We romanticize traveling with our children when they are young and impressionable, often glossing over the more, shall we say, frustrating aspects of that worthy parenting pursuit.
While it can be remarkable to show our wee ones the world, taking a vacation with young adults is where the long lasting memories are made.
These are the best family vacations to take with young adults while they’re in the sweet spot of their growing independence, still curious mind, expanding worldview, and as they are building the foundation of the full-fledged adults they will soon become.
1. Memphis, TN
Nashville gets all the glory, but don’t sleep on Memphis as a destination for a family vacation with young adults. Memphis, Tennessee, is home to the best style of BBQ on the planet and whether you prefer dry rub at Rendezvous, wet at Corky’s or the All-You-Can-Eat-Ribs special on Monday nights at Germantown Commissary in the ‘burbs, your taste in ribs and pulled pork will be forever heightened and nothing back home will ever satisfy in the same way! After you wet-wipe the BBQ sauce away, head out for some live music on Beale Street with your older kids to let them hear the roots of rock and roll. Finally, tour the stunning National Civil Rights Museum located inside the Lorraine Motel; this is one of the most emotional experiences in the whole of America and something every single citizen should do at least once, young adults especially.
When it opens in the fall of 2019, Central Station Hotel will become the premier accommodation choice in Memphis. The renowned century-old transportation hub on Main Street is being transformed into a luxury hotel that will have an expansive vinyl record collection in their Listening Lounge. Sounds like the ideal spot for you and your cool kid(s) to crash during a vacation in the birthplace of rock and roll!
Recommended Hotel: The Peabody Memphis
2. San Juan, PR
I recently took my youngest young adult to Puerto Rico for a dad and daughter photography trip. I knew of Old San Juan’s colorful buildings, delicious local cuisine, sea views and nearby El Yunque Rainforest, and knew she’d love all of it. What I didn’t know about was the adorable feral cat population that quickly would fill up her camera’s memory card and the manic joy of pigeon park, a section of the old city swarming with pigeons that will climb all over anyone ‘wise’ enough to buy and open a pack of feed. This is as a voluntary Hitchcockian situation that will delight your kid and probably freak you out.
Sanitize your hands and arms (and maybe your face, too), then move on to the sandy beaches near Old San Juan, the vibrant neighborhood of La Perla to wander on the edgy fringe of the safe old city, or the rainforest. El Yunque is one reason you’d want to rent a car for a day (the Hertz location located inside the Old San Juan Sheraton makes it easy). Spend that day hiking to a serene watering hole with a rope swing and lots of rocks to climb out into the river. At night, book a mind-blowing bioluminescent bay kayaking tour. There are only five spots on planet Earth to have this naturally illuminating experience and three of them are in Puerto Rico!
Recommended Hotel: Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel
3. Montreal, Quebec
A trip across the pond is likely not in the budget for the vast majority of families, but a journey up north to Quebec can scratch your young adults’ European itch without breaking the bank. Brush up on your bonjour, s’il vous plaît, Merci Beaucoup and other français niceties with a weekend trip to the French-speaking province of Canada! Montreal is a thriving, cosmopolitan city that embraces its charming old town origin story and welcomes francophiles from the States with open arms.
Spend quality time up on Mount Royal, the large hill giving the city its name by buying a couple of fresh baguettes avec fromage et jambon for a memorable picnic with a view. If the weather turns sour, head inside to the Redpath Museum at McGill University. This stellar natural history collection is housed in a glorious building dating back to the 1880’s. Go further back in time in Old Montreal (or Vieux Montreal, in French). This original part of town features preserved buildings from the 17th century, bringing architecture nerds (hand raised!) much joy.
Recommended Hotel: Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites
4. Voluntourism Vacations
Going away with your young adult with the sole intention of making a difference in communities and/or ecosystems that desperately need help is a fantastic family vacation idea that will fill your heart and soul with joy instead of filling your bag with souvenirs. That seems like more than a fair trade.
Habitat for Humanity runs regularly trips all around the world, with many *nearby* in the Caribbean and Latin America, where you and your kids ages 16 and older will help to build homes for local people in need of shelter. While these volunteer trips aren’t cheap (in the neighborhood of $1,900 per person for a 9 or 10 day Habitat trip, inclusive of all lodging and meals but exclusive of airfare), a portion of the cost is tax deductible.
There are also environmental tourism trips to work with animals, like the adorable sloth rescue and conservation experiences in Costa Rica, available for young adults age 18 and up, along with their grown-ups.
5. Crystal River, FL
You simply cannot run with lions in Africa or chew bamboo alongside pandas in China. But in Florida, there’s a truly immersive, safe, and sensational large mammal encounter available every day of the year.
November to March is peak manatee season, but the docile giants are in the cool river waters on the Gulf coast of Florida year-round. Swimming with these majestic sea cows is pure magic and entirely safe because while massive, manatees are friendly creatures thanks to having no predators. As a result, manatees are not scared of anything or anyone, making it possible to float alongside them as they swim, chew lettuce, and basically live happily ever after in the chilly waters in and around The Plantation at Crystal River.
Because it’s surprising affordable (starting at $65 per person including wet suit and pleasant boat ride) to get in the water with playfully curious manatees during a three-hour tour, this is an out-of-this-world experience for young adults to share with their grown-ups. You may be like me and swat down tourist photo or video packages as a rule, but this is one you’ll want to pay for because there’s nothing quite like watching and rewatching yourself snorkel next to 1,000-pound manatees! It almost doesn’t feel like real life to be with them in the water so having those memories made permanent is a must.
Recommended Hotel: Plantation on Crystal River
6. Denver, CO
If your young adults love the great outdoors, or if you want to book the perfect trip that will spark such a love in them, it’s hard to beat the idea of spending a few glorious days in the crisp, cool altitude of Denver, Colorado.
Let’s start at night, under the stars, in nature, with some live music. Sit or dance side by side during a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, located just 10 miles west of Denver. This is without a doubt the finest concert venue in the world and all of the best big-name bands and artists play here while on tour. Spending an evening at Red Rocks with your older kids should be a bucket list travel goal for every music loving parent. The bonus is that they’ll think you’re the coolest for bringing them there.
That’s at least one night sorted during your time high in the Rockies! During the days, take a long hike in Rocky Mountain National Park (1.5 hours from Denver), where over 300 miles of trails straddle the subalpine and alpine worlds. After a day in hiking boots, get off your tired feet in Golden, Colorado, and give your thighs or arms a workout instead with a free bike rental or a kayak and tube down Clear Creek. For thrill seekers, visit Lakeside and Elitch Gardens, two fun places representing two sides of the amusement park coin. The latter is a modern gem with all the tricks and flips you expect from a 21st-century amusement park; the former is a curious relic from yesteryear built in 1908 with rides that seem like they’re about as old (the iconic Cyclone is a wooden coaster from 1940).
Recommended Hotel: Origin Red Rocks
7. Baseball-Themed Road Trip
A baseball road trip is a fantastic way to spend time together, share bad-for-you road trip snacks you’d never consider buying at home, bond with your young adult(s), and make memories to cherish long after they flee the coop. Even better than lining up a few baseball games is booking hotel rooms with marvelous views of the ballparks, allowing you and your family to escape the heat and enjoy America’s pastime in air-conditioned luxury!
Start in Baltimore at the Hilton Inner Harbor for an Orioles game in one of ten hospitality suites overlooking the field. The Orioles may not be any good these days, but when the Yankees, Red Sox and Mike Trout’s Angels come to town, you and your kids can watch some top-notch stars whack the ball all over that picturesque park. Just down I-95, 30 minutes or so, is Nationals Park in the D.C. Navy Yard. This is a beautiful new ballpark to see National League action and the Hampton Inn & Suites onsite has ballpark-view guestrooms offering an exclusive vantage point to watch the games in comfort.
Speaking of heat, the Braves have an exciting young team but boy-o-boy does it get toasty down there in Atlanta! After a pre-game dinner at one of the fine restaurants in the incredible new ballpark complex, stay at the Omni Hotel at the Battery for a deluxe baseball experience watching the game with the A/C blasting in your room! Your young adults will love this unique approach to a family baseball adventure.
8. Ozarks, MO
Fun Mountain at Big Cedar Lodge is an indoor wonderland in the Ozarks of Missouri. There’s underwater-themed ocean bowling; a golf simulator to share your love of the game; a 4-story ropes course to safely overcome your fear of heights; a high-tech climbing wall; a cool wilderness fort laser tag arena; a quarter-mile go kart track designed by a NASCAR racing champion and crew chief; and the Flip Zone, a bumper car ride that rotates 360-degrees horizontally and vertically, meaning you may be on your head when your young adults bump into you while laughing hysterically. Even better, a stay at Big Cedar Lodge is the perfect opportunity to watch the classic John Candy movie Uncle Buck with your older kid because the onsite restaurant and soda fountain shop inside Fun Mountain is called—wait for it—Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl & Grill!
For a cool day trip during your family vacation stay in the Ozarks, head to nearby Springfield to take in the Wonders of Wildlife, a new attraction and aquarium covering more than 350,000 square feet and more than 1.5 miles of trails to explore animal habitats and the natural world.
Recommended Hotel: Big Cedar Lodge
9. Washington, D.C.
There’s a lot to see and do in D.C., but we love that The Jefferson hotel is giving younger guests the keys to the kingdom. Through its new “Kids Who Made American History” walking guide, the hotel is inviting young adults to lead a day of sightseeing for their family. Crafted by a historian and former Georgetown professor, some of the walking tour’s road-less-traveled stops include touch points on “the smallest Freedom Fighter” Sheyann Webb, the location of transgender student Gavin Grimm’s Supreme Court trial on his school’s restroom use, and the U.S. Capitol statue of Lewis and Clark’s young expedition leader, Sacagawea.
If you’re feeling playful (or if your young adult is in an ironic mode), borrow the hotel’s mascot, BobbleJeffDC, for cheesy photo-ops at each of these sites. Once the day of hitting the pavement for this remarkable tour of the District is over, The Jefferson has a special set of offerings including mocktails and elevated kid favorites like truffle mac n’ cheese and bison sliders at the hotel lounge. Relax with a book from the exclusive curated shelf of reading material by the likes of Eva Chen and Barack Obama in the Book Room, and at dinner in Plume, check out the kids’ beverage cart rolled tableside for juice pairings (a child-friendly version of the wine paired Tasting Menu) with the Michelin-starred menu. Finally, if you really did love the walk and the history learned, one-on-one lessons are available with the hotel’s resident historian.
Anyone can visit D.C. but this experience will give your older kids an unparalleled look at a wealth of American history that goes above and beyond what’s on display at the fantastic Smithsonian museums.
Recommended Hotel: The Jefferson
Jeff Bogle lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife, two daughters, and three cats. He is an award-winning photographer and respected travel journalist with bylines on Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, PBS, Esquire and more. Jeff (probably) spends too much time in England watching football and far too many hours plotting his family’s future travel adventures. Find Jeff on his own site, Out With the Kids.