By Susan Farewell
“When I went to Monterey Bay, I thought those were the best ten days of my life. That was until I went to Alaska.”
Both of these trips were taken by 17-year-old Bailey Edelstein of West Palm Beach, Florida (pictured below in purple jacket). She was not paid by the National Geographic Society to rave about them. But when I spoke to her about her experiences with the Society’s teen travel programs, she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.
Bailey first became aware of the student workshops and expeditions when she “Liked” National Geographic on Facebook. They had just started their student programs in 2008 and when she heard about them, she was determined to go, even giving up the beloved summer camp she had attended four years in a row. After completing the application process, which involved getting two teacher recommendations and writing an essay, she was on her way, traveling with like-minded teens along the Monterey Coast, with the University of California’s Monterey Bay campus as a base.
But it was not just about having lots of fun and making new friends (though she raved about both). Bailey chose photography as the subject she wanted to (literally) focus on as part of their “On Assignment” projects. With the guidance of trip leaders and National Geographic experts (photographers, anthropologists, writers, wildlife biologists, explorers), when "on assignment," students break into teams to pursue their chosen focuses. All of them include hands-on projects and in-field activities while also allowing plenty of time for outdoor activities (such as hiking, snorkeling, rafting and horseback riding). Additionally, many of the programs include community service projects.
So thrilled with her first student trip, Bailey spent the next summer, between 11th and 12th grade, on a 17-day National Geographic Student Expedition in Alaska. This trip included traveling through Denali National Park accompanied by writer, naturalist and photographer Kim Heacox, author of The Only Kayak: A Journey Into the Heart of Alaska. “It was so inspiring every step of the way,” she said, adding that on this trip she found what was to become the root of her college essay which contributed to her getting into American University, early decision. “We met this amazing native Alaskan who spoke to us about local rituals and customs and taught us some valuable life lessons that had to do with not judging books by their covers.”
National Geographic is not the only company offering memorable student trips. This summer, the Barque Picton Castle, a three-masted tall ship based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada has a voyage sailing around Newfoundland open to anyone age 16 and up. No experience is necessary. Just a desire to learn. The ship will be circumnavigating the easternmost Canadian waters under the direction of a professional crew which will guide the students in learning how to steer the ship, stand forward lookout, haul on lines to set and take in sails, climb aloft in the rigging (the only part that's optional) and work on deck in service of the ship.
The whole trip, starting and ending in Lunenburg, will take eight weeks, but the voyage will be divided into two week sections. The team will sail to some fantastic ports on this ruggedly beautiful island, visiting the historic capital city of St. John's as well as some tiny outport villages that are only accessible by water.
Students will not only have the rewarding and sometimes challenging experience of working as part of a sailing team, but along the way, will see stunning scenery and wildlife as well as experience the legendary hospitality of the Newfoundlanders.
Another great travel experience for teens involves exploring the wilderness, specifically backcountry locations in New Hampshire and Maine. The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Teen Wilderness Adventures are offered for students, ages 12-18, and combine one or more outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, backpacking, kayaking and mountain biking. AMC's professional instructors are talented and experienced wilderness leaders with strong backcountry skills. The AMC also has teen volunteer trail vacations, in which students are involved in very meaningful projects. These are offered in the Berkshire and White Mountains of New England and are very popular as well as good for meeting high school graduation service requirements.
These are examples of some of the exciting outdoor programs available for your teen. Now’s the time to look into them.
Photo credits: The top three photos on this page are courtesy of National Geographic Student Expeditions. The young woman on board ship was provided by Picton Castle. The group shot directly above this is courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club.