Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Especially if you’re a teenager trying to explain how you spent your summer.
Some kids go to camp, on vacation with their family, or just spend the summer sleeping in. Then some, like my daughter, jump on a plane and fly halfway around the world to work in orphanages, remote villages, schools and elephant sanctuaries. Yeah, that’s how some teenagers spend their summer. If there’s a back-to-school essay, they’ve got it covered.
It was a big summer for my daughter. Less than a month after turning 16 and getting a driver’s license she headed to Thailand for two weeks with Adventures Cross-Country (ARCC). Before you start thinking to yourself ‘what a lucky kid,’ think about this — the biggest thing in her backpack was a sleeping pad. As in, there weren’t many comfy beds waiting for them.
Shortly after landing in Bangkok, their first service project was teaching English at a Thai Elementary school. From there the group jumped on a night train to Chiang Mai where they boarded a bus to reach the Village Hill Tribe. For three days they spent the mornings teaching English and in the afternoons they mixed and poured the concrete floor of a library in the making. When’s the last time you mixed and poured concrete then slept on a camping-style sleeping pad? Oh and before I forget, there were no showers.
The entire time, my daughter and her group were off the grid. No phone calls home, and no emails. ARCC has a strict electronics policy. No phones allowed. So when the kids met in Los Angeles, they handed over their phones to their guide.
“Found them. Giving my phone away now. Bye, Love you.”
The text message she sent was quick and to the point. It was also the beginning of the first stretch of time that I haven’t been able to simply pick up a phone and contact my daughter. Was it a bit unnerving? Certainly. Was it good for both of us? Absolutely.
During the two week trip, my daughter was given her phone twice to call home and check in. There are pros and cons to the no phone policy. Some parents love it, some hate it. It’s tough to argue against either side. Parents of potential teen travelers just need to know and think about it long before their kids take-off.
ARCC has a blog parents can check for updates. It clearly states the frequency of updates will vary due to the group’s itinerary and access to technology, but the goal is to provide updates approximately once a week. There were brief notices about safe take-off and arrival, but there weren’t a great deal of photographs posted during the first half of the trip. That’s also the stretch of time the teens were in the most remote location of the trip with the Village Hill Tribe. Once they made it back to Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi, a steady collection of photos were posted on the blog for the rest of the trip.
My daughter had been gone almost a week, when early Monday morning the phone rang. Onboard yet another overnight train, she quickly filled me in on the kids she had met, her cement handiwork and the rice paddy views from the village.
Though she had every reason to be tired and grumpy, she sounded excited and in her element. The group’s next stop was what she had been most excited about since first learning about the trip in March. They were headed to the elephant sanctuary and her travel adrenaline was flowing full throttle.
From the stories I’ve heard since her return, she took advantage of every opportunity she could while in Thailand, refusing to let things that were out of comfort zone sway her. While at the elephant sanctuary, one of the elephants needed some skin care work that involved joining him in the river chest deep and using the fibrous husk of a coconut to clean his hide.
Then there was a trip to Erawan Falls. Because the water was so clear, it was easy to see the many fish. When the kids first got in, they were full of energy, goofing off and moving around constantly, so no one noticed anything out of the norm. When they started to slow down and sit still, they figured out the fish were the dead-skin-eating variety. (The kind you can pay a bundle for in some spas.)
“Not quite a pinch, but a weird more than a tickle feeling,” my daughter found a dry rock to sit on and stuck her feet in for a fish feast.
Travel is rarely perfect, but when things go wrong, how those events are handled can say a great deal about a company. While at the elephant sanctuary, someone rummaged through a few of the kids’ packs, stealing cash and assorted items. In my daughter’s case, her entire wallet was swiped. No cash, no credit card, no debit card.
A fairly quick exchange of emails between ARCC and myself and all was well. Since there were only a few days left in the trip, ARCC said the guides would provide my daughter with any money she needed to finish the trip and just send me a bill once she was home. It was a perfect plan. Her loan grand total of $40.21 was well worth the lesson she learned not to keep all of her money in one place when traveling.
Something tells me this was just the first of many adventures in my daughter’s future. A travel bug is a tough thing to shake and I have a pretty good idea who she caught it from.
Dana received a media rate for her daughter’s trip to Thailand with ARCC, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.
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