The Truth About Traveling As A Teen

The Truth About Traveling As A Teen


About a month ago I received an email from a young traveler who had recently found herself trading in her junior year of high school for a round-the-world education.  She had started a blog called Dear Lunch Table, and once I paid her blog a visit, I couldn't help but wonder how a 16 year-old goes from sitting behind a desk to traveling the world and blogging about it.  So I decided to ask KJ, and 4 other young people, to share some of their thoughts on traveling the world.


KJ @ Dear Lunch Table - Age 16 - Currently Cycling Across Vietnam

So KJ, last year you are sitting in classes as a sophomore and now you're biking in Vietnam.  How did this happen and why?
I’ve never been the most conventional person in a room. I’ve always had wacky ideas that seem to be somewhat judged with an air of, “Well, that was weird. Good weird, but weird.” It’s also correct to say that this gene of unconventionality has been passed down to me from my parents, and so it’s also safe to assume that my parents and I share a similar idiosyncratic passion for strange thoughts. And this uniqueness sparked our yearlong world trip.
The proposal of traveling, and the committal to the idea, just kind of happened. It was in February of 2011 when my parents asked my brother and I if we wanted to do this . . . to travel. We both had the mindset of, “Why not?” and the only bump in the road, for us at least, was that we didn’t want to be held back in school. I was a sophomore and I couldn’t imagine coming back after a year to see all of my friends becoming seniors while I sat in an 11th grade classroom. So, it took about two weeks to figure out how to be “world-schooled.” And then, we just said, “Okay.” And so we decided to hop on a plane to Bogota, Colombia in August. Yes, we’re not exactly the best planners.

So, while the decision to go on this trip took about 2 weeks, the whole idea of this world travel experience came from quite a few factors that were stirring through our family since 7th grade, when we moved to Nicaragua:
1) There was a definite routine I was falling into at both school and home that was driving me into a pattern of acceptance instead of questions. What I mean is that I was so caught up in getting straight A’s and trying to breathe under books, soccer, and social life, that I forgot to interrogate the idea that there were other ways to look at life than through the words scribbled in a textbook. Okay, so at first it was only my parents who realized I wasn’t seeing the fact that climbing “monkey bridges” through Vietnam villages was providing the same, if not more, valuable information than the two paragraphs about poor Vietnamese villagers that I read in a history class. But the second day of running through the streets of Colombia changed me. I get it now.
2) This is my one shot to be 16 and to travel the world. (Okay, so perhaps when I’m 99 years old they will have created a time machine, but for the purpose of my story, I’m just going to go ahead and say, “No, there isn’t a time machine.”)  
Anyways, the point is that you’ve got one life so live it to live, unless you are a Hindi because you would then believe in reincarnation. So don’t stand around waiting for opportunities to happen. You’ve got to be brave enough to create your own chances. But yes, that was pretty much it. I would rather be sitting on a park bench in Peru, watching Peruvian life happen, being part of it, than sitting at a desk I’ve studied in for over 10 years, and reading about it. So, yeah, that was that.
3) Oh, and I was also pretty sure that George Bush had screwed up the world and edged a negative view of the United States into everyone’s minds. So, of course, I had to go check out the world to see if I was right. I kind of am, but then again, I’m kind of not. Because it turns out, the world is a much more forgiving place than I ever thought was possible.
So, I guess, to sum it all up, last year I was sitting at a desk as a sophomore thinking this was my only option for learning, but now I’m biking through Vietnam, feeling like I can make every opportunity in the world open up for me, except for maybe being an Olympic gymnast, but besides that, pretty much anything. And that was the purpose of the trip: to create a life that’s crowded with chances.


Joy @ FamilyTravelBucketList - Age 13 - Living It Up In Costa Rica

How is life different for a traveling teenager?

Life for a traveling teen is VERY different from a normal life in the U.S. Some things are weird or not so great, but others are really neat and cool to experience. You really can't dig into your favorite Lay's chips whenever you want, because after a while, you'd go bankrupt. Things from the U.S. cost a lot more, because of the shipping prices. And moving from place to place isn't easy, each time you move, you leave new friends and cool places behind and still find more in the next place. It also gives you a new appreciation for other people around the world and cultures, too.

It is really cool to tell your friends in the U.S. about all of your experiences around the globe, but sometimes you just wish they were there to experience these things with you. Sometimes, life is lonely, and you want to go back to the U.S., but other times, you never want to leave where you are!

I love to travel the world.


Miro @ Raising Miro - Age 12 - Just Landed Back In Peru

Tell me the single best and worst aspects of traveling?

Well, I think that the best part of being a travelling teen is obviously not going to school. I am unschooling, so I am learning, but it's not the same as going to school. I mean, this way I get to dodge all that crap I have no interest in learning. "What about math?" people ask. "Screw math." I reply.

Then again, on the other hand, travelling prevents me from having a group of friends I can hang out with. I guess there's Skype and Facebook, but its not the same.


Hannah @ Edventure Girl - Age 15 - Checking Off Countries.  Next Destination, Asia!

You've been traveling a long time.  Where do you see yourself in 5 years, and how do you think your travels have impacted your plans or thoughts on the future?

Travel has definitely changed my outlook on my life and how I want to live it. I can’t see myself undergoing a magical transformation throughout my college years and becoming the normal American I always expected to be before I started traveling. Back then, I assumed that as a teen I would go through high school and then move on to college, following the “normal” life expected of the average American teenager. I then assumed I would get married, settle down, raise a few children and perhaps build a career from home. Traveling the world was not on my agenda, and my family’s decision to become world travelers was a huge shock. However, travel has opened my eyes to the possibilities surrounding teens and allowed me to dream bigger than I ever have. No one has to live the “normal” life, and frankly it sounds quite boring!

In five years I hope to be still working on my lifetime goal of visiting every country on the planet, a professional travel writer and videographer, and possibly working as an environmentalist around the world. I would never have even dreamed of doing these things if it weren’t for the life of adventure my family embarked upon just four short years ago.


Kate @ Life Changing Year - Age 15 - Making Her Way Across Cambodia 

It's only been a month, but if you could go back to home and school today, would you do it?

If I had been asked this 2 weeks ago, it would've been a definite yes! I guess that the fact of having a somewhat normal life with normal friends and your education and job at McDonalds is hard to leave when it's basically your second nature. As much as I miss my friends, I don't think it would actually be worth it to follow through on my first decision to go home! I presume that now that we are actually here, and in the neck of all of the experiences, my opinion has changed & I don't think I'd be able to live with the regret if I chose to go home.

Firstly, I guess that south east Asia has so far exceeded my thoughts about what exactly we would be experiencing, and it just makes me realize : if I choose to go home, what else am I missing out on? Not just here in Asia, but in America, and Europe, the places that are definitely on my "to visit" list!

Secondly, as much as I keep telling myself that I can live without my family for a whole 12 months, it is a little bit of a white lie. When we get lost, or if something goes wrong, we are all here together and we help each other get through whatever is blocking our path. I consider my best friend to be family, but when you actually think about it she can't give me mothering advice, or information gathered through experience.

And, lastly, this really is the trip of a lifetime! Why would I consider giving up on it and going back to living a normal 15 year old's life- when I can have this for the entire year? The places we are visiting are sometimes places that people will never visit in their entire lifetime and here I am experiencing it, while I'm still young!

And I secretly think one of the reasons I'm enjoying it so much (!!) and looking forward for what's to come is because I don't have to pay! ;)


Thanks to all those who contributed.  Good to see there are so many possibilities out there in the world.  And I have to say, I agree with Miro.  Screw math - except when it comes to travel budgets.


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'The Truth About Traveling As A Teen' have 23 comments

  1. February 28, 2012 @ 11:13 am Tracey - Life Changing Year

    Hahaha! Screw math! I love it!! Way to go Miro!! Thanks for including Kate in this post - its nice to see she doesn't still want to go home!!
    Tracey - Life Changing Year recently posted..Indefinite family travel – Why Not? Interview with Justin Mussler!


  2. February 28, 2012 @ 12:04 pm Barbara

    As a (very reluctant) grown-up, all I can say is: Kids, enjoy your travels, REALLY enjoy them, enjoy not having to worry about money. Things change a lot when you have to fund your own travels... your parents are all extra-amazing for wanting to travel AND being smart enough to work out how to finance the travels.

    Such great stories. I love traveling teens!
    Barbara recently posted..Crazy Hazy Days In Chiang Mai


  3. February 28, 2012 @ 12:37 pm Wanderplex

    Some very wise kids there! I think travel is such a wonderful learning experience and it definitely sounds like these teens have really opened their eyes after visiting other countries. This should really be a mandatory experience for all young people!
    Wanderplex recently posted..Suffering temple fatigue? Try seeing things in a new light.


  4. February 28, 2012 @ 2:15 pm Joanna

    Great post...loved reading the info. I really hope my 12 yr old doesn't feel lonely in China, she doesn't want to leave her friends at all and cries at the thought of it. I guess the emotional back& forth feelings are normal for that age..hopefully all will go well.


    • February 28, 2012 @ 2:39 pm Justin Mussler

      I'm sure she'll feel lonely at times - we all do. What I took from these guys was that they go back and forth between loving travel and missing home. But to me, that sounds like many people I know, regardless of their travel experience.

      All the best Joanna!


  5. February 28, 2012 @ 2:48 pm Mary @ Green Global Travel

    I'm so glad to hear teen travel voices- great post. It's probably not possible, but I'd love to read a follow up post as these travelers grow into independent adults. Traveling has a way of shaping people into amazing individuals and I have no doubt that these teens are going to positively affect the world.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Nelson Mandela, Graceland & 50 Years As South Africa’s Cultural Ambassadors


    • March 1, 2012 @ 5:09 am Justin Mussler

      I think it's pretty possible. Great idea! I'll put the idea in the vault for a while.


  6. February 29, 2012 @ 8:59 am Andrea

    It's great to read stories like this! More kids should get out and travel instead of living vicariously through movies and television. Kudos to their parents for allowing it to happen.


  7. February 29, 2012 @ 12:12 pm Shannon O'Donnell

    Loved this post, I am currently traveling with my 11 year old niece in SEA and the transformation from her hesitation the month before she left (the "what about my friends" comments) have shifted and it's been remarkable to see her interpret her experiences here and process the new culture, history, and traveling life, much as these other teens have noted. It's heartening to hear Joy, KJ and the rest note that they're glad for the experience even while very much in the middle of it! :)
    Shannon O'Donnell recently posted..A Little Review…The Perfect Travel Camera, My Lumix MFT


    • March 1, 2012 @ 5:14 am Justin Mussler

      That's great to hear Shannon. I think that is the case for many families traveling with kids. I think it's almost impossible for kids to imagine the experience, how could they? It's very natural to be nervous about something you can't really imagine. But once things get rolling, it's a pretty unbelievable experience!


  8. March 1, 2012 @ 11:03 am Nate @yomadic

    Go kids! Travel really is the best education.
    Nate @yomadic recently posted..Abandoned Buildings – Photography and Exploration Guide


  9. March 1, 2012 @ 10:28 pm Paige AllOvertheMap

    Gosh, Justin. You are always posting exactly what I need to read! My kids have been inundated with paperwork about middle school, and choosing electives, and they are so excited about middle school, except that they won't be going to middle school. They'll be traveling with us. And they are still nonplussed about that. I'm so glad to hear about these kids and how travel has changed them. Did you come across any kids who were not having a great time?
    Paige AllOvertheMap recently posted..Ski Santa Fe


  10. March 2, 2012 @ 6:03 am What’s new ’round the web: week of 03/02/12 | Wanderplex | Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration for World Travel

    [...] around the world but can’t stand the thought of uprooting your kids – this read is for you. The truth about traveling as a teen features a series of interviews with globetrotting youngsters who share the lessons they’ve [...]


  11. March 4, 2012 @ 1:36 pm Andrew

    Definitely interesting to read opinions of kids on travel. THe only thing I don't agree with is the "screw math." I don't get how math gets such a bad rap. You use it daily anyway in one form or another. Exchange rates, budgets, bus schedules, cooking. There are so many ways to teach math especially out in the world. And really all that great architecture you look at requires math, so have respect for it just like you respect history.
    Andrew recently posted..German Expat – 11 1/2 Signs This Could be You


    • March 6, 2012 @ 9:08 am Justin Mussler

      I agree with you. As an adult, I love math. I find myself using it constantly. But as a kid I hated it. Especially the way it was taught in school. So I can see Miro's point of view. I don't think i really understood how useful math was until I had to use it as an adult.

      I wonder if kids had more responsibility financially, if they would appreciate it more.

      Thanks Andrew!


  12. March 6, 2012 @ 8:30 am Jeanne @soultravelers3

    Fun to read what other kids are thinking! We've been traveling the world as a family non-stop for the last 6 years..44 countries so far on 5 continents. Our daughter was 5 when we started and is now 11 and has seen much more of the world than most people ever see, plus she is fluent as a native in the world's top 3 languages ( Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and English) and speaks bits of many others.

    Travel truly is the very best education! We don't really deal with the missing friends issue since we regularly return to our home bases in Barcelona, California, Penang and Andalusia, so keep up with friends via slow travel mixed with faster travel to new places.

    I have to agree with Andrew about the "screw math" comment. We "world school" as we roam and find math, science, history etc hugely important as well as piano and violin lessons. Of course, time to play, be in nature, understand other cultures and religions, even being totally comfortable with mass transit around the world from camels to cargo ships are also important lessons. ;)
    Jeanne @soultravelers3 recently posted..Finding a Vacation Rental Apartment in Penang -2


    • March 6, 2012 @ 9:11 am Justin Mussler

      No doubt Jeanne - we all need the math. It's actually very interesting to me now. But as a kid I couldn't relate, so I see his point.

      Love hearing stories of your family and how possible and beneficial travel can be. And I know you needed math to make it possible!



  13. March 7, 2012 @ 5:48 pm Eddy Baez

    Very cool!! I can definitely relate to some of these stories.
    Eddy Baez recently posted..If you can dream it, we can draw it!


  14. March 8, 2012 @ 4:33 am Kate Jones

    I was so pleased to read that I wasn't the only teen travelling. And not the only one who hates math!

    Thank you for posting this, Justin- it was a great idea for a post! Mum has somehow managed to convince me to start my own blog--

    Kate Jones recently posted..Scamming in Penang – oh yay !


  15. March 31, 2012 @ 5:42 am Go East – Indie Travel Challenge » Grounded Traveler

    [...] of dead people. It is the school subject of things that no one cares about any more. As much as math is hated, it at least comes up regularly in daily life. History is somehow more avoidable. This is especially [...]


  16. November 26, 2012 @ 12:43 pm John

    It sounds like all these teens are travelling with their families.

    But what about families who don't want to travel the world but whose teens have adventurous spirit.

    Ay stories about that?


    • April 17, 2013 @ 3:43 pm Ira

      Yes , Jhon I understand you very well )) What should other teens do if they really want travel ? I ever would say more - if it is their desire ??


  17. February 12, 2013 @ 9:51 am Mo

    Great reading... Now it's almost a year on, how about an update I hope we can join the family travel group!!! We're just 7 months into our amazing adventures, so far just in South America. We've met some other families along the way (including the smart and wonderful, Maths-free Miro in Peru!) Meeting and making friends along the way, both travellers and locals, is an absolute highlight for all of us - we just spent time together with another family in Bolivia and i'm certain we've all made friends for life! And finding blogs like this a real inspiration:)


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