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The Age-Appropriate Vacation | T+ L Family

This calls for preemptive thinking. The first salvo: Get the kids involved in the planning stages so they have a stake in the trip—and fewer reasons to blame you when boredom sets in. Browse online together and watch movies filmed at your destination. Don't be surprised, though, if their ideas of must-see attractions—graves of rock stars, sites of notorious crimes—vary widely from yours (which, to them, sound like a forced march through the Musée d'Ennui). To boost the happiness quotient, consider allowing your teen to bring along a friend, and let the two of them, from time to time, strike out on their own.

Volunteer for a Vacation

Want an inexpensive—and deeply satisfying—way to see the world?Wield hammers and power tools for a family in need. Habitat for Humanity (800/422-4828; www.habitat.org) gives volunteers the chance to help build decent, low-cost housing everywhere from the Gulf Coast to Alaska to Tajikistan. Participants have nights off and opportunities during the day to explore their surroundings. One- to two-week trips start at $800 per person in the States, and $1,000 overseas, including food, lodging (often in hotels, but occasionally on cots in schools), and local transportation. Volunteers in Costa Rica and Peru with Cross-Cultural Solutions (800/380-4777; www.crossculturalsolutions.org; one-week trips for family of four from $6,380) assist elementary-school teachers and help people with disabilities—as well as take Spanish classes, explore archaeological sites, and learn to salsa.

Head for a Teen-Centric Resort

Now that hotels have wooed grade-schoolers with kids' clubs and check-in treats, they're out to win the loyalty of their older siblings (who, after all, will soon be paying customers). Pinehurst (800/487-4653; www.pinehurst.com; doubles from $316), the North Carolina golf resort, has a TeenSpa with a menu of facials, massages, and sports training sessions. Family golf packages include a lesson, rental clubs, end-of-day tee times (hence no pressure to keep up the pace), and use of the driving range. San Diego's Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa (800/235-6397; www.loewshotels.com; doubles from $265) gives teens goody bags (with a disposable camera, photo journal, wristband that entitles them to free sodas, and list of things to do in the area) and encourages them to blow their allowances in a new surf-themed spa treatment room.

Expedite an Expedition

Outfitters have their eye on young adults and their hapless parents. Butterfield & Robinson (800/678-1147; www.butterfield.com; nine-day trip for family of four from $15,980), which specializes in deluxe trips, has two bike tours aimed at the 15 and older set: one traces the Baltic Coast, the other Spain's Camino de Santiago. Thomson Family Adventures (800/262-6255; www.familyadventures.com; 19-day trip for family of four from $28,160) leads a challenging Kilimanjaro trek for clans with kids 12 and up.

Think Urban

As Petula Clark sang: "Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty/How can you lose?" London is especially easy. Book a suite at the Emperors Gate or Knaresborough Place (44-20/ 7244-8409; www.apartment-hotels.com; suites from $180, two-night minimum), adjacent short-stay properties in Kensington. Take a spin through Hyde Park on Rollerblades: Citiskate (44-20/7731-4999; www.citiskate.co.uk) hosts Friday-night and Saturday-morning sightseeing skates. Catch the tube to Camden Town to shop the outdoor markets (www.camdenlock.net; most open daily) for vintage clothes and one-off duds by emerging designers. And sneak in a museum: the Victoria & Albert (44-20/7942-2211; www.vam.ac.uk) runs one-day design and jewelry-making workshops, $18 each, for 11- to 18-year-olds; parents need not apply.

Be Fresh

Don't be afraid to think exotic with your know-it-all offspring. Foreign destinations or untried activities (skydiving?) level the playing field for everyone.


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