In my opinion, absolutely the best vacation for a family with teenagers is an adventure-soaked trip full of unexpected challenges. Nothing helps parents and teens overcome the distance, dissing, and disrespect that divide us like clutching each other and screaming down class 3 rapids, or trying together to translate directions on a local bus in Mexico.

This insight isn’t coming from some glossy parenting expert with five-year-olds who tells you to make sure you “keep the lines of communication open” by chatting in the car on the way to school. I’ve got two teenage daughters and together we’ve faced a host of serious challenges: divorce, eating disorders, boys waayyy too early, depression, social anxiety, and on and on. What I’ve found: communication comes with openness, and openness comes with shared experience, excitement, respect. I’ve never felt my girls look up to me the way they did when I finally conquered my fear of heights and rappelled down a 40-foot tree in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Mexico and Costa Rica are great options for this kind of trip, because it’s easier to keep costs low once you’re there, and there’s the added sense of adventure that comes with being in a different culture and trying to speak and understand Spanish. But we’ve also taken great trips right here in California and next-door Oregon, where some of the last great wild and scenic rivers still run free for rafting. And a simple camping or fishing trip provides plenty of thrills if you set it up right.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful:

• Choose a location that’s at least relatively isolated from TV, computers, and phones.
• Think wildlife amusement park: where can you find Disneyland-like thrills courtesy of Mother Nature?
• Get out of your comfort zone, as well as your kids’. Afraid of bugs and snakes? Go on a night hike. Afraid of heights? Let them see you soaring on a zipline. They have to conquer their fears everyday, and will feel closer to you when you conquer yours.
• Leave the gaming devices behind or set limits.
• Plan your trip around activities, whether river rafting, fishing, or ziplines, but leave plenty of downtime too. (Teens like to sleep in, in case you haven’t noticed.)
• Let the kids do some of the planning. Pull out a few pamphlets or research on the Web together, and let them make some of the choices.
• But, if you get the “whatever, mom” response, don’t be discouraged; plan fun stuff anyway. They’ll love it once they’re doing it.