Why is Youth Travel Valuable?

Want to know why youth travel is so important? Let me share my story.

In 1992, when I was seven years old, Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ came out, and with it a hit song that everybody my age still knows word for word. All you have to do to start a sing-along among twenty-somethings (especially females) is start by saying, ‘I can show you the world’. To my young mind, and probably many others, it was a promise. A promise that not only could love take us places we had never been in a figurative sense, but that love could literally, physically take us somewhere as well. We had been introduced to Agrabah in the film, with a royal palace that looked like the Taj Mahal, where people had pet tigers and monkeys, and that was even before a magic carpet came and swept Jasmine away. She and Aladdin went to Greece, Egypt, and China in the span of a single song, lucky girl. And we ate it up.

This may seem like a strange way to start an article on why youth travel is valuable, but it sparked a desire in my life to see the world as Jasmine did.  When I was in college, I was given the opportunity to spend four months in Spain. For someone who had only been within the six-hour span between New York City and Washington, DC, this was a big deal. My first time on an airplane at age nineteen was a trans-Atlantic red-eye flight, also a big deal: I was so terrified. I couldn’t sleep, but was able to watch the sun rise over the clouds over the Atlantic Ocean. I lived with a host family, studied at a Spanish college, met other students from all over the world, travelled with the college and independently, and came back with another language, college credits, about 1000 pictures, hundreds of stories, new friends and a new family, and an expanded worldview. I have since become a teacher, and am a very solid advocate of the benefits of travel.

The fruits of my experience

Thanks to that experience, I now teach Spanish, and parents will ask me what the students can do to improve. I always give them short term responses for my particular class, but I also suggest that, if the opportunity ever arises, let them travel to a Spanish-speaking country. Some experiences are obviously more authentic than others: spending four months living with a family that doesn’t understand you is vastly different from two weeks in an all-inclusive resort that you never leave, as one of my students returned from one such resort in Cancun to tell me that ‘everybody in Mexico speaks English’. While she had experiences that I am certainly envious of (swimming with dolphins), they are contrived experiences. The only way this could become an issue is if she then expects all travel experiences to be like this. I went to Spain with a group of seven other girls and one boy. The group very quickly split into two factions: the ones that were treating it as a big party and those who were trying to get more out of the experience. The ones who were there for the party had travelled before and were used to nice hotels and room service; they were not ready to live as a guest in someone else’s house. They very quickly became disenchanted with the beautiful city we were in, and once the college’s excursions were no longer mandatory mostly stopped travelling, preferring to sleep in after long nights out at the bar. One of the girls even went so far as to present a compare and contrast essay about the differences between people in Spain and in the United States that was very narrow-minded and incredibly embarrassing.

English: Three young people.

Three young people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was in the ‘Experience everything!’ faction, and was literally surrounded by angry classmates after class ended and had to do damage control to let them know that that most certainly was not how I felt, and I would say something to her about it later. (This girl eventually loosened up and enjoyed the experience, but not before another escapade involving trying to find a bottle of peroxide to bleach her hair.) Our experiences were authentic things that we happened upon: seeing a Spanish wedding take place in Segovia while touring the cathedral, encountering the old Charro couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary in La Alberca, sleeping in a hostel with eleven other people in your room, celebrating holidays with street festivals, finding something to eat on your own, etc. When the students are allowed to see life beyond the resort, they will appreciate the differences between cultures and be more open-minded in the future. Travelling is also a great test of creativity, spontaneity, and budgeting ability, both for time and funds.

Are there risks?

Of course, but this is the case with travel at any age, but starting young allows good travel habits to stick a little better. For instance, the best places for a young woman to keep her money, identification, and passport are in her shirt. Bags may be stolen, pockets may be picked, but it is very difficult not to notice someone putting a hand down your shirt. Try to blend in, and use the language of the area; most places have people that speak English, but they will treat you better if you at least try to use their language. Recognize the local police and how to contact them (most guide books will offer a section on local law enforcement; the better ones will include photos of them in uniform). Teach a young person this and, with experience and reinforcing, they won’t forget it.

In conclusion, Youth travel and student travel is important because it will allow the next generation to see the world, give them authentic experiences beyond the hotel, and give them the chance to be creative and spontaneous. They will have stories, photos, friends, souvenirs, and memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives, and who knows? It might even change their lives for the better. And they won’t have to wait for a magic carpet to do it!

What about you? Any travel experiences you’d like to share with us? Feel free to share your youth travel story here.

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