Teens’ Secrets to Planning the Best Vacation Ever

Struggling with how to please your teenage son or daughter in any endeavor, not just vacation planning?  I know that feeling well!  There’s just something about this time in a youngster’s life between childhood and adulthood that challenges any parent.

This entire website is dedicated to fun teen travel to and within various destinations, of course, but with the help of my teen daughter, Holly, I wanted to provide some all-encompassing tips for your family travel planning — no matter where you go or what you wish to accomplish.

Holly has already been to three countries and most every corner of the U.S.  She’s done mission trips, road trips with just her mom, multigenerational family excursions, a sailing or two, and the usual school outings.  If you’re like me, you want to have every tool in your trip planning arsenaI available to enjoy travel with your teen.  They will be busy with college and work before you know it!

Given the wanderlust she inherited from me, Holly was perfectly suited to compile a wealth of tips for parents to consider when planning and executing a fun family vacation, Totally Teen Travel style!  I hope you and your family can make good use of these tips (and acompanying convenience items)!


Teen clothes shopping

  • I love a brand-new wardrobe before vacation.  It makes me feel fresh and confident.
  • Road trip snacks are everything. Period.
  • The middle seat is always the worst seat on an airplane. Aisle seats are best for easy restroom access and window seats are for the view.
  • Comfy road trips are the best. Always remember blankets, pillows, and especially hoodies.

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  • A cold car is always better than a hot car.
  • Museums are great for teenagers, but think twice before taking a teen to a little kids’ museum or a museum that’s paragraph after paragraph of text.
  • Teens are awkward, insecure, and anxious, so please avoid big crowds.

Crowds Vacation Planning

  • Sometimes the coolest attractions are the most obscure. (Example: Glass blowing is so much fun to watch and way relaxing)
  • There should be at least one day on a vacation where everything is up in the air. Like a no-plans day where you can explore the place and do stuff on the go.

  • Stick to local restaurants with a signature style of food. It’s nice to order something in to a hotel room, but do focus on trying to get the taste of the city.

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  • Just because something is cell phone related doesn’t mean a teen is gonna love it.  Focus on their interests, like hobbies or sports.
  • Anything that a teen’s favorite celebrity, band or athlete is associated with, they’ll love it.
  • Live performances, concerts, plays, and musicals are everything.

  • Sometimes teens just want to run off and explore places.
  • I myself love to spend money on vacation, because I know very soon I’ll have to be really careful with my money paying bills and any school tuition.

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  • Homesickness is always going to occur.  It’s best just to let a teen mope for a hot second.
  • It’s really reassuring to at least know someone before going to a place so they can help with directions, tips, and suggestions.
  • Teens like to overpack because we want to make sure everything will go as planned.

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  • Scenic places are the best to just have a day and relax, like camping in the woods or sunbathing at the beach.
  • The best public pools have water slides and diving boards.

  • Vacationing during school is risky… even if your teen looks relaxed, they’re probably stressing over all the work they’re missing.

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  • It’s always nice to have a way to know the state of the house while on vacation, like a house-sitter or nanny cam, to make sure everything is okay and any pets are well fed.

Teen and Dog Vacation Planning

  • Schedules help a lot.  Teens (including myself) have a hard time remembering everything like times and dates.

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  • Replicas are cool, but the real deal (if available to the public) is always the way to go.
  • When at a hotel, teens enjoy their own bed to stretch out and roll around care-free at night.
  • It’s always fun to do little things on vacation that normally isn’t done at home like get ice cream out, or go to parks or go to bookstores.

  • There shouldn’t be any regulations to how much food can be eaten or how much sleep can be slept.  Vacations are a break away from daily life.
  • Quarter machines are much more fun than they may seem.  The satisfaction of getting a random object is really cool.
  • Vending machines are always great, but the only problem is there are too many options…

vending machine vacation planning

  • Summer equals no dress codes.  Go crop tops, spaghetti straps and sleeveless shirts!

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  • If at all possible, don’t take me any place with an overabundance of little children.
  • Gum.

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Do you or your teens agree with this list?  What would you add to it?  Let me know in the comments!

My favorite thing about Tucson is its designation by someone, somewhere, as the Mexican Food Capital of the World.  Seriously!  (Think about that for a second!)

Can you find the Mexican food?

As a family we enjoy trying different world cuisines frequently, but Lordamercy, as delicious as Chinese, French, Italian, and others may be… there is simply nothing to beat the divine flavors of a truly authentic Mexican meal.  If you agree and would like to explore the infinite possibilities of Mexican food in Tucson, read on!

Taco Bell, which is only called “Mexican” by idiotic restaurant websites, is in many American towns the only pseudo Mexican fast food available.  Tucson, incredibly, also suffers from the odd Taco Bell.  When it’s fast and cheap Mexican you need, please consider the following substitutes, each of which blows Taco Bell and its ilk completely out of the water:
  • El Guero Canelo. The “Cinnamon Blond” has a few spots in town, including its unique, semi-outdoor original restaurant on South 12th  Sonoran style hot dogs are popular with the locals.  I love their carne asada (grilled steak) tacos and burritos, however.  They serve up the most amazing quesadillas, too, and feature a salsa bar loaded with the most mouth-watering salsas I have ever savored north of the border.
  • Nico’s also has a few taco shops around town. Nothing here is going to qualify as 5-star dining, but the scrumptious treats, which nearly overflow their Styrofoam containers, are bountifully covered with tasty yellow cheese.  Stop here for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and eat like a native!
  • Practice your high school Spanish at La Birrieria Guadalajara. Seriously, when I was there back in the 90’s, the order taker spoke no English.  Ni modo.  You can say “Burrito grande, por favor,” right? The sole stand of this cheap Mexican food mecca is to be found in the central part of town on 22nd
  • I have yet to try Aqui Con El Nene but I know trustworthy folks that have, and they rave about its quality, taste and great prices. Not to mention stuffed potatoes!
  • Chickenuevo
    Chickenuevo – so yummy!

    My kids would kill me if our first stop after flying to Tucson wasn’t Chickenuevo. It’s only a few blocks from the airport directly on the way into town.  Chickenuevo’s roasted chicken is just like the kind I enjoyed when I lived in Mexico – simply sublime.  The side dishes are so-so, but do try the roasted jalapeno served with your plate!


I should mention now that I utterly disdain the concept of high-end Mexican food.  I’ve never found any that can beat your average hole-in-the-wall for incredible flavor.   Please check listings on Yelp or Travel Advisor if you wish to find such outlets in Tucson.   Having said that, I’m happy to move somewhat upscale towards splurge territory.  Accordingly, I hereby offer additional Mexican food outlets that offer a bit of atmosphere in addition to yummy food:
  • Elvira’s has been in action somewhere in Northern Mexico/Southern Arizona for as long as I can remember. Their food is a bit on the stuffy side but it is still incredibly delicious.  They couple good food with a truly memorable ambiance.  If the budget allows it, by all means GO!
  • Mexican food is the staple at La Parrilla Suiza – don’t be fooled by the restaurant name’s translation of “The Swiss Grill” – this is a wonderful place to eat grub like you’d find in Mexico City.  I am particularly fond of their chilaquiles, which are tortilla chips smothered in a rich red enchilada sauce and melted cheese.  Their alambres de res (beef) or pollo (chicken) are also amazing.  You can enjoy them together as the best combo plate on the planet – #17 on their menu.

    Um… yum.
  • There are various “Molina” or “Molinito” restaurants scattered about town. Try googling the one term or the other and add “near me” when in Tucson to find your nearest iteration, which will be called Casa Molina, El Molinito, or Casita de Molina.  Whichever you choose, I heartily recommend the cheese crisp, which is a large flour tortilla covered with cheese.  Another local delicacy is the carne seca, which is beef that has been dried in the Tucson sun and rehydrated with spices.  Order it here in a burrito, and thank me later.
  • Poco and Mom’s serves up delectable New Mexico style Mexican food. Its Tanque Verde location is located in a cute southwestern-style shopping center directly on the way to either Sabino Canyon or Mount Lemmon.
  • If there’s one delight Tucsonans take almost as seriously as Mexican food, it’s steak. Both are served up in blissful harmony at downtown’s highly-rated Charro Steak.  I would strongly advise non-carnivores to examine the menu online ahead of time.


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Cincinnati – Awesome Places to Check Out

Home of almost a million folks, the “Queen City” enthralls visitors with its major league sports teams, unique food treats and special place in history.  This is the town that put the Underground Railroad on the map, nestled as it is for many miles against the mighty Ohio River.  Noteworthy is the city’s orientation on “Seven Hills,” many of which recall San Francisco due to the steepness and architectural history.  Cincinnati does love its Victorian houses!

Adult visitors will no doubt appreciate Cincinnati’s ever popular food and drink scene.  Never fear, though, my teenaged friends.  Here are some really rad things to do here:



Purple People Bridge:

Purple People Bridge
The Enquirer/Anna Bentley

The most interesting passage between northern Kentucky and the Central Business District (downtown) of Cincinnati picturesquely traverses the mighty Ohio River.  Pedestrian only, and only a half mile long, the officially named “Newport Southbank Bridge” is outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, call boxes for emergencies, and the always-there-when-you-need-’em trashcans.  What a fabulous way to introduce yourself to the city at your own pace and enjoy its glamorous panorama!


Good eatin'Graeter’s Ice Cream:  Folks, this is very likely the most incredible ice cream you will ever experience.  The proprietors use old-fashioned ice cream-making procedures, which, combined with the old-fashioned, pure ingredients, make a modern mouth as happy as could be!  Especially recommended are any flavors with chocolate chips.  If you do nothing else in Cincinnati, you cannot leave without experiencing truly remarkable Graeter’s.


Good eatin'Good (if pricy) eatin’ along the Ohio River:  Beg, borrow and plead with your folks to take you to one or all, which share gorgeous river views, remarkable food and terrific service:

A special treat that Cincinnatians are happy to indulge in is Montgomery Inn.  It’s most famous entrée is barbecued ribs (well, boiled ribs… served with barbecue sauce) that fall off the bone.  The sauce may be a bit sweeter than most people are used to.  It’s still very much worth trying; just hie to the bathroom after the meal’s over and brush your teeth right away.  The best thing about this Montgomery Inn location is its orientation right on the Ohio River.  There is good seating here with fabulous views of the river and beyond.

The Yard House is an upscale eatery with truly unique entrees, rock music to please your fuddy duddy parents and a fabulous vibe for the young and young-at-heart.  It’s a chain restaurant that’s perfect for splurging on very good food and enjoying all that the Cincinnati riverfront has to offer.

Continuing with the upscale eatery on the river theme, I had the pleasure of dining at Moerlein Lager House around the holidays when the extended family came to visit.  The convivial atmosphere and terrific views over the river were both conducive to good conversation, and the food was as good as any I’ve tried in the area.  It’s evident that a love of sports permeates the place, given its primo location between Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark.  Highly recommended!


CultureIndoorsCincinnati Music Hall:

View of the Music Hall from the park

I am positively giddy, because my mother-in-law has invited the kids and me to a chorale event in this freshly renovated, late nineteenth century architectural treasure next month.  It’s a given that the music will be phenomenal.  As to the building, and the source of my excitement?   To quote Otto M Budig, Jr: “This renovation will affirm Music Hall as one of the world’s greatest performance venues, celebrate the hall’s remarkable history, breathe new life and accessibility into the Music Hall experience and lay the foundation for a bright future. People from all over the country will look to Music Hall as one of the greatest renovations and restorations of this century.”


CultureIndoorsCincinnati Art Museum:   In May 1886, a permanent art museum was completed in Cincinnati and heralded worldwide as “The Art Palace of the West.”

Cincinnati Art Museum. Cavernous

Another really cool building, this one is nestled within the embrace of the aptly-named Eden Park.  This treasure trove houses thousands of pieces of fine art spanning centuries.  For lovers of art of all sorts, this is a must-see venue, which you can top off with a stroll around the gorgeous park.  There is no cost for general admission, and the museum strives to bust out of any stuffy mcstuffiness by appealing through its events and programs to teens and families.


SeasonalKing’s Island:   Is there a teenager anywhere in the tri-state area who hasn’t heard of all the delights on offer at this ginormous theme park just north of Cincinnati?   I’ve seriously lost count of the number of roller coasters on hand.  The Beast, my favorite, looms both very large… and very wooden.  When you are old enough to have witnessed the way wood deteriorates over time, well… let’s just say the fright engendered by this coaster is severely underrated.  The park is an easy drive from anywhere in the city, or plan a stay at a nearby motel.  Great Wolf Lodge, a magical treat for your little brother or sister, lies adjacent to the park.

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