As schools let out for summer in many parts of the US, and prepare to do so in the UK, travel is in the air, on the ground, everywhere. Seeing young people navigate airports, fly for the first time, and tour cities like London makes me reflect upon my own travels.
Often when doing so, I am reminded of how some life experiences, big or small, have an elusive way of influencing who we are. Undeniably, living in New York City in my twenties and travelling around the US then has had a great impact on my life, as well as the international travel I did in my thirties. But what was it that gave me the audacity to set out for the Big Apple in the first place?
Arguably, a number of factors took me there: my desire to become a writer led the pack, but on its own, it might not have been enough. Thus, I can't help but wonder if it all started at age sixteen, with a summer holiday to Steubenville, Ohio.
Though not exactly a tourist destination, it was the first major holiday that I had away from my parents. And even if I was in the company of my maternal grandmother, Mama, it gave me a taste of travel without my parents.
Not to say that holidays with parents don't have a positive influence - of course they do - but it is on holidays without that teens in particular often begin to grow intuitively. I am not proposing that teenagers launch a campaign to travel sans parents/primary guardians, but if there is such an opportunity, I reckon they ought to pounce on it, preferably with parental blessings in tow.
First, travel unto itself promotes character-building, regardless of age, but when teenagers set out on a journey without parents they tend to take more responsibility for their own existence. For instance, even if they don't pack their own bags, say for a big school trip, they'll have to get their bags back home somehow, adding souvenirs and honouring all the travel rules.
And packing is just the beginning. Not to mention taking responsibility for chores and learning new skills.
On my first trip, this sense of responsibility started well before arrival in Ohio. Let's say Mama took a backseat, giving me the front one happily. She never caught the travel bug, but the summer I was sixteen, she decided to take me with her to visit her youngest daughter, Auntie, who had lived up north for some twenty-five years.
As the bus lumbered away from the station, I began to rise to the occasion, making sure that we were safe and well and continuing to lead the way: making the right connections, handling the money, talking to the ticket clerks ... the whole shebang.
In one holiday, I became responsible beyond home, trustworthy, and gained a lot of credibility with Mama and ultimately my parents, too. This new status would serve me well later when I wanted to go out on dates, away for college, even move to New York.
And I learned quite a bit about myself as well, which is the second reason why travel without parents is a healthy venture for teenagers. Often the teen years are cited as a time of discovery, and travel provides a great backdrop for this.
On my trip, for example, I learned rather quickly that I had courage and tenacity. Also, I was more independent than I could have imagined. And to keep this spirit healthy, I needed knowledge and specific skills.
For instance, though I grew up reading the church announcements as if I was reading the news, I hadn't dared to dream that I might do such a job one day. But that summer, my uncle, who had been a popular disc jockey when he was younger, recognised the potential journalist in me.
To this end, he videotaped me reading the news and insisted that I watch the tapes. Though I didn't pursue a career in broadcasting, I gained the confidence to speak openly and fluently and step outside my comfort zone, which leads to the third reason why travelling as a teenager is beneficial: it brings a widening of scope, perspective on people, places, and things.
Whether it is from the big city to the country or vice versa, from one country to another, from south to north, travel opens up a whole new world. And if this happens during that intuitive growth period, sans mom and dad, that's even better. But don't forget to pack the blessings. Surely, they'll come in handy, either on the trip or back at home.