The Dangerous Assumption About Youth Travel

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There are few people I have ever met who do not enjoy travel. When questions are posed about what one would most like to do upon retirement, travelling farther and more extensively is almost always a top answer. Travel is a unique experience that allows us to break up the everyday routines, see new and wonderful places, and experience new cultures and traditions. It also invites us to be continually open to new adventures in our lives, which can provide many benefits as well, both visible and hidden.

One of the greatest tragedies of youth is when there is little experience with, nor understanding of lands of cultures different from our own. A broader perspective on the priorities of life can be very enriching, and lessons learned can change the very directions our own lives are headed. Travel can also make us stronger and more independent, give us practice in problem solving (i.e. I lost my bank card and I don’t speak French; how can I survive here in Paris?), and help us to gain a deeper understanding of our own values and goals in life.

If I had my way, our own western culture would place similar importance on travel as a youth or young adult as does a country like Australia, where leaving home and exploring the world for an extended period of time is considered a healthy, even necessary part of growing up. We would encourage our children to be open to new cultural experiences, and be prepared to support that with time and money, much like an investment. One of the reasons we have so many fabulous young people visiting the Okanagan from Australia is a desire many from this wonderful country have to stretch themselves (figuratively, of course) through getting a job at Big White, the Eldorado, local orchards, or any number of businesses in our area. Their life experiences are forever broadened, as are the number of friends and connections they enjoy both here and around the world.

The truly difficult part of embarking upon a voyage to far-off places for youth and young adults is not the prohibitive cost that can be associated with it, nor even a fear of leaving the familiar. Often, the biggest challenge in making the trip is getting parental support, both financial and emotional, to go. In North American culture, very common is a feeling among parents that immediately after high school, a youth should find a job, or enroll in college/university, and do so without delay. Travelling for a year is too often seen not only as a waste of time and money, but also a dishonouring of the efforts made by parents in raising them for the previous 18 or so years!

In fact, I would argue that taking several months or a year to travel can be one of the most rewarding and smartest things a youth can do after graduation. Chances are excellent that he or she will meet many friends during their travels, and as long as certain safeguards are in place (emergency funds, ability to contact home quickly, etc), they will potentially have life experience others only wish they had. In addition, such trips also provide another gift: clarity. There is no substitute for a year away from one’s familiar life in finding true motivation (or lack thereof!) in making the important decision of whether to enroll in college or university studies.

There is no dishonor in travel for youth, and almost never is it intended to be a method to hurt or rebel against parents. It can however be a healthy expression of self, and be a key component in seeking to understand who we are as individuals. This knowledge is of the highest importance as someone grows up and becomes an independent, healthy, and most of all happy adult.

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