Guest Post: Traveling with Tweens and Early Teens

As anyone who survived middle school may recall, life between the ages of 11 and 14 is an awkward time. You’re happy, then you’re angry, then you’re sad (and sometimes it’s a mix of all all three feelings at once). One minute you really need your mom, and ten minutes later you wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room with her. Put all those hormones in a car, add gasoline, and you may just have a catalyst for road trip misery.

Or not.

With some careful planning and realistic parenting expectation our friends Pace and Kyeli, the voices behind Connection Revolution, survived a fortnight on the road with with an almost 13-year-old—and loved nearly every minute of it. Here’s their story:

Over a two-week period in December, my wife Pace and I drove 4,500 miles (from Austin, Texas to Portland, Oregon) with our nearly-13-year-old son, Dru.

The amazing thing? All three of us had an awesome trip the entire way.

Planning ahead, keeping things flexible, making sure our son felt heard and important, and giving him as much decision-making power as possible were key in keeping the three of us sane for our epic journey across the Wild West.

With an older and only kid, we couldn’t rely on many of the tried-and-true methods of car entertainment.  He’s too old for “I Spy” (except on certain occasions when I can cajole him into playing with me), and he doesn’t have a sibling to keep him occupied.  As the trip approached, the three of us talked about what we could do to keep ourselves entertained and happy. We made a list of things we could do all together, and we got creative.

  • we created a short role-playing campaign, where two of us were the storytellers and one of us was the player (it was a murder mystery set at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter universe!)
  • we got some Brain Quest cards and took turns quizzing each other.
  • we played a few of our silly wait-in-line games
  • we loaded up his iPod with his favorite music
  • we bought a good pair of binoculars for stargazing and sight-seeing

We also asked on Twitter and Facebook for some good places to take an almost-teen.  We researched parks beforehand, to make sure they would be open while we were passing through (especially since we were traveling during the holiday season), and to make sure they would interest him.

Older kids are in the weird space of being not-really-children but not-really-adults, and they often get surly because they feel uncomfortable in that space—and because they feel like their opinions are valid, but are being ignored.  So we gave Dru a voice.  We let him pick where we went as often as possible.  We made food decisions as a family.  We let him have the choice of what sights we saw.  We made a budget for spontaneous side-of-the-road things, and let him spend it on whatever random thing caught his eye.  We made sure Dru felt heard even when we outvoted him or couldn’t do his chosen activity, and we had smooth sailing the entire trip.

We also planned enough time for padding. When Dru got sick for three days, we only missed out on a couple of things, because we’d built extra wiggle-room into our trip. It’s important to keep things as flexible as possible when you’re traveling with kids, because the unplanned will inevitably occur and you don’t want a fever to ruin your entire trip.

We gave ourselves time to do things separately, too. We stayed with a friend who has kids for a few days, during which Pace and I had dinner out without Dru and he got to play with new friends without us around. It was a welcome breather for all of us.

And lastly, we gave ourselves permission to get annoyed with each other. We started off the trip by acknowledging that we were about to live out of our car for a full two weeks together, with no bedrooms to hide out in and no way to really tune each other out. We went into it knowing that there would be times when we’d bug each other, but we love each other and we all want to have fun, so we agreed to work it out when such things would happen instead of stewing and letting our anger build up. Then, we stuck to that agreement.

We had a whirlwind adventure; we were 800 feet below ground in the Carlsbad Caverns, 8,000 feet above sea-level in the Rocky Mountains, we saw giant ancient trees and new budding saplings, we watched a pair of elk battle for territory, we saw shooting stars and ghost towns, we dealt with fever and downpours and tiny winding mountain roads in the dark—and we had a wonderful, unforgettable journey, together as a family.

Bio: Kyeli Smith is co-leader of the Connection Revolution, teaching people to change the world through connection. She writes, blogs, and teaches workshops to foster understanding, tolerance, healing, authentic communication, and personal growth. She’s happily married to Pace, her partner in life and in business, and the proud and happy mom of Dru, who finally became a teenager in January!

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine,, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at