Some of the best moments come from exposing a teenager to a different culture or a situation entirely outside their comfort zone. It’s why travelling (and unplugging) with teens can be such a powerful and long-lasting gift. Perspective is otherwise hard to purchase. While it may be tempting to just book an all-inclusive vacation for the best price, and then point your kids toward the pre-printed activities list so you can catch up on zzz’s and rays, we challenge you to think differently. Those trips are unlikely to grow your young ward in any meaningful way.
Instead, consider booking yourselves on a guided, small-group-tour that will get them and you on a first-name basis with our planet and its people; that is: off the boat, off the bus, and off the hotel grounds.
On trips such as those designed especially for teens and families by immersive travel specialists, G Adventures, kids learn about local foods, wildlife and animal welfare, cultural history, and business in the service of social good. They meet local communities involved in tourism and they experience firsthand, what it’s to live like a local. And they enjoy all this good-for-you travel while having a really fantastic time. It’s the equivalent of disguising healthy vegetables in a cheesy snack wrap, or slipping vitamins into a chocolate smoothie.
Small group tours are typically 10-15 people, and made up of fellow travelers from all over the world. You’ll share meals, rides, and memorable excursions with each other and almost undoubtedly make new friends.
That’s just a couple of the benefits of off-the-beaten-path adventure travel for families. Gain some extra cred with your teens, their teachers, and your fellow parents with these eight other powerful perks:
By booking a pre-designed tour, you can fit in seeing a ton of highlights of a destination, without having to do all the research and booking of venues, transportation, excursions and meals yourself – a big time saver.
With trips that are guided (aka chaperoned) by a local guide who speaks the language, knows the currency, and arranges for all ground transportation, you and your teen can focus on enjoying the experience and each other without you doing double duty as driver, navigator, negotiator, and translator. The guide’s job is to ensure your fun and safety. Yours is to enjoy your time with your kids.
There’s a surprising number of Americans who never even get or use a passport. Don’t let your teen be one of them. It can contribute to isolationist thinking and reduce cross-cultural understanding. Thankfully, some groups, like the nonprofit Passport Party Project, are trying to correct this. You can, too. By helping teens travel outside their home country while they’re young, you’ll help them overcome any fear they might have about visiting a foreign country before life gets too busy. You may also spark a passport stamp-collecting passion for life.
Your teen might be able to convince teachers that the trip is educational, and maybe even score some bonus points or class credit if she presents what she learned. It doesn’t hurt college applications, either. For example, teens can learn about the ‘Five Freedoms’ of animal welfare in tourism, which emphasize: (1) Freedom from hunger and thirst; (2) Freedom from discomfort; (3) Freedom from pain, injury or disease; (4) Freedom to express normal behavior; and (5) Freedom from fear and distress. Travel and tourism should be means for positive interactions between visitors and animals. It should support local conservation efforts, not threaten them.
Life skill, right here. When you leave the ship or resort, you and your teen can shop for all kinds of locally-made and hosted goods and services. Give your teen some local currency and a budget, and help them learn how to negotiate a sale price while juggling the mental math to determine comparable value. Shopping locally this way is also much less expensive than your typical credit card first airport souvenir shop.
Your teen may not love this benefit in the moment, when she’s trying to share a ‘like’ or post funny GIFs with friends back home on social media. But when you unplug and under-program kids for a while, you remind them to engage with sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the real world – not to mention, engage with new people. Traveling outside main cities often means little to no wifi or cellular service, which rather conveniently, reduces the parent-teen battles over phone use. Adventure travel gives you an excuse to say, “sorry, there’s nothing I can do about the poor connectivity. You’ll just have to put your device away,” while secretly smiling the other direction.
On a small group tour, you and your teen will meet other travelers from around the world, and often strike up new friendships. It’s a great way to widen and diversify a kid’s social network, while learning new perspectives from someone outside their bubble, but of a similar age.
The sooner a teen is exposed to other ways of living and sees the challenges that other families face, the sooner they can come to appreciate just how fortunate and privileged they are. It’s called “culture shock” for a reason. But adjusting to different realities and valuing simpler means are true gifts of perspective that will help your teen see their fortunate place, and personal responsibility, in a global connected world.
As you can see, learning through travel is a sort of superhero-in-disguise when it comes to exposing teens to teachable moments. Keep them busy and active with fun adventure, but help shape their young minds and interests. It’s an investment with long term dividends.
Suspend in the jungle canopy, soak in the thermal hot springs of Arenal Volcano, and lock eyes with a curious monkey. This action-packed tour of Costa Rica’s highlights is perfect for the youthful adventurer who has limited time but who wants to explore the region’s diversity. Get your adrenaline pumping, follow a trail to the base of a waterfall, or relax on a beach. Guides will help you find the secluded spots only the locals know. Price: nine days from/to San Jose, for $1,249 per person.
This adventure from G Adventures’ Jane Goodall Collection hosts up to 16 people per departure and offers up an intriguing combination of beauty and contrasts in scenery, wildlife and cultures. Scan the canopy for wildlife from the comfort of the intimate and exclusive G Lodge Amazon or climb the ancient trail of the Incas to Machu Picchu, situated in the heavens of the Americas. G Adventures runs its our own treks and ensures the fair treatment of Inca Warrior porters, as well as the quality of food and equipment, so that you’re free to enjoy the beauty of the region. Price: 12 days from/to Lima, for $2,749 per person.
Looking to give your kids a crash course in exotic wildlife? What better place to visit than “Darwin’s test kitchen.” On this active trip designed for multi-generational families, you’ll have the chance to snorkel, hike, kayak and swim the islands, as well as visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center and the Charles Darwin Research Station. The Station provides a study location for international scientists and training for Naturalist Guides. The Center allows you to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat and learn how they have been brought back from the brink of extinction by successful conservation. Price: eight days, $2,099 per person.
This story is supplied by Kim McCabe of G Adventures. For information or to book a trip, visit www.gadventures.com, call your local travel agent or call 888-400-4100.