Assessing the American Trend of Teen Vacations Abroad without Parents

The renaissance clown juggled five fiery torches, each one flying dangerously close to passing women who were twirling about in elaborate ball gowns. A deep bass beat underscored the European trance music, as thousands of beautiful Italians danced and flirted with each other in St. Marco’s Square, in Venice, Italy.

It was an awesome sight. I had stumbled on Europe’s biggest Carnival party in the days before Catholic Lent; two minutes prior I would have never imagined such a thing.

As a teenager from a conservative family living in the American Midwest before the Internet era, my life had been quite sheltered, though I did not think in such terms at the time. When my family was moved to Northern Europe on a foreign assignment, I suddenly had the opportunity for amazing adventures.

Two weeks before my chance discovery of the biggest party on earth (except for the one in Rio, Brazil) at the family dinner table, my father had asked what my plans for the upcoming mid-term holiday were. There were lots of holidays in the country to which we had moved, and I had probably wasted too many of those days lounging about the house, generally being useless and learning nothing.

When I was slow to answer, he announced that I was going on a travel journey with all expenses paid, and immediately following dinner we went to the central train station to purchase my multi-week rail pass with a cabin sleeper upgrade (six beds to a cabin). The first overnight train south was scheduled to leave the next evening.

The following night I was on may way, traveling alone through foreign countries for the first time, without my parents or any other companions. I met similarly aged students in the train, and with a couple of like minded ones, toured cities that we shared on our itinerary. Two out of three nights I would return to a six bed cabin on the train, my exhausted body gently rocked to sleep by the clickity-clack of the train wheels running over the rails.

I toured cathedrals and castles beyond count, city centers five times as old as my country, and even a few very modern discotheques. They were open late, and alcohol was served to teens, yet my travel companions (the Europeans whom I had met on the trains) and I kept getting up early and seeing more of the sights.

Perhaps the modern phenomena of helicopter parents is a result of little children having too little guidance. Children when they are young are left in front of the televisions, encouraged and laughed at when they do foolish things and generally are not trained. I had experienced the fairly strict upbringing that comes from having an orderly and tight knit family – which is a more typical European approach. (Yes, contrary to general thought this means that conservative families from the Midwest of the United States are actually closer to French families than New York or San Fransisco folks.)

As a result of my early training and the structure from which I was raised, my parents pushed me to liberty when I became a young adult, or teen in the modern language. Instead of walking into a diminishing tunnel of freedom and happiness, my joy and liberty grew like compound interest, and through a reasonably good character I stayed away from the drugs and alcohol abuse.

Traveling is an eye opening experience, especially when done in foreign lands. It takes a certain maturity to not put oneself in foolishly dangerous situations, and when a teen does not have that maturity, perhaps he should stay in his parents house. Or better, he should become a man and leave irresponsible childhood things where they belong, in the past.