Good News: What's Hot for Today's Teen Traveler Is Helping Others

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An analysis of 6,000 applications for Family Travel Forum's 2008 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship reveals that at least 51% of American teens have traveled outside the U. S. by their 18th birthday, and that 15% more of these young travelers were involved in service projects compared with 2007 results.

Pennsylvania teen volunteering at a hospital in Koutiala, Mali.

The 15% increase in teen voluntourism seen since last year may be due to a heightened awareness of our interconnected world, from the environment to Darfur to President-elect Obama's campaign for change

Results of the teen scholarship sponsored by Family Travel Forum (FTF), the award-winning family vacation media company, reveal that more than 10% of US teens who applied for the second annual scholarship traveled with the sole purpose of helping others. Verifying the rising trend, FTF found that the 32% of scholarship applicants who wrote about escorted cultural and teen tours also participated in at least one day of community service at their destination.

"The 15% increase in teen voluntourism seen since last year may be due to a heightened awareness of our interconnected world, from the environment to Darfur to President-elect Obama's campaign for change," says FTF editor Kyle McCarthy. The students' own words suggest that community service provides much more than padding resumes for college applications. Of the 10% of teens who vacationed in the Caribbean and Mexico with their families, most wrote about their positive interaction with the local community, rather than beach time or reggae lessons. Compelling stories of teen service ranged from comforting AIDS babies at a mission hospital in Mali to house building in the Lower Ninth Ward, in settings as varied as a Mumbai mall under terrorist attack, a cruise ship, and a Chinese home stay with a hostess whose English name was Harry Potter.

Despite the weakness in the U.S. dollar that affected leisure travel overall, 51.4% of the 2008 applicants traveled outside North America, up more than 8% since 2007. Regions benefiting from the largest year-over-year change were Europe (20.8% vs. 17%), Asia (10% vs. 6%), and Central and South America (6% up from 4% last year.) And while the sacrifice of relatives who funded these trips was a recurring theme in the essays submitted, in fact more than 63% of the trips were with family (9% more than in 2007), proving that the educational and bonding aspects of vacationing together remain a priority for parents, even in recessionary times.

FTF's scholarship attracts a young demographic that's valued for their spending power: applicants between 13 and 18 years of age; attending American public, private or home schools; U.S. Department of Defense schools; or International-American programs. According to the 2008 Youth Travel Matters study done by the UNWTO, 20% of all international arrivals are young independent travelers whose travel expenditures have risen 40% since 2002. FTF's site for those who dream of travel Before I Get Old, travelBIGO.com, hosts the company's annual teen scholarships and monthly awards for most popular travel journals contributed by travelers of any age. To read more about the winners of the 2008 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship competition, sponsored this year by The Society of American Travel Writers, visit this link: 2008 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship Winners.

About FTF

The Family Travel Forum community lives by the mantra Have Kids, Still Travel!, sharing the rewards and challenges of world travel. The company's family vacation websites -familytravelforum.com, familytravelboards.com, travelbigo.com and tinytravelers.net - contain vast libraries of destination research, including first-hand reviews of tropical and ski resorts, cruises, reunion ideas, vacation packages, health, safety tips and more. FTF offers families custom trip-planning and exclusive vacation discounts, licenses best-of-breed content to other websites, and consults to the trade on marketing to families.

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Kyle McCarthy