Listening to my sons, ages 27 and 23, describing their recent adventures in South America to a friend reminded me of why such trips are so valuable for young people. The 27 year old was there for 10 months, his brother for 5 months.
The trip was made possible by both working hard for a year and saving their money; when do our kids today ever have to delay gratification like that? It caused them to be frugal with their money, and encouraged them to find ways to stretch their savings. So they learned to “couch surf”, meaning getting on websites to find free places to stay all over South America. They found cheap hostels, and also stayed with new friends they made along the way.
One of the most valuable things I think they learned was to trust themselves, and to trust life. They had no definite plans; they just winged it. This really ingrained in them that they can make things happen, and that they have what it takes to make it anywhere. That is well– earned self-efficacy. There is a confidence you gain from such experiences that you can’t buy or that parents can’t give to children.
There were so many more invaluable lessons learned in their travels. Budgeting their money and time, meeting so many diverse people in 8 different countries, handling the many setbacks and obstacles they faced, staying safe in countries that aren’t always safe, becoming incredibly street-smart.
That is why I am suggesting to all parents that they encourage their children to make such trips a part of their growing up process. And to do so before they are tied to a full-time job or relationship. It can be a right of passage they experience in a culture that offers them few if any such opportunities.
Too many young adults go from high school right into college and then to grad schools or jobs without really taking any time to figure out: WHO AM I? WHAT IS MY LIFE’S PURPOSE? WHAT IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Perhaps that is why so many people in their 20’s and 30’s seem so lost and rudderless.