Road Tripping with Teenagers: A Survival Guide

The good. The bad. The Ariana Grande perfume. Everything you didn’t know you needed for a sane drive with teens.

Illustration by Bene Rohlmann

When you’re heading out on a road trip with adolescents, don’t forget to bring everything, including a little emotional baggage! Here is a sanity-saving checklist to get you through long drives with teens.

☐ Teenagers

☐ Travel mugs

☐ Travel attitudes, depending on what we’re talking about when we talk about “travel attitudes”

☐ A road map, but for keeping a conversation going with teenagers

☐ A road map, but for navigating out of the “stop looking at me like that”/ “like what” struggle

☐ An actual road map, so you can remind your kids of the roughly 100-year age gap between you

☐ Pretending not to notice how genuinely excited they seem about hitting the road

☐ Absolutely not even once asking, “ARE YOU GUYS EXCITED?!”

☐ Restraining yourself from exclaiming, “THIS IS GOING TO BE SO FUN!”

☐ So many breath mints, so much deodorant

☐ A strict “no punch backs, but also no punching in ­general would be great” rule

☐ The adorable belief that any rules, strict or not, will be followed

☐ A playlist for everyone to sing along to

☐ A playlist that, turns out, you will be singing very much alone to

☐ A playlist that evokes ennui

☐ An air freshener printed with the words THE ENNUI CAME FACTORY-INSTALLED

☐ iPads, phones, headphones, earbuds, isn’t it great being together like this?

☐ Back to that whole “travel attitude” thing — the somehow unshakable belief that this trip will end up being the rare case where you actually make memories for real

☐ A solemn vow not to be overcome with emotion when your teenage son, who is now taller than you are, casually slings his arm around your shoulders as you gaze out at the Grand Canyon together

☐ An even more solemn vow to not ask your teenage daughter if she meant to wear her hair like that on purpose

☐ The double-dog most solemn vow that on this trip, you will not play the revenge card you’ve threatened them with all through middle school by shouting in the middle of the biggest crowd you can find, “YOU WILL ­ALWAYS BE MY BABIES! AND STOP TELLING ME I’M YOUR HERO!”

☐ A list of conversation starters no teenager would ever fall for

☐ An alternate list of ­conversation starters even your partner is questioning a little

☐ An alternate to the alternate list that is mostly just ideas for monologues

☐ A curling iron, a flat iron, ­Ariana Grande Cloud perfume, Ariana Grande Moonlight perfume, Ariana Grande Sweet Like Candy perfume, blue mascara, 25 sheet masks, glitter nail polish, glitter lip gloss, glitter, look into whether towing your bathroom behind you is feasible

☐ Phone chargers, laptop chargers, car chargers, a charger for the chargers, look into whether towing a Best Buy behind you is feasible

☐ A shopping list detailing how much food you’ll need to bring and continuously replenish in order to sufficiently feed teenagers, look into whether just driving a food truck instead is feasible

☐ Swimsuits, beach chairs, the smug knowledge your kids will definitely not be trying to eat fistfuls of sand and are able to 100 percent sunscreen themselves

☐ Hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, tweezers, Swiss army knife, rubbing alcohol, the illusion that at any point you could stop and perform surgery in your car

☐ A tendency to really lean into the illusion that you can perform surgery in your car, thereby giving you an attitudinal edge in arguments

☐ Think about it, does anyone want to argue with the one person who is potentially capable of performing surgery in a moving vehicle with just the minimal supplies on hand?

☐ Everyone needs that person

☐ You are that person now

☐ This really is going to be a great trip

☐ The realization that, just like when they were little and you thought you needed to pack 1,276 items every time you traveled, all you ever really needed was all of you, together

☐ And deodorant — so much deodorant


About the author: Kimberly Harrington is the author of AMATEUR HOUR: MOTHERHOOD IN ESSAYS AND SWEAR WORDS and is a contributor to McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Cut.