Find a Travel Camp for Your Teen
Travel camps give children the opportunity and freedom to explore the world while also remaining safe and learning some things along the way.
When Upper Darby, PA native Julia Fournier aged out of the summer theater camp she had attended, she tried something new. She spent the summer after her sophomore year of high school in India with The Road Less Traveled (RLT), a travel program that runs trips for middle and high school students. In India, Fournier spent 28 days on community-service projects, hiking and absorbing Indian culture. She enjoyed it so much she went to Costa Rica and Panama with RLT the next summer.
“I loved having an experience completely separate and removed from my day-to-day life,” says Fournier, who is now an admissions counselor for RLT. “You could reinvent yourself and there was space to explore different parts of yourself.
“I learned I really enjoy hard work. We were moving bricks to build a classroom for a school. It was hard work and I was hot and physically exhausted, but it was so satisfying because it had an important purpose.”
Travel broadens their skills, views
At an age when kids are easily bored, question everything and often seek risks, travel programs give teens a unique opportunity.
“They get out of their comfort zone while still in a controlled, safe environment,” says Cailin Burmaster, program director at the Whale Camp on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada.
The last two summers, Sonia J., a 15-year-old from Chatham, NJ, traveled to Whale Camp. It gave her the opportunity to explore marine biology, which interests her as a career, and, in the process, “I learned I was able to be on my own and take care of myself. And I made a lot of friends I still talk to,” she says.
Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, says, “As parents, we work hard to protect our kids from making mistakes and getting hurt, and sometimes we bubble wrap them. Then they don’t learn resilience. These programs teach them how to make mistakes and try again. They learn to work through anything they set their mind to.”
Marika S.’s daughter traveled to Florida from their home in Wilmington, DE with RLT last summer to help with coral-reef reconstruction and other conservation efforts.
“It was a great experience. My daughter conquered some fears and earned her scuba-diving certification,” she says.
Rustic Pathways, an adventure and community-service travel program, surveys students before and after their trips. In 2017, participants said they grew in openness, sense of wonderment, shared humanity, a desire to have a positive impact, empathy, self-awareness, humility, independence and intercultural competence.
How to pick a travel camp
Stacy B. of Narberth, PA worked with camp adviser Lois Deckelbaum from Tips on Trips and Camps, which helps families choose a camp, when her children aged out of traditional overnight camp.
Deckelbaum helped match Stacy’s son with a Rustic Pathways trip to Thailand, where he worked with abused elephants. The next summer he laid pipes to provide potable water to remote mountain villages in Peru. Her daughter wanted to try something similar, but not as far away. Deckelbaum suggested RLT’s Florida conservation trip, which she loved.
“Summer travel options for this age group are quite broad,” says Deckelbaum. Teens can choose camps that focus on sightseeing, community service, language immersion, hiking, biking, photography, conservation, animal studies, cooking or a combination.
After they identify the right fit for a child’s interests, parents should ask about the program’s rules, communication policies, safety procedures and staff training. What kind of emergency and first aid training do the leaders have? Are they trained to work with teenagers? What are their emergency protocols? Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? How can parents communicate with their children and how often? Parents can also request to talk with parents whose children have attended the programs.
How much will it cost?
Travel programs come with a hefty price tag that ranges from $1,400 to $8,000 dependent on length and location. Many programs, however, offer financial aid. RLT offers scholarships through an organization called Geography of Hope, and Rustic Pathways offers scholarships as well as a fundraising guide to help teens raise the money themselves. Local civic organizations, such as Rotary Clubs, can also provide help.
Susan S. Stopper is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer