Adventure Treks’ Alum: ‘Our Advice for New AT Students’ – Part 1

AT Staff11 May, 2020

Making the decision to embark on an Adventure Treks trip for the first time can be a little unnerving and scary; after all, many of our new students have never done an outdoor trip before! We applaud our students’ choices to step outside of their comfort zone to do something completely new, including meeting new people from all over the country and world; trying outdoor activities like mountain biking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and backpacking; and living in a close community for two to four weeks at a time.

We recently asked our returning students and parents and alumni for their best advice for new students coming to Adventure Treks for the first time. As usual, they delivered with heartfelt, thoughtful comments! Below is part 1 of our advice series.

Any general advice for students (or their parents!) who might be a little nervous about attending AT for the first time?

“Going to Adventure Treks [in 2019 for the first time], I had many of these same worries. Don’t make any assumptions on what an activity or people will be like. For example, last summer I was not excited for the rafting trip because my family rafted once and it wasn’t very fun. At AT, though, the rafting was one of my favorite activities, and I wished that I didn’t dread it the whole trip because it totally was not what I expected.” – Alex F., student from Winnetka, IL (2 trips)

“The first day can be kinda awkward, especially when you don’t really know anyone. But don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to make a new friend—it’s totally worth it!” – Serena G., student from Erie, CO (1 trip)

“Like all first-timers, our granddaughter was apprehensive about what to expect the first time. But rest assured, the Adventure Treks team—in the office and on the ground with the kids—really know how to assure that each and every teen has a wonderful experience. Your children (and grandchildren) will come back to you so much more grown-up, self-assured, and independent—and the growth each year is a wonder to see. The most difficult part of the trip is the first few days when they return; it is an adjustment coming back to reality and, of course, they miss their friends. Our granddaughter most of all loves the lasting friendships she has made, the instructors being a close second to her peers; she also finds the beauty in the wilderness, the challenges that come up, and working together as a team so fulfilling. And, she barely misses her cell phone! Her grandfather, mother, and I can’t say enough good things about this program and can’t wait to hear all about her California Challenge this year!” – Susan Norwalk, grandparent from Norwalk, CT (3 trips)

“It is perfectly normal to be nervous! The first day at AT may seem overwhelming, but remember that everyone is nervous. Everyone there is looking to make friends, so reach out—and before you know it, you will have met some of your best friends!” – Claire T., student from Nashville, TN (5 trips)

“The first thing I would say to any new AT parent is that your kids are stronger and more resilient than you realize. This is the moment for them to try new things, test new skills, and have their own adventures. They need to do this without us always looking over their shoulders. We need to love them enough to let them make their own mistakes and have their own success. It is also really important for teens to see life beyond the bubble they usually live in, beyond their comfort zone. The experience reminds them that there are many ways to live, and they are strong and capable of adapting and flourishing! Finally, AT allows kids to join a new community with no preconceived notions about who they are or who they are not. They have the chance to meet and bond with kids and instructors in a neutral setting that allows for real friendships to evolve. AT is a great reminder that life is about more than stuff. It is about who you are and not what you have.” – Laura Cattabriga, parent from Miami Beach, FL (4 trips)

“I have met some of my best friends at AT, and I still talk to people that I met on my first trip three years ago. Also, I have had many reunions with some of my best friends, and I FaceTime the ones that live far away. I can’t imagine my life without some of my friends from AT. And each summer I get to reunite with my friends with previous trips. Running up to your best friends and hugging them after not seeing each other for a year is an amazing feeling. I can’t wait to see some of my friends in Alaska this summer!” – Megan S., student from Franklin Lakes, NJ (4 trips)

“First off, it’s normal to be a bit nervous for first-time adventures—we certainly were. But rest assured, the AT staff have the travel stuff VERY well organized. From the moment your child gets on the plane, they are tracking flights; they give great directions regarding flight times, travel tips, and how and when the instructors will meet your child. They make sure your child checks in with you via phone when they are all together so that you can rest assured they aren’t wandering the airports. When our daughter went on her first trip with AT, I traveled with her to the Denver airport. As soon as we got off the plane, we met up with one of her instructors and then she was on her way. I was able to fly back knowing that she was in good hands, and confident that she was beginning a trip of a lifetime. In this day and age, one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is to provide safe, guided challenges—getting to know strangers in the wilderness is just one of those challenges! As our daughter leaves for college this fall, I have no worries about how she will do in a setting with new people she doesn’t know.” – Michelle and Wade Eichhorn, parents from Ely, IA (6 trips)

“My general advice if you’re feeling nervous is that it’s way easier to integrate into Adventure Treks than you think; you have no need to be worried because everyone else might be worried, too.” – Gibson D., student from Madison, WI (4 trips)

“You might be a bit nervous about people not liking you and the activities being hard or boring, but you should keep in mind that everyone else is giving you a chance—so you should give them a chance, too. The activities are not meant to be easy… they are meant to help you grow, and once you’re done with them, you will be so glad you did an AT trip.” – Sky W., student from Willard, UT (2 trips)

“Just jump in! I remember that at my first year of being at Adventure Treks, I was nervous and didn’t say much for the first few days. But I think if you walk in being yourself, you’ll have nothing to worry about! Just go have fun and be yourself. You’ll be with the same people for the next few weeks, so there’s no point in being someone else. And keep a positive mindset! It really brings the group down to be negative when things get stressful. Take lots of pictures and videos!” – Audi E., student from Ely, IA (5 trips)

“We found AT via an internet search. Our oldest daughter wanted to have an outdoor summer experience, and we were scared she would go on any trip and call us a day later to ask to be brought home. I wrote to AT just because I liked their website (truly). They called me the next day and explained the whole program. I was relieved to know that my daughter did not need to be a star athlete and that trips were gender-balanced so that she would not be the only girl on the trip. In terms of safety, to be honest, explanations were so clear that I never doubted she would be safe in their care. As the trip approached, all she had was great anticipation for what has become a way of life for her. She went on five AT trips throughout high school and has made lifelong friendships. I remember one summer where I told her that maybe as college applications were approaching, she should try a college prep summer camp. She just looked at me and said, ‘How many girls do you know have climbed Mt. Shasta?'”– Hildegard Vasquez, parent from Panama (10 trips)

“Even though our daughter grew up around Adventure Treks [as I am a former AT instructor], she was very nervous about attending her first adventure. But she found all of the online videos, blogs, and other information very helpful to ease concerns. She was also very concerned about navigating an airport on her own for the first time—we found studying online airport layouts and signs for concourses, gates and baggage claim was helpful.” – Kyle Graham, parent from Erie, CO (1 trip)

“I was lucky enough to have my older sister to give me tons of advice for my first trip, and I’ve been so lucky to find lifelong friends from all over the world! Remember, there are a lot of other people in the exact same situation as you. If you’re nervous about a specific activity, like mountain biking or backpacking, I completely understand. Mountain biking is terrifying to me! The instructors are there to help you get through the activities, and I learned you don’t always have to be the best at everything.” – Krithi D., student from Berkeley, CA (3 years)

“If it’s your first time attending AT, don’t get too nervous that it stresses you out. Once you get there, you’ll realize how amazing it is. Try to enjoy every single thing. Even it’s just a van ride or staying up late in your tent, those are honestly some of my favorite memories. Also, try to talk to every single person, and soon your trip will have inside jokes and everyone will be really close.” – Lexi S., student from Mooresville, NC (3 trips)

“James started at Adventure Treks when he was 13; he was born and raised in the same small town, in the same house, with the same people. He had never done anything outside of the family, his circle of friends, or his sports teams. When I was 13, I went with a group of about 14 kids my age (that I did not know prior) on a road trip from Virginia to Canada and back. We camped, backpacked, and whitewater rafted at many stops along the way. It had a huge impact on me that I have never forgotten, and I wanted my son to have the same experience. I researched outdoor programs on the internet and found Adventure Treks. Comparing AT to the other programs, I liked their philosophy best. The reviews almost seemed too good to be true. It was not an easy decision, and it was a monetary sacrifice. But I pushed forward and got my wish. Putting him on the plane by himself led me to wonder if I had any idea what I had done. He arrived safely, so I got over the first hurdle. The next day we received a picture of James in his new AT group. It was a little painful to see him standing apart from the group, so stiffly, hiding behind his bucket hat and sunglasses.

The next few weeks were long and lonely. However, my fears subsided each time I heard his voice on the phone. He was having such a good time that I don’t think he missed us a bit. It felt bittersweet. But when we picked him up from the airport, I knew we had made one of the best decisions for his life. He got off the airplane happy and confident… ready to take on anything. Over the next few months, conversations opened up about his adventure, the people he met, the insight he shared from his journey, and what he wanted from himself and us.

James has gone every year to Adventure Treks since then. And each year was a bigger step. The first year was to the Smokey Mountains in NC, a two-hour plane trip away. The next year was to British Columbia, his first time out of the country (he was excited to get a passport). The year after that was to the Pacific Northwest (first time having to switch planes by himself).And last year, at 16, he flew to Alaska. He switched planes three times with 3- to 5-hour layovers. I kept calling him each time he landed to make sure he made the next plane, but he said, ‘Mom, I got this. This isn’t the first time I’ve flown.’ Leadership Summit will be his last trip before heading off to college. He wants to major in mechanical engineering and design and produce outdoor gear and equipment. He found his passion!

It is humbling to realize that there was something my child needed that I could not do myself. He had reached an age that a parent can not follow. All I could do was provide him with a positive experience that provided growth and opportunity. I had to TRUST: trust that we had given him enough to make the trip alone, trust our son to grow in a positive direction without our suggestions and nudges, and trust AT to do what they do best: guide young minds into becoming the best version of themselves.” – Diane Parana, parent from Berlin, MD (5 trips)

“First of all, I know flying alone can be scary; on my first trip, I had to fly alone, and that was the main thing I was nervous about. But when you get to the airport, your parents can walk you all the way up to the gate, and when you get off the plane, one of your instructors will be there to pick you up. Also, be yourself 100 percent because you will have so much more fun. I know it can be scary putting yourself out there, but it is so worth it. I would encourage new students to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Your summer with AT will be the best summer you’ve ever had, and you will want to keep coming back every year, so have fun and live it up!” – Zoey G., student from Apex, NC (4 trips)

“New parents should know that their children couldn’t be in better hands. Because I know you do everything as if it were your own children traveling on these adventures, I can rest easy knowing that Tyler is safe, secure, and active. I have watched Tyler grow with you over the years, first at Camp Pinnacle and now through three different trips with Adventure Treks.” – Marni Eisner, parent from Winston-Salem, NC (4 trips)

“Don’t worry too much about anything, because as long as you follow the packing list and AT’s recommendations on how to prepare, you will be well prepared. Once you arrive at AT, all the things that you were worrying about will seem nonexistent because you will be having so much fun and making lots of new friends.” – MacKenna M., student from Durham, NC (2 trips)

“On my first trip, I was super nervous and worried that I was not as experienced as other students going, as I live in a city and had never been backpacking—let alone camping before. However, I quickly realized everyone was so kind and helpful, and I wasn’t alone! I learned many new things and made friends instantly. By the second day of backpacking for the first time, I felt like a pro and had the time of my life!” – Natalia M., student from New York, NY (3 trips)

“I remember the first time I went on an Adventure Treks trip. The night before, I was researching everything I could find about planes because it was the first time I was going on a flight by myself. It is OK to be nervous and even more OK to do whatever you need to do to calm those nerves.” – Ian M., student from New York, NY (3 trips)

“I would say even though new students are nervous, a lot of other people are, too—even people who have been before—so just be yourself, and you will make friends really fast.” – Sophie H., student from Pinecrest, FL (3 trips)

“My daughter had never been a real ‘outdoorsy’ kid, having lived in the city her whole life. She’s active and likes a challenge and to be with other teens, but that first summer I was worried that she would not enjoy being outdoors and so disconnected from the city. We figured she’d give it a shot for one summer anyway because she had aged out of overnight camp, and I wanted her to have one full-on outdoor experience while she could.

When she called home after the first week of her California trip and told me they were sleeping outside without tents, I started profusely apologizing. She stopped me and started telling me how much fun it was, how she was enjoying the group a lot, and that it was a great trip. She never said it was easy, but she’s always valued the experience and has returned twice now. I could never have imagined that my iPhone-connected, Shake Shack–loving, nail polish–wearing teen could be so deeply engaged in the AT outdoor life.” – Julie Kay, parent from Brooklyn, NY (3 trips)

“It’s OK to be nervous! Going to a place where you don’t know anyone or the place can be scary. But all the students and instructors are very nice and welcoming. After that first long car ride to the first campsite, all your nerves will leave and you’ll be ready to have the best summer yet!” – Remi M., student from Columbus, GA (2 trips)

“You won’t understand how amazing the experience of an Adventure Treks trip is until you’ve lived it. But the second you say goodbye, you’ll understand that you’ve had an experience that has changed you in so many incredible ways. Whether it’s the best friends you’ve made, the confidence you’ve gained in yourself, or the newfound passion for adventure, you’ll leave changed in some way. So although it may be a bit nerve-wracking leading up to your first day, focus on all of the amazing people you’re going to meet, activities you’re going to do, and memories you’re going to make. Focus on all the ways you’re going to surprise yourself, all the songs you’re going to sing in the van, and all the laughs you’re going to share over the littlest things. Trust that it’s going to be the best summer of your life, and go into it ready to live every moment in the present.” – Kate W., student from Erdenheim, PA (4 trips)

Stay tuned for our next installment of advice, to be published on Monday, May 18!


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