There’s no disputing some stages of childhood seem interminable. But in what seems like the blink of an eye, my daughter turned 16, and the jolt of that birthday had me wondering how many more family holidays together we have left. With that top of mind, it seemed timely to take her on a mother-daughter trip. New York was the obvious choice, as we both hankered to return after a trip several years ago. Here’s what we learnt.

We could bond over research

While travellers often focus on the fun they’ll have at a destination, I think it’s important to involve kids in the lead-up to a trip; it builds anticipation and helps them feel they have some say in the itinerary.

Mother and daughter in Bushwick, NYC after plenty of joint planning. Credit: Julie Jones

While teenagers often get a bad rap for being disinterested, my daughter proved the ideal travel companion. She reveled in the process of researching, planning and mapping out our New York days. She watched a variety of vlogs on YouTube about New York, places of interest and food that would fuel us for our long days exploring. She mapped out our activities using Google Maps, which ensured we didn’t zig-zag across the city wasting time, but instead had our daily activities grouped into areas of the city.

Her involvement took a load off me and we delighted in sharing every detail. Although we were counting down to the trip, we had daily pleasure in the lead-up as we uncovered more things to add to our must-do list.

We both need space

While I looked forward to having mother-daughter time, I also knew it would be an intense trip with long days sightseeing. Finding a hotel within our budget, close to the subway and equipped with a kitchenette wasn’t easy. Stewart Hotel was recommended by a friend and was perfect for us – our one-bedroom suite gave both of us our own space. A double-bed sofa for my daughter in the lounge room with TV allowed her the occasional sleep-in and time to chill – particularly important for teens.

A wander across the Brooklyn Bridge. Credit: Julie Jones

Don’t overdo it

It’s easy on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to try to fit it all in. Knowing a teen’s limitation, compromising and not overdoing it is my key lesson learnt from the trip. Realistically, we could have stayed in New York for months and still not seen it all. I probably tried to pack in too much and should have allowed more downtime. While planning the trip it seemed a realistic itinerary, but I underestimated how long we would take at each attraction, especially for those with high security like the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. It resulted in late nights and long days. Though my daughter pushed through and didn’t complain, I was conscious she would have been a happier camper with less on each day.

Astonishing views atop the Empire State. Credit: Julie Jones

Catering to interests is vital

While we visited the usual New York landmarks, including Empire State Building, Times Square and Central Park, whenever we travel, I enjoy including activities and attractions that will cater to my daughter’s interests. New York had no shortage of options. She loved a street art and graffiti tour of Bushwick by Free Tours By Foot, a company that offers tours where participants are only asked to pay what they like to the guide. Learning more about the artists and detailed works that cover buildings throughout the streets was a new experience for us both. Bushwick’s cool urban vibe and street art appealed to my teen photographer. Ticking off the main tourist sites is good, but there was something refreshing about doing things that were off the tourist beat.

Graffiti tour of Bushwick uncovers lesser-known gems and is a hit with teens. Credit: Julie Jones

Given our trip coincided with the lead-up to Christmas, we delighted in the magical Christmas vibe that sweeps the city in December. From ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza and Central Park to doing a walking tour of Dyker Heights, where every house is decorated with the enthusiasm of a Griswold family Christmas, New York ensured my teen was enveloped in Christmas magic like never before.

Always capture the memories

Conscious this was the trip of a lifetime, at a pivotal age, I wanted to capture the memories. While selfies are fun, I wanted quality pictures, so as a special treat I booked a destination photographer through Wanderloud. Brooklyn proved the perfect backdrop for our photoshoot, and having a local photographer, Melinda, meant we had the benefit of insider tips on the best locations and time for photos. Melinda took a variety of pictures – some of the two of us and others of just my daughter. When I look back at those photos of my daughter and I sitting on the steps of brownstone buildings, chatting casually in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and wandering a cobblestone street, it transports me back to the joy, laughter and shared experiences of our trip.

A special city photoshoot made for a great mother-daughter activity. Credit: Melinda Wanderloud

At the end of our holiday, I decided New York City has a coolness even a teenager cannot question. While the trip itself was a bonding experience, researching and planning together was also pivotal in its success and bringing us even closer.

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This story first appeared in Family Travel magazine. To subscribe or read back issues of the magazine, click here.