If you had a formative travel experience as a student, raise your hand.
Wherever I go around the country, I meet professionals at tour companies, destination marketing organizations, attractions, hotels and more. And I’m struck by how many of them say that significant travel experiences in childhood helped lead them into their grown-up careers.
That was certainly the case for me. In the years from middle school through college, I was blessed with powerful group travel opportunities that fundamentally altered the course of my life.
I remember each so clearly. The first was a trip to Washington, D.C., with my sixth-grade class. We took a motorcoach overnight from Lexington, Kentucky, which was thrilling for us kids. For my dad and the other chaperones, it couldn’t have been much fun, but they didn’t complain. We packed in as much as we could, visiting the monuments, touring the White House and even meeting our congressman. I still think of it every time I go to Washington.
In the eighth grade, I joined a student group from my church for a weeklong mission trip in rural Mexico. That trip inspired a deep love for Mexico, a place I’ve returned to many times.
A year or two later, the church youth group took another mission trip, this time to Costa Rica. And like Mexico, I would go on to visit again many times as well.
But my most powerful student travel experience came my sophomore year in college, when I spent a semester studying with a couple dozen other American students in the Mexican state of Michoacan. During the week, we took classes in Spanish language and Mexican history. On the weekends, we explored other cities and regions around the country by motorcoach.
By the time I came home from that semester studying abroad, I was hooked. I would be a traveler for life.
As I meet tourism professionals today, I hear versions of that same story over and over. Travel is powerful, and many of the movers and shakers in the travel industry today were inspired by experiences they had as students.
That’s why it’s important for me to shine a spotlight on student travel each year in our April issue. Whether you deal with student groups every day, every now and then, or not at all, supporting the student sector is an important part of supporting the travel industry as a whole. After all, today’s student travelers will become tomorrow’s tourism leaders.
This is also a good reason to join in efforts to make travel accessible to more students. The TooFly Foundation, which offers passport and travel scholarships to disadvantaged minority students, is among several nonprofits doing important work in that area. You can hear my conversation with TooFly founder Bola Ibidapo and learn her inspiring story on a recent episode of our podcast Gather and Go (available in your favorite podcast app or at grouptravelleader.com/podcast).
If you’re one of the many tourism professionals who got your start in travel as a student, I hope you’ll join me in thanking the teachers, leaders, fundraisers and volunteers who made those trips possible. And when you have a chance to make a similar investment in a new generation of students, I hope you’ll seize the opportunity.