Over this past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take a few of my kids away alone, which is an extra special treat as a mom of four. But really, we parents know that it’s a special treat no matter how many kids you have. As my kids (and I) get older, our schedules seem to get a whole lot busier, and their friends become increasingly important to them (which hey, that’s a good thing), finding time to connect seems to happen on our long drives to sports, or when they need me to get them something at the mall. Basically, not as much as I would like.
So I decided that I would do my best to try to take them on a weekend trip somewhere alone. With just me. Just this past December, I took my 13-year old son to Minneapolis. And last fall, I enjoyed a quick trip to Dallas with my 11-year old, courtesy of Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. I learned so much during both of these trips that I wanted to share my thoughts on making the most out of those precious 48 hours with your tween and teen.
Related: Travel to Iceland with teens – What you need know
1. Exotic location not required. I don’t think anyone living in Minneapolis or Dallas would be offended if I said neither place would be considered exotic. In fact, they’re not often the hottest vacation destinations. Particularly Minneapolis in December. But with my son being a Flyers fan, who happened to be playing the Wild that weekend in St. Paul, I figured it would be pretty fun. And the State Fair in Dallas might not be considered by some to be a huge draw for an out-of-towner, let me tell you that after a couple of handfuls of deep-fried spaghetti and Snickers bars, you might just change your mind.
Bonus: Off-the-beaten path cities are much more affordable, not just in the airfare, but also in the hotel accommodations as well. For example, The Holiday Inn (where kids stay and eat free – score!) and Holiday Inn Express (which offers a complimentary breakfast) were under $100 a night (the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Dallas – Love Field I stayed at is currently $75/night!), with rooms that are spacious for just you and one kid (good to keep in mind when you’re traveling with your entire family).
Related: 5 budget tips to help you save money on your next family trip
2. Get creative. You’ll find no shortage of fun things to do in whatever city you visit, whether it’s a big, popular tourist destination, or not. We caught a Wild game at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, and enjoyed the amazing Perot Science Museum, above (thanks for the tickets, Alice!) in Dallas, both of which are known spots for visitors. But, sometimes it’s fun to get a little creative, particularly if your kids are older or if museums and “looking at the cool buildings” isn’t really their thing. That might mean coming up with your own game or contest (who can spot the most cowboy hats) or just doing something that you might never do at home.
Alas, we did not try the Alligator Eggs Nest but…
During our time in Dallas, my daughter and I decided to find as many unique fried foods as we could at the State Fair. While we didn’t try them all (hello, belly ache), it was a fun adventure as we were freezing our butts off between rides. While I was in Minneapolis, my son and I decided to try foods and eateries that were specific to the city. We also played mini-golf at the Mall of America, which was actually super fun, and something we probably wouldn’t have tried at home.
Related: Pro tips for saving money on family travel (they really work)
3. Put your phones down. I’m not sure about you, but my tweens and teens are pretty connected these days. They use a computer at school. They text with their friends. They make non-stop TikTok videos. And well, I work online all day. Gadgets are my life as well. So one thing I decided was that after our plane rides, we were going to take a break from our phones, and just enjoy each others’ company. This was actually easier for me than it was for my kids, but in the end, I do really think it helped us make the most out of our time.
4. Build in some downtime. The no-phone rule was made easier by the fact that we did have some built-in downtime where phones were allowed. After long days walking around the mall (in both Dallas and Minneapolis – what is with teens and malls?), it was nice to just kick our feet up and take a look at what we missed on Instagram. Or, like we did, rewatch the Marvel movies thanks to a Netflix hook-up on our hotel TV. While I did plan a few activities and events in both Minneapolis and Dallas (hello, Tex Mex), I made sure to allow for breaks where we could just lay around the hotel room and flip through the cable channels.
And it doesn’t just have to be at the hotel either. During our trip to Dallas, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express had a pop-up concert at Klyde Warren Park where we got to chill by the heaters, eat some snacks, and enjoy the music together, even though I had never heard of the musical artists.
5. Soak it up. If you’re busy taking photos of everything, or trying to point out all the history or cool buildings or whatever else it is we parents to do annoy our children, you might miss some quality moments with your kids. Without the distraction of their friends, their phone, their sports (and school), not to mention all your own distractions, there’s a lot of opportunity to just enjoy being together, whether that’s in the silence of the Lyft rides from place to place, or over dinner when you get to actually sit and talk with them about whatever it is they want to talk about. Let them take the lead, or ask them questions about things that have nothing to do with their life back at home, and you might be surprised at how open they’ll be.
Related: Paris with teens – Off the beaten path ideas for your vacation
When East Coasters get West, this is what happens!
I can’t emphasize how special time alone with your kids can be – for you and them. And while I know not everyone is as fortunate as I have been to be able to travel alone with your kids, these discoveries apply to everything from a movie night out (or in) alone, dinner for just the two of you, or honestly, that drive to and from hockey practice.
Thanks so much to Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express for hosting us in Dallas. They’re both such a great option for families looking to get away and reconnect. The trip to Minneapolis was not sponsored.