Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some of my fondest memories on family vacations, but they’re so different than going on a teen travel program or service trip. When I was entering middle school my parents thought it was time to send me and my brother on our first solo trips. It was a big step to go without them, but here are the three reasons it was SO much better than a family vacation.

1. I learned to rely on myself.

On my first trip remember leaving my hometown of St. Louis feeling on top of the world. I landed at JFK and immediately felt tiny and overwhelmed. I needed to find my group and make it to the next flight. No questions asked. When I usually would have followed my parents or asked them what to do that wasn’t an option. I had to assert myself, make mistakes, and keep going. Throughout college and navigating a career this has remained the most valuable lesson that I couldn’t have achieved with my family.

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Liz on her first Rustic trip hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2007.

2. I left my high school “bubble” behind.

The second I stepped on that plane I could be whoever I wanted to be. No one knew that I was captain of the field hockey team or cared what my ACT score was, it was up to me.  When I was able to be my own person, I took more chances, learned the power of reflection, had meaningful conversations, and really started to develop my own views and opinions.

I vividly remember sitting at a bonfire with one of my program leaders in India talking about sustainable service and the importance of not just volunteering, but positively impacting a community. It was the first time I’d heard someone talk about service in a context outside the hours I was required for school and ignited a curiosity that likely wouldn’t have been developed otherwise.With the safety net of my parents, I don’t think I would have been pushed to think so far outside of what was familiar and “safe.”

3. I took ownership of the planning.

When I traveled with my family I let my mom do all the research, make the plan, and help me pack. I had no ownership or investment in where we were going. On my first teen travel program, I started a letter-writing campaign to fundraise, got a part-time job at a craft studio, and fundraised for the majority of my service trip. I was beyond invested in the experience which made every second of planning, prepping, and actually traveling worth it.

Year after year my parents placed these teen volunteer trips above our family vacations, and now looking back I’m forever grateful. I didn’t fully realize at the time how much they were impacting my personal growth and future career path.


Looking for a similar experience for your teen? Request a free copy of our 2018 spring break and summer catalog today!

About the Author

Elizabeth Cortese

Marketing Coordinator

Liz first developed a passion for travel while summiting Mount Kilimanjaro as a Rustic student. This taught her at an early age the importance of experiential education for students around the world. She has since graduated with a bachelor’s in marketing communications from Emerson College in Boston. When Liz is not hopping from restaurant to restaurant in San Francisco or buried in a New York Times bestseller, she can be found packing her bags to spend time with family and friends.