Going Global with Travel for Teens
by S. Aleksander Black
The group “Travel for Teens” recently visited Northside, with the goal of promoting global travel and cultural exposure. Travel for Teens, often abbreviated as TFT, had a representative present during a lunch block on Feb. 23. Mr. Hunt Odom, a Summer Experience Coordinator for Travel for Teens, was there to shed some light on the organization.
Travel for Teens was founded in 2003 by Patricia Maloney, a master’s level Occupational Therapist, inspired by her experience with teens in Europe. It is an organization with one central goal: teaching students to be travelers, rather than tourists. According to Odom, the difference was in the methodology. Traditional tourism involves going straight to attractions and places of interests in the most direct ways possible, and skimming the surface of the destination, while travel means delving into the culture of the area. “We try to travel in the most local ways,” said Odom. Each and every one of the journeys reflects this attitude.
By focusing on the “doing” rather than just being on a trip, the goal is to have every teen grow throughout the journey. “I think it has a huge impact because it opens your mind to other things out there in the world. It’s important in high school to have this more global view.” Barriers are broken during these trips; for example, the language barrier. Several of the programs have emphasis on language experiences, and, sometimes, the lack of mutual language makes the adventure all the more fascinating. “That’s one of the nice things about traveling,” said Odom. “One time I was in Thailand, and we were in a city, and we walk into a cave. There was this monk there, who didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Thai.” We ended up being invited by the monk for tea. Strange events like this shape people’s lives and are the memories that stay with teens forever.
Odom found Travel for Teens through family connections. His first trip was to Thailand, and he loved it. After majoring in Finance in college and becoming a banker for a few years, Odom realized that he was not satisfied. “I realized I missed travel too much. So I decided to work for TFT on a full-time basis.” Since then, he has been all around the world, to places like New Zealand and Fiji, along with most of Europe.
The organization provides a vast quantity of travel opportunities. Teens who choose to participate can pick their destination based on the summary, provided on the TFT website. “It kind for depends on what you want to do. Some are service based, some are language based, and some are just for fun,” said Odom. It is all based around personal interests; activities can range from surfing to skiing and museums to paragliding. The group offers more than 100 programs, stretching across 45 countries. According to the website, “Travel isn’t just about new places; it’s about new perspectives. Our programs inspire confidence and independence so our travelers feel ready to embark on their own journeys once they leave high school. We encourage teens to step outside their comfort zone, and they leave our programs feeling ready to take on the world.”
The excursions are carefully planned, and are led by experienced guides and in thought-out locations. Safety is always considered, along with the typical itinerary. “We avoid dangerous areas,” said Odom. “Places like Chicago, for example, are going to have their dangerous areas, but we wouldn’t go to them.” By staying in safer areas of destinations, the groups can enjoy the trip in a more carefree manner. Phone usage is also allowed; “We encourage you not to be out and about on your phone, but we’re personally fine if you take your stuff with you. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, it’s all cool; we want you to be able to let those around you know that you’re traveling.” The sharing is a massive part of the Travel for Teens establishment. On each trip, there’s a group of photographers who stay with the group and take pictures to send back to parents. On the TFT website, it is stated that, “We are the only teen travel program to offer this in-depth parent communication and it truly makes all of the difference!”
Above all, when considering if Travel for Teens is for you, just give it some thought. “Prepare by having an open mind,” said Odom. “Don’t be afraid to do new things.” You can contact Travel for Teens via their website, TravelForTeens.com, and also use their extensive website resources to explore the programs, policies, and reviews of people who’ve gone on the trips. The cost of the excursions ranges from around $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the length of the trip, activities during the trip, and other factors. Note that airfare is not included in the pricing, due to the international nature of the traveling. Need-based, reduced tuition is also available, but is limited.