On Being the Best Travel Companions

I am fortunate to be in Park City, Utah with the Launchpad Eagles hiking, alpine sliding, playing games, cooking, debating life’s big questions and sleeping on floors, or air mattresses. (They are kind enough to give us old folks the beds.) The ages of travelers range from 14 to 19 years old.

The Eagles planned and paid for every detail of this trip – with no adult intervention or follow-up.

I had my doubts. As we pulled up to the airport at 7 am on Tuesday, I anticipated at least one airplane ticket not being secured.  Yet within an hour, we were casually waiting at the same gate for the same flight.

As we landed, I wondered if they really had rented a van in advance. Sure enough – an Eagle pulled out the confirmation number and handed it to me. The reserved vehicle was exactly where they told me it would be.

And you should see the daily itinerary! Up at 7:00 am. Breakfast cooked and cleaned up by 8:00 am. Hiking trails pinpointed and selected. Restaurants researched and reserved.

While I’m here as a chaperone, the truth is, I am merely a fly on the wall. They don’t need me in the least and at the same time, they are not avoiding me. They kindly include even adults in their midst.

The chaperones keep looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. These young people are the most capable, responsible, spontaneous, fun, engaging and fully alive humans I have had the honor of being around.

Not often do you see graduates return to hang out with incoming freshman simply for the pure joy of it. Not often do you see the inclusion of the youngest or less athletic or less vocal in a high school group. Not often can you trust completely that no one will try to find loopholes in an agreement or avoid adult eye contact. Not often do you see young people spontaneously pull out cards or improv games rather than cell phones when the inevitable delay happens on a trip. Not often do you hear so much laughter coming from deep down inside. Not sarcastic or dark humor aimed at demeaning someone. Simply joyous laughter.

Trustworthiness. Compassion. Kindness. Playfulness. Joy. This is is what I am drinking in on this trip.

These Eagles have learned over time at Acton what it means to show up with authenticity and courage, ready for adventure, ready to help each other. They have learned how to be trusting and trustworthy. They have learned to be problem-solvers and leaders. To top it all off, they have a politeness that is natural – even jolting – toward each person we encounter.

Can you imagine being the waitress who sees 20 teenagers storming into your section and sitting down for dinner? I saw the look of dread in her eyes but had no worries because I had heard the Eagles on the sidewalk before entering. One said to the group, “When you give me your money, include tip and tax. Don’t skimp. We’re not dividing this bill.”

The deepest compliment is from someone like that waitress who says, “Wow. That’s an amazing group of kids. Such a pleasure to serve them. Thank you.”

Giving young people freedom and responsibility all along the way in their learning journey can look messy and feel terrible as a parent. We cringe when we see our young children make choices that carry negative consequences. But when we give them this freedom early and allow for ambiguity, we really are equipping them to be able to make big plans in their futures and carry them through with maturity. They begin to trust themselves. They are fine out in the world on their own. And they are a blast to be with.

Young people with a deep reservoir of confidence paired with humility – this is the sight I’m beholding today in Utah. And this is what makes for a great group of travel companions.