should wear that outfit.  And for us, this feels like it could be the last time we all have a big holiday together as our family dimensions stand right now.

In three weeks, my eldest turns 18.  He will be an adult, legally responsible for himself and who knows where life will take him, and so I made sure I enjoyed the time we had together, as I have no idea when it will be my last with him.


So there you go, I hope some of this helps! I think the main thing is to remember that you are privileged to be going on holiday and so try and make the most of every moment.  I love to travel and wish we could do it more, so despite the fractious times, I knew that in no time at all, it would all be over and we would be back to normal life, work, school, college.  Busy lives where sometimes we don’t have enough time for one another, so if you are planning a trip, have a blast and enjoy it!

Sam xx

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