Educational Travel: Sending your child on a teen service trip

Remember that post from a few months back, where I discussed our preparation for our teen Nate’s teen service trip with Adventures Cross Country? We’re back with a full trip report! If you’re considering sending your teen on a service trip next summer, read on! Spoiler alert: he loved it!


Last July, Nate embarked on Adventures Cross Country’s Costa Rica Classic trip, which comprised of 14 days of awe-inspiring jungle, cultural immersion, new friendships, and character-building insects throughout rural Costa Rica. Were we nervous when we sent him so far from home, without anyone he knows? I’ll admit it: yes. Even though we travel fairly extensively, it was harder than I anticipated to leave Nate solo at San Francisco International, en route to San Jose, Costa Rica (where he met his leaders and group). He had a rocky travel day, which turned into an overnight delay in Dallas/Fort Worth (which you can read about here), but thanks to stellar communication from the Adventures Cross Country (ARCC) team, he was quickly caught up with the group and off and running.


Service, adventure, and fun:

I really like the structure of ARCC trips, which combines service projects with cultural interactions and fun outings. Nate’s trip was basically broken down into four sections of approximately three days each:

  • river rafting along the Pacuare River, including zip lining and a river lodge stay
  • teaching English at a rural grade school, which including play time with the kids
  • helping better a mountain community as they harvested crops and repaired buildings
  • learning to surf at a Costa Rican surf camp


During each of these travel segments, Nate’s team leaders, Sally and Bolo, built group community and bonds without the kids even realizing it was happening. They had fun everywhere they went, engaging local kids in soccer games, playing silly games among themselves, and taking side trips to waterfalls. So much was packed into their two weeks, in fact, that even now, over a month later, Nate is still remembering details and regaling us with tales of adventure.


Read about Nate’s day-to-day itinerary in his own words.

I’ve detailed what to look for in a teen service trip, and why we picked ARCC. But what I could not have known before Nate’s trip is this: teen travel changes lives.¬†True, service trips may or may not change the lives of the local residents of the countries visited on a long-term scale, but one thing is undoubtably clear: it changes the life of the teen. Nate was a responsible kid before ARCC, but after, we noticed a quiet confidence in him that wasn’t there before (or at least wasn’t well established). He told us that while in Costa Rica, he observed other teens who “knew who they were, and were strong enough to be themselves,” a trait he decided he wanted to own himself.


In order to get himself to San Jose unaccompanied, he had to be strong, make decisions, and be responsible for himself in confusing airports, stressful situations, and sometimes, in a foreign language. He had to navigate customs solo, and meet a brand new group of people on the other side. Was he nervous? You bet! Did he come out of it stronger and more self-assured? Definitely.


Nate talks about his time in Costa Rica with a smile or a laugh as he tells antedates about snakes and bunkmates and funny jokes, and sometimes, with downright wonder. “I learned how different cultures can be, and how that’s ok,” he told me, “and I was so grateful how the Costa Rican kids accepted me and brought me into their world.” Will the service projects Nate helped with stand the test of time? Maybe. He hopes the beans he picked in the mountains can be sold for insulin for the farmer, Pepe’s, wife. Will the kids remember the English nouns and phrases he taught them? Perhaps. He’s optimistic, as he reports “all his kids were super smart”. But either way, the change in Nate is permanent.


Still not sure about sending your teen on a service trip?

Consider this: before Nate left, he knew no one (some kids arrived with friends from home), and had never been out of the country without his parents before. Even so, he was not homesick (they’re too busy!), and at the end of the trip, he said he’d recommend it to anyone and everyone he talked to. Check out his video:

Nuts and bolts of an ARCC trip:

I can’t speak for every ARCC trip, but on Nate’s, here’s how things broke down:

  • Nate’s Costa Rica Classic trip comprised of 13 kids (4 girls and 9 boys ages 15-16)
  • The trip lasted two weeks (14 days)
  • The trip cost was $3895, plus airfare, and included all meals, accommodations, projects, activities, everything
  • Nate had two leaders (check out ARCC’s leader criteria)
  • The kids on Nate’s trip were from all over the US, and lasting friendships were formed
  • The ARCC home office is quick with communication and assistance, professional, and competent
  • We were given a very detailed packing list, and offered everything we needed to prepare
  • cell phones were permitted for planned phone calls home only, and held by leaders otherwise
  • recommended spending was about $75 per week: Nate didn’t spend all of his
  • communication between phone calls came in the form of a private blog to parents, with updates

I felt very comfortable with ARCC at all times, and never questioned Nate’s safety or well-being. Yes, I worried about him so far from home (I told him I was homesick on his behalf!), but my worries were unfounded. Nate grew up profoundly in two weeks, and we highly recommend ARCC to others. In fact, Nate’s younger brother is now eying the catalogue!

Disclosure: Nate attended his ARCC trip as a guest of the company, for the purpose of review. Our opinions are our own.