Alumni Spotlight: Jenny Smith


Jenny is a freshman nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania. She grew up traveling abroad with her family and now has a passion for traveling on her own.

Why did you choose this program?

One of my friends from high school went through this program and had raving reviews. However, they also had the specific programs I liked the best. The itinerary is eventful and interesting without being overly packed.

The things we got to do were once-in-a-lifetime experiences that other programs did not offer. We got to bathe and feed elephants, visited numerous temples, and went scuba diving. The staff were also super helpful answer all of my mom's questions and concerns about me traveling without her.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I talked with a staff member multiple times throughout my journey of going on this trip. They helped book my flight from LAX to Thailand along with the rest of the group. I did fly from JFK to LAX on my own, but was in contact with a counselor who helped me get to the group once I landed.

When we went out to eat, we would eat family style so we got to try many different foods at each meal. Also, in Thailand, we would go to markets and the counselors would let us go off in groups so we could pick what to do with our "free time."

Really the only thing I organized on my own was my flight to LAX from JFK and then back to JFK after the trip. Everything else, Travel for Teens takes care of and assists you with.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would say definitely be open to going alone on these trips because you will have the opportunity to meet so many great people. If I had brought a friend, I would have felt almost closed off from the group. Having a bunch of kids that do not know one another creates a very open and friendly environment. However, if you do bring a friend, make sure you guys do not cling to each other the whole time. Be open to talk with other people.

At the hotels and hostels, you need another person in your room, so maybe you can switch roommates at each hotel. You could be roommates with your friend at the first hotel and the switch at the next one after you have gotten to know other people a little better.

Also, don't just keep an open mind with the people on your trip, keep an open mind with trying new foods and experiences. International foods are amazing and so many people refuse to try it because they only like chicken fingers. Be willing to try new things.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Each trip varies drastically with places and schedule. In Thailand, the first week was us going to different elephant conservations and doing community service there. We got to feed the elephants food that we made them and bathe them too. We also learned a lot about the culture of Thailand and the elephant keepers.

The second week was us getting tours of different temples and going to street markets. Each day, our tour guide would guide us to about 2-3 temples and give us the history behind the site. We also went white water rafting for two days where we would get up to raft, take a break to eat and then raft until we got to our camp in the jungle.

The third week was spent on the islands of Thailand. We went to two different islands: Koh Tao and Koh Samui. We had a lot of beach time, and were able to scuba dive and snorkel and relax. When we were on the islands, we usually ate right on the beach and had dinner in front of the sunset. We also went to a Thai show and got numerous massages!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was very nervous to travel alone. I have been fortunate enough to travel with my family in the past and this was the first time I would even be on a plane alone. Navigating JFK by myself and LAX was really intimidating at first, but I did it. Once in LAX, I was in contact with a counselor who offered to get me from the plane.

I said I could do it, but in the end, I got lost and the counselor came and saved me from my shame. I was also super nervous about meeting the people on my trip, but we were all at the airport waiting to get on a 14-hour flight together and all started getting to know each other right away. Also, Thai people, in general, are very friendly and love practicing their English with people.

What is one tip you have for people that are interested in a Travel for Teens program?

I would say you really need to go in with an open mind. Especially in Thailand, I barely used my phone, and I loved not having to check social media every minute. It really allowed me to immerse myself in the group I was with and the Thai culture as I was not always staring at my phone.

Be open to trying new foods and wearing traditional clothing. We got the opportunity to wear the outfit of elephant keepers which was super cool and we all bought lots of pairs of elephant pants to wear around.

Another tip I have when going abroad is to bring a water bottle. The Travel for Teens counselors were really good at making sure we had plenty of drinking water because you can not drink tap water in Thailand. However, many of our hotels and hostels had fountains that were there for people to drink, so having a water bottle was super helpful and convenient when we found one of those fountains so I had water to drink for the rest of the day.