Surefire tips for travelling with teens

Only the masochists among us attempt road trips with teenagers, right? But as Deb Dickson-Smith recalls, it can go a hell of a lot smoother with these tried-and-tested tips. 

Travelling with teenagers is a challenge at the best of times.

We’ve grown up with road trips, from annual trips to our favourite camp sites, to visiting grandparents on the NSW north coast. After all, the family road trip is an Aussie tradition, so it’s hardly unusual, although not without challenges. When the kids were younger we had to worry about toilet stops and motion sickness, boredom and endless Wiggles DVDs.

Now the kids are teens, boredom still exists, but teens are usually capable of entertaining themselves with various mobile devices. So, the main issue is power. And 3G. And space. Here are my top tips for surviving a road trip with teens.

Happiness on the road is often directly proportionate to the amount of space teenagers are given.

1. Space. First of all (and I know this is OBVIOUS), the main difference between travelling with teens as opposed to say, toddlers, is that they are bigger. So, you’re going to need a bigger car.

On a recent road trip to Forster and Yamba, we found the Nissan Pathfinder a pretty good fit. The seven-seater has plenty of room for leggy teens to spread out without arguing about personal space, enough charging points for multiple mobile devices, cup holders by every seat and even seat-back entertainment.

A fantastic sound system will help the whole family enjoy each other's playlists.

2. Sound System. One of the perks of a road trip with teens is that you don’t need to listen to the Wiggles, which is worth celebrating. In fact, as the teens will probably each have their own state-of-the-art headphones, you don’t have to listen to anything.

However, it’s nice to share the experience, and music-loving teens will quite often want to share their latest ‘finds’ with each other, so it’s great to have a sound-system that will sync to a number of devices. The Pathfinder’s sound system can sync to numerous mobile devices, with access to apps including iTunes and Spotify. In fact, I think this car was actually designed with teenagers in mind.

A long car trip is a perfect time to catch up on a TV series.

3. Entertainment. It seems when kids turn 13, there’s less of a need to watch movies or play games en-route, so laptops and iPads become less of a necessity. However, it’s still not a bad idea to keep them handy, especially when driving for over five hours.

The Pathfinder has video displays behind the two front seats, which can be played individually, so no need for everyone to watch the same thing, with movies accessed via USB, HDMI, or a DVD player on the dashboard.

Think about a plan for charging up your devices. Your sanity will thank you for it.

4. Power. Mobile devices chew up battery power, especially when you’re using the same device to listen to music, watch YouTube clips, take photos and videos and share them with your mates on Snapchat, simultaneously. First of all, make sure everyone has fully charged devices before you set off, and take along a couple of mobile chargers.

One of the great things about the Pathfinder is that it has multiple USB charging ports – front and back. Enough for all of our devices to maintain enough charge for our first long haul from Sydney to Forster.

Your selfie game will improve overnight.

5. Selfie stops. Don’t beat them, join them and have some fun. Be sure to find some time for the kitsch (maybe the Big Prawn in Ballina) and the sublime (Bennett’s Headland in Forster) along the way so that you make the most of your time on the road together.

You need your GPS working to find these kinds of gems.

6. Directions. Make sure you set your destination on the GPS (or one of the available devices) before the console gets taken over by playlists. It’s not a bad idea to assign the task of navigation to one of your passengers; just make sure you choose someone who’s likely to pay attention and not get side-tracked by YouTube. The GPS in the Pathfinder operates in the background while the music’s playing, chiming in every now and then if there’s a change of direction ahead.

Amazing how often a really good coffee can change your day.

7. Coffee stops. There really isn’t a great choice of food stops on the highway – any highway. If you can, make time to get off the highway and find a café – or better still, a market – in one of the sleepy little country towns along the way.

It's not hard to see why Great Lakes is such a popular BIG4 park.

8. Where to stay. Whether it’s along the way or at your destination, the best options for accommodation with a family of teens is a holiday park. We stayed at BIG4 Great Lakes at Forster Tuncurry and BIG4 Saltwater @ Yamba Holiday Park.

In Forster, Great Lakes has a lap pool, water park and obligatory giant bouncing pillow as well as a café that serves pretty good coffee, with live entertainment in peak periods. While we chose a cabin, the park recently introduced luxurious glamping-style tents, which would have been a better choice for long-legged teens.

You'll be spoilt with luxury if you stay in Yamba as well.
The park's grounds are lush.

BIG4 Saltwater has a completely different feel to it. Located a few kilometres from town, this peaceful holiday park is like a little riverside retreat. The shady park has an adventure playground, large water park and an outdoor cinema. During peak periods the park invites local food trucks to set up shop, including Flour & Water wood fired pizza, Pocket Curries and Ed’s Little Boy Brisket, and there’s quite often live entertainment.

Feeling brave now? Nothing connects families like a break in a BIG4 holiday park. 

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