Ten Character-Building Travel Experiences to Have Before You're 15
By Justine Seligson
Illustration by Chris Murphy
I recently turned 15 and this milestone has made me think about all the amazing travel adventures I’ve experienced so far. Some I loved and some I hated. But one thing they all had in common was that they taught me something about life and…well, travel. Here are the top ten that I’ve personally gone through. Looking back, if I had to do it again, I’d say definitely yes, it’s a good idea to get these initial experiences behind you before you hit the big 1-5.
1. Leave a stuffed animal behind in a hotel. At the age of five I suffered a traumatic experience. My parents and I were traveling around northern Vermont and I left my beloved stuffed puppy, “Stranger” (weird name, I know) in a hotel. When we realized this, my mom frantically called the hotel, insisted they search the laundry room, and eventually arranged for them to Fed Ex Stranger to the hotel we were moving on to. I remember the sudden rush of joy when I saw Stranger’s face after being separated for a few days (a long time for a kindergartener). This somewhat unfortunate event taught me both to keep a sharp eye on my belongings while away, and that you appreciate important things even more once you’ve almost lost them.
2. Forget to bring your iPhone charger. I’ve done it more than once and then had an anger fit once we reached our destination. Enough said.
3. Eat something not offered on the home menu. You always hear that you should be curious and willing to try new things. In this case I’m specifically referencing food, and this is me talking, the original ruler of the Kingdom of Picky Eaters. When I was nine, I was mostly looking forward to my family’s trip to Paris, emphasis on mostly, that little percentage being that I was not excited about trying new foods. Prior to our trip, dad tried to scare me by saying that French chefs disapproved of anybody who disliked their cooking and would literally throw you out of their restaurants. I obviously didn’t believe him, but decided that this was my first time to France and that I should be at least a little curious, cuisine-wise. So at a restaurant during one of the first few nights, I ordered L’Escargot. When it arrived, I closed my eyes and quickly swallowed. I wouldn’t say that I loved the taste of snails, but it was certainly interesting and I’m glad I tried it.
4. Climb a tower. On that same trip to Paris, I was determined to do the typical tourist thing in the City of Lights--climb the Eiffel Tower. The stairs were infinite and the hordes of people were irritating. But by the time we made it up to the top and I glanced over one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I felt more alive than ever (that's me in the photo at the top of the tower). I learned that while on a journey, there might be some unpleasant areas, but usually the end is worth it all.
5. Have a boring tour guide. All right, I’m not going to name names for obvious reasons. But throughout my life and in almost every place we’ve been to, my family has gone on countless tours. Some of them have been very interesting and mind enriching, while others were long, irritating and made me want to jump out of the moving car. If I think about it though, there is always something funny to keep me entertained—whether the guide has a raspy voice, a funny accent or says “yes-ah” at the end of every sentence.
6. Endure an annoying plane ride. People always complain about crying babies on planes, but what about two Italian men who won’t stop talking for eight hours? Or how about a woman who sits behind you and will do anything in her power to prevent you from putting your seat back? I’ve gone through these types of flights with irritating passengers too many times to count. Nobody enjoys these plane rides but if you’re my age and haven’t yet experienced one, I can honestly say that you have simply not been on a plane. The one good thing that does come out of this experience is that you’ll have funny stories to tell to your friends after the flight.
7. Pay to go to the bathroom. In many countries you are expected to pay the attendants in the public restrooms. I experienced this while I was in our hotel in Ecuador two years ago. I was very confused at first, but then I asked my mom and she explained to me how it was standard at many places around the world. I’m glad I learned this early in life so I always have some local currency on hand when heading for the restrooms.
8. Take the wrong bag from the baggage claim carousel. This very incident happened to me when I was 11 after my family's flight back from California. We were waiting for our luggage and a blue floral bag popped out. It looked just like the bag that I brought with me for this trip, but a little bigger. I was just tired enough not to question why the bag looked slightly larger and grabbed it from the carousel. Just as we were heading for the taxi, a woman came towards us holding a bag that looked just like mine, but a little smaller. She said that she thought she had our bag and it turned out to be right! On the ride home I remember thinking nothing other than “What if?”
9. Lose your luggage. I could say this is worse than number eight, especially if you’re arriving in a place that’s not home. This one hasn’t actually happened to me (yet!) but I second-hand witnessed it, when it happened to my dad on our way back from Hawaii. We waited for the longest time until the carousel was empty. Indeed his bag was lost. Rather than fall to pieces, we all simply went home and the bag was actually delivered in the middle of the night. What I did learn from dad was that losing luggage is not the end of the world. “It’s just stuff,” he said. “All replaceable.” Of course, we were heading home. I imagine if we were skiing and he lost his ski clothes when we arrived at the destination, he’d be chirping another tune.
10. Get sick while on a trip. This is once again referencing the trip I took to Paris six years ago, making it even more amazing that I tried snails and climbed one of the highest towers in the world. On that same trip, I had a good old cold which started the minute we boarded the plane at JFK. I didn’t feel 100 % at all while in Paris, but I had been looking forward to it so much, that I did everything I wanted to. We walked for hours every day and went to all the places I had read about. Of course, sometimes you’re too sick to do that sort of stuff…but remember, that’s why there’s room service! Can’t imagine a better city to order it in.
Artwork Credits: Illustration by Chris Murphy. To learn more about his work, visit here.
Photo is Justine on top of the Eiffel Tower.
About Justine Seligson: Just-Teens Travel columnist
Justine Seligson, our teen columnist and photographer, is a freshman in high school. Justine started her Just-Teens Travel column providing teen insights, ideas and advice for students (and their parents) when she was in 7th grade.
At 14 years old, Justine won the Cynthia Mullins Award in Youth Photography at the Annual Juried Student Exhibition at Silvermine School of Art in New Canaan, CT. She has also been published on National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog. See her piece here.
If you would like to suggest topics--or contribute a teen travel piece--e-mail Justine.