And just as Harry learned a thing or two at Hogwarts, we learned some valuable lessons about road tripping with teens on this journey. I figured this may help you on your next trip with older ‘kids’, so here they are:
The adventure begins: In our case, getting to the theme park would mean a seven or so hour drive, and we wanted everyone in the car together, so we piled into an eight-seater Expedition (the Platinum edition) that Ford set up for us to put to the test (they said review, I said put to the test, because we seriously challenged it in every way). This was ideal for us for a variety of reasons, and is an important lesson for you if you’re making a party of your next road trip.
Lesson number one: Comfort counts. With all but one of us being pretty much adult-sized, we were a little worried about space, but that wasn’t necessary. We piled into what ended up being a very comfortable ride, with three rows of leather seats (heated and cooled not only for driver and front passenger, but also for the first row in the back). No complaints about leg room here, thank goodness.
As for packing, that’s lesson number two: less is more. We told everyone who came along that they could bring a backpack for this three day adventure. No more. And we managed to get those backpacks into the cargo space of this Expedition (Platinum Edition). No need to pull off some magical spell to fit everything in, along with the people.
Lesson number three: power matters. Check the vehicle for ways to keep their devices charged. With multiple USB outlets and electrical adaptors, we stayed charged up on our devices, keeping in touch with the friends back home who had to miss the trip. Of course, you can try to make it a device-free trip, but I wasn’t ready for that battle with this bunch.
Lesson number four: Feed them when they’re hungry. We learned fast that when people don’t eat when they need to, everything else comes apart fast…they morph into not-so-nice people, just like he-who-must-not-be-named. If you want to keep the drama to a minimum, stop often for snacks and bathroom breaks. Just sayin’. If you want a little help finding the right stop, the Ford vehicles are like little Hermione—a helpful know-it-all (said with all kinds of respect to Hermione)—thanks to the Ford SYNC in-car communications and entertainment system that has smart features that allow for quick searches. In our case, it came equipped with popular apps such as Domino’s, Spotify, and Pandora via AppLink that can ensure the drive is fun and interactive, from finding the food they crave to the music they listen to. The Expedition even had voice-activated controls, which brings me to our next lesson.
Lesson number five: Do as I say, and as I do. Set a good driving example for all the eyes watching you from the back. Keep YOUR eyes on the road, and utilize the extra features that make you safer, such as Blind Spot Information System, Cross Traffic Alerts and Active Park Assist (all of which helped on our trip in the Expedition). And, we tell our kids all the time not to text and drive…it’s important for us to do what we say, especially when they’re watching.
Lesson number six: Repeat lesson number two: less is more. Once you arrive, leave time to relax. We had a lot of fun to pack into just a little time, but still found a few hours to just sit by the pool at Cabana Bay, take part in water balloon contests and celebrate the birthday boy.
Our family expedition took us beyond Diagon Alley…by train over to Hogwarts…then all over the world within the parks, and even an Italian waterfront when we switched hotels.
I admit we had hiccups along the way, but we got through them to create what I consider a memorable trip, especially in our party-mobile (complete with ambient lighting options…yep–that’s part of the Expedition, too).
Want some other trips for your next adventure? Ford and Ciao Bambino (an award-winning family travel guide & family vacation planning service) teamed up to offer advice to families taking road trips with teens… they agree with all of the above, along with these additional suggestions:
Include Teens in Family Vacation Planning
The best trips include something for everyone in the family. Talk to your teen before mapping out the trip. They don’t get to call the shots, but letting them be involved and make some choices will help build excitement about the trip. Whether it’s helping narrow down activities and tours or picking a hotel with a pool, having a say in the planning makes it harder to complain when you’re in motion.
Keep Teens Connected
If you let your teen use popular social media like Instagram and Snapchat at home, don’t suddenly change the rules on vacation. Ford found that 65% of “Gen Z” respondents like to share something funny they saw on social media more than anything else.* So let them talk to their friends – if you’ve done your road trip homework, there’s a good chance they are bragging, I mean, sharing the adventure with their friends.
Room to Roam
Days in the car need to be balanced with time to stretch your legs. That applies to everyone in the family, not just mom and dad. Try to factor in room to roam when you choose a hotel or resort to spend the night after a long day on the road. Learning about the property’s grounds in advance will help determine how much freedom your teen will have during your stay. At some locations, within hours of your arrival, a majority of the staff will recognize and most likely even know your child’s name, which allows for more freedom and independence so that a teen can wander freely – with watchful, caring eyes everywhere.
One of the biggest differences between a teenager and the school-age set is that teens don’t need – or more importantly want – their days scheduled from start to finish. Whereas little ones love being busy and thrive going from arts and crafts to scavenger hunts to puppet shows, teens are happy to do a lot of well, nothing. Whether it’s floating in a pool, or seeing a movie after a long day on your feet, the best trips leave time to relax. Sleeping in is one of the best things about vacation. If your kids are sleepers, give them time to do it. Some days you’ll need to be up and moving early, just make sure it doesn’t become a daily occurrence. If you are a morning person, learn to cherish the “me” time.
*Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), an independent research company, conducted a poll on behalf of Ford Motor Company among 1,000 Generation Z (aged 16-22) and Generation Y (aged 23-34) respondents in the U.S. The online survey was conducted between April 29 to May 4, 2015. The margin of error for this poll is +/- 3.1%.
My bottom line: HAVE FUN! Remember, these kids aren’t going to want to travel with you forever, so make it enjoyable for as long as you can on whatever expeditions you take together! And be safe. It’s good if you avoid the boys in blue…or black…like below.
More details on the 2015 Expedition Platinum 4×2 edition:
MSRP base: $57,950, loaded with destination and delivery: $61,720.00
Ruby Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat, Platinum Ebony Leather Bucket Seats
Engine: 3.5L V6 EcoBoost
Transmission: 6-speed select shift automatic