Teens often opt to travel without family

NEW YORK – When Ann Kahn was growing up, her family took the same summer vacation every year – a trip to Yosemite. But things are different for her daughter, Ashley.

At 19, Ashley has already set foot on every continent – including Antarctica. And all but one of her journeys abroad were taken without her parents, on trips with other teenagers. She started when she was just 13, visiting Europe with a youth travel organization called People to People Student Ambassadors – http://www.studentambassadors.org/.

“It’s definitely changed my life,” said Ashley, who is from Green Valley, Calif., and is now a freshman at Sonoma State University. When she was younger, she thought she’d like to be a nurse someday. But now, “I’m a French major. I’d like to work in an embassy. Living and working abroad is definitely something I would like to do.”

Thousands of teenagers like Ashley are seeing more far-flung corners of the world, and at younger ages, than any previous generation of Americans.

High schools now routinely organize student trips that require passports. Middle-schoolers hike the rainforest in Costa Rica instead of attending lakeside summer camps with color wars and marshmallow roasts. And older teenagers use the community service they did in Africa as fodder for college essays.

A recent survey of 75 tour operators that belong to the Student Youth Travel Association – http://www.syta.org – found that the top 10 international destinations for youth travel include China, Peru, Brazil and Australia – along with the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Greece. More than half the survey respondents also identified middle school as the biggest segment for growth.

“We still have the traditional tours – an eighth grade trip to Washington or a high school trip to New York,” said SYTA spokeswoman Debbie Gibb.