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An enlightening experience.

Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness …” Many parents are realizing travel could be an enlightening experience for their teen children, teaching things that can’t be learned in classrooms. Trips exposing teens to different cultures, varied ecosystems and human achievements create opportunities to expand youths’ understanding of the world and their place in it.


Programs allowing travelers to perform volunteer work have surged in popularity. For teens with community service hours as a graduation requirement, a voluntourism experience may check off several desires. It’s important to work with reputable providers who aren’t just capitalizing on a fad. Brett Rudy of Earthwatch, described by Condé Nast Traveler as the “gold standard” for service travel, says quality programs maximize volunteers’ efforts, providing specific tasks and expert supervision, leading to a productive experience—not just a photo op. Mike Rea, president and CEO of Tourism Cares, advises working with local partners to plan projects sensitive to the local culture.


Locations with biodiversity and opportunities for outdoor adventure appeal to families with teens. “One of the best destinations for teens and families in general is the Galapagos. There are so many activities for everyone to participate in—hiking, snorkeling, museums. The park guides are in charge, keeping an eye on everyone, which takes the strain off parents and gives teens more freedom,” notes Jessica Pociask, WANT Expeditions owner. “Costa Rica is also good in that respect. Most lodges and towns have excellent self-guided hikes, where any parent could feel comfortable letting their teen wander off alone without worry about them getting hurt.”

Cultural Experiences

Travel is a great opportunity for teens to realize not everyone lives as they do. Providing opportunities to interact with other cultures in a way emphasizing the value of other people’s traditions can be fun and illuminative. Such activities could be added onto an African safari. “There are great hiking and cultural activities—particularly in Namibia, when it comes to visiting the San Bushmen, where guests are encouraged to pair up with a villager on a foraging expedition, then create their own bow and arrow for hunting, after which there is usually a contest for who has the greatest accuracy,” said Pociask, adding this is a nice opportunity for teens to interact independently from their parents.

“Booking a guided tour or expedition is great for parents, because a good guide will see to it that all members of the group have their needs met. If a teen wants some space from the parents, or vice versa, they will make an effort to create that kind of environment,” Pociask said.

“On the same token, a good guide will find activities that all generations can participate in and enjoy, without feeling claustrophobic.”

Tips to Share with Clients Traveling with Teens

Before packing, discuss local customs. While shorts and a tank top may be fine many places in the U.S., they are considered risqué by many cultures. Plan outfits that will be acceptable by local standards.

Consider how credit cards, cash, documents and other valuables are carried. Many teens aren’t used to carrying a purse or wallet, and will need guidance. Discussing strategies for avoiding pickpockets is also appropriate.

If teens are flying alone, plan an advance airport tour and specifically identify where to find information and assistance.

Have teens carry a business card from your hotel, in case you get separated. They could show the card to a taxi driver if they’re unsure how to explain where the hotel is or don’t remember its name.

Discuss photo etiquette. Many teens are accustomed to “selfie” culture, but light-hearted behavior is inappropriate in many places, particularly religious sites and other sensitive areas. Locations of military significance may also be off-limits to photography. Also discuss photographing local people, and how to determine whether it is appropriate.

Be sure teens know to stay away from protests and demonstrations of any sort. Freedom to assemble and speak freely is not a universal right, and teens may be unaware they could find themselves in serious legal trouble for watching or participating in any kind of public unrest.

Written by Jennifer Reynolds.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach CVB.