Summer is, sadly, drawing to its close. I was pretty late in taking a vacation this year (in fact, I’m actually on vacation now). As I was getting set to head out, I decided that for this month’s piece I’d look at traveling with teens — what worked, what didn’t and the kinds of things marketers might want to think about for reaching teens on the go.
Vacation this year was a two-phased affair and I’m going to focus on phase one, a trip to Montreal. I’ve mentioned in past pieces that my son has special needs. One of the ways this is manifest is a pretty profound inflexibility. That makes planning tough. There are a ton of things he isn’t into, doesn’t like, isn’t willing to try, etc.
That didn’t mean, however, that we didn’t have a fun and successful time. We just had to do things differently and in the process did things in way that worked better for everyone.
One of the biggest pains of traveling — especially in a group — is lodging. All together, there were 12 people in our party. Staying in a standard hotel was going to cost several thousand dollars easily. Cost is only one part of the equation, though. The other is the lack of easily shared space in most hotels. Aside from renting a suite or a function room, there aren’t a lot of options. Frankly, even those two options aren’t that good; they are expensive and impersonal. Boring.
In the end, we went with an Airbnb that easily accommodated the 12 of us, had a kitchen and plenty of space for everyone to spend time together. Of course, lodging isn’t the only challenge. Feeding a dozen people is also a pain, especially when a handful of them are picky teens. We were able to do some cooking and to go out in small groups according to time and taste but that couldn’t work for every meal.
The whole reason we were in Montreal to begin with was to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. That called for more than we could muster on our own. The idea of 12 people out at a restaurant was daunting. Knowing my teens as I do, I knew we were heading for a potential disaster. What to do?
The solution, it turned out, was simple and elegant. We hired a private chef to come in to cook the anniversary dinner in our space. We worked with Gourmet Chez Toi, a startup that matches cooks and clients. Not only was the meal terrific and comparable to the cost of a restaurant but it was incredibly personalized. It was also incredibly relaxed.
The next day, the celebration behind us, we took stock of our time and I gave thought to how well it worked for teens and why and wondered why it was something that had to be cobbled together. For us, having a space we could control was a big deal. It meant laptops could be set up, music played through a stereo, food and drink on hand whenever they were wanted. The flexibility of the place we rented made it perfect for teens who wanted their own space to hang out and spread out.
Having a chef come in also took away a huge source of friction. We had been able to plan, not only with the chef but also with everyone else, to put together a menu that would be a success. While my son is often the tougher of the two, when it comes to food my daughter — who is a vegetarian — is the challenge. Gourmet Chez Toi was able to manage her picky palate with aplomb.
With so many options out there, why is no one packaging them into accessible and affordable solutions for families with teens? Certainly for many — if not most — families, travel is a simple and fun way to spend time together. For many other families — mine among them — the idea of travel is fraught. There are ways to make the experience great for all involved and there’s an opportunity to engage teens in the process to make it successful for everyone.