There are very few experiences that I’ve had that I would consider “life-changing.” One major exception was my very first experience abroad to Spain, France, and England when I was in high school. I couldn't have known that my first big adventure carved the path that my life would follow. I guess that’s the thing about new experiences, you never know where they will lead!
And it all started because my high school Spanish teacher made the effort to give a few small-town kids the experience of a lifetime. Growing up my world was very small. I read a lot about foreign lands and adventures. Books were my inspiration to travel -- I wanted to feel the heat of that desert on my skin and see those towering cathedrals for myself.
Now, I think wanderlust is mostly inspired by images on Instagram feeds that look too perfect to possibly be real or any place that people actually go. But as far away as those vistas seem, the world is now smaller than ever. Especially for high school students with access to inclusive travel programs that make things easy.
As digital nomad who now lives and works on the road full-time, I can look back and see that it was that first trip in high school that left a permanent mark on my soul. I believe in the power of going on a travel program in high school and here’s why you should too.
You’ll Develop Cultural Awareness
Growing up in a very, very small town (my high school class had only 22 students!) I didn’t know how much there was to not know about the world. America is huge, but my town and my life were not. All I knew about the world was covered in just a few blocks from my school, a few shops in what passed for our downtown, and my best friends’ houses.
That first trip outside of my comfort zone opened my eyes to the different ways people live -- life in Paris was nothing like rural New York State. It was everything my romantic heart had dreamed of, yet so much more. The smell of the canal, the architecture, the fast-talking waitress, these were the experiences my imagination didn’t know how to create.
With the bombardment of news in social media it can be hard to know where we fit into the world order. Traveling helps show how connected we all really are to the rest of the world. That we all have differences, but more similarities than you might have thought. Traveling helped me gain a new perspective on my own life as well as on how others live.
You’ll See Real World Applications of What You Learn in Class
When sitting a stuffy classroom going over and over those boring verb tenses it can be hard to keep motivated or to understand why it’s important to bother. Traveling to countries that use that language offer a chance to practice what you’ve been learning in school. It was so much fun to talk with real Spanish speakers and have them understand me! I’ve never been so happy to be able to find a bathroom before.
Even history got more fun when I could experience the places where so many of those things I’d been studying actually happened. Christopher Columbus became so much more than a name when I was standing in front of his grave in a cathedral in Seville, Spain. Another bonus was that learning geography got much easier when I had a reason to look up places and it meant something real to me because I was going to be there.
You’ll Learn How to be Independent
Lots of young people have good parents who do a great job keeping them safe and helping them out of trouble. But it can be tough to learn independence when you never have a chance to handle yourself in uncomfortable situations. High school travel programs give you chances to develop skills you never knew you had.
Homesickness wasn’t too much of an issue for me on that first trip until the very end. It turned out that our flight got delayed and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I just wanted my own bed and, I admit, there were a few tears involved. But I learned the most important lessons on that trip when things didn’t go my way.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way they were planned. Flights get delayed, you get lost, phone screens get shattered on cobblestone streets. But guess what? I could handle it. I might not have liked any of those things, but I managed. Eventually, I found my group (I was 18 so it wasn’t as bad as that might sound), we got on the plane, and I replaced my phone. You will too.
Because of those experiences I became more confident. I wasn’t afraid to get out of my comfort zone back home anymore because, hey, I’d been lost in the streets of London and found my way back. I could do anything. (And, I had great stories to tell.) You’ll experience the same -- even if your travel challenges aren’t the same as mine.
You’ll Be Inspired to Lifelong Love of Travel
You can’t want what you don’t know is out there. My first trip abroad in high school starting paving my path for becoming the remote working nomad that I am today. I make my living writing outdoor adventure articles and doing social media management. Since my first trip abroad I knew I wanted to see more of the world. I spent a lot of time planning my life so that it would be possible. Since that first trip, I’ve been to over 25 countries, and I have lived in three of them -- Thailand, Portugal and Italy.
Or, on the flip side, maybe travel won’t be your ‘thing.’ One of the friends I went with had a miserable time, she missed her family, her dog, she hated the food and was too scared to talk to anyone outside of our group. Turns out that traveling was not for her. That’s totally ok. But if you do a trip in high school, you won’t spend your life wishing for something you might not even like. It’s great to find out either way.
You’ll Make New Friends
It’s common for student travel groups to combine with other groups. On my tour we were paired with a bunch of students from a huge school in California -- talk about cultural differences! At first, I wasn’t sure about having these people I didn’t know on the bus. Soon, though it was really fun to have new people to share these things with, we learned that even though we are all Americans our lives were so different. I gained a whole new perspective on my own country in the process of exploring others.
I ended up spending most of the trip with a new friend who I’m still in contact with today. That friendship eventually led to my first big U.S. cross-country trek to visit her. Traveling is also a great chance to get to know students from your own school you might not hang out with much as well.
You’ll Enhance College Applications and Resumes
Showing an interest in travel, foreign cultures, and foreign languages demonstrate to college recruiters and employers that you have an interest in issues and topics larger than just yourself. Having come from such a small town I didn’t have many opportunities to step outside my cultural bubble -- no ballet classes, no debate team, not much of a theatre department -- so having travel on my application was kind of a big deal. Or maybe “joining” isn’t your thing so having a trip abroad would really help out your applications.
Demonstrating a wider interest in life and the world is now more important than ever. Many businesses are global and showing that you are flexible and comfortable with foreignness is becoming more and more critical. Who you are as a person, and how you handle yourself, can be more important than what you know or where you went to school.
Now is the Time
Students have opportunities for affordable travel that dry up once you’re an adult. There are many great programs that can get great deals for students. These high school travel programs combine a lot of exotic adventures that will cost many times more if you had to do it yourself later.
Let’s not discount that high school students have got the energy to see a lot of sights in a short amount of time and still be able to enjoy them. I like to call those trips a travel “buffet” - a chance to try out a little bit of a lot of things. That way you find out what you like and know what to do on the next trip or even where you might want to go back another time for longer.
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, once “real” life starts there is always a reason to not to travel -- college, jobs, starting a family. It can be hard to justify spending the money on a trip to Morocco when the car needs a new battery.
There will never be a better time to travel and see the world than right now! So just go already.