Five reasons why Australia-based travel is just as good as heading abroad – especially for young people
Over the past few decades, students across Australia have had the privilege to head overseas on school trips. These formative life experiences challenged their attitudes, beliefs and notions of independence, allowing them to experience other cultures, walk different paths and problem solve as part of a greater team.
This year, things are a bit different. COVID-19 has all but stopped international travel, grinding these multi-day overseas trips to a halt. This is disappointing for many students across the country, who – understandably – feel like they’re missing out on these ‘rite of passage’ experiences that offer much more than just a ‘holiday’.
At Land’s Edge Foundation, we don’t feel like this has to be the case. Though students may not be able to experience international cultures and terrain abroad this year, there are still incredible opportunities on offer in Australia – providing all the same benefits as going overseas.
For starters, we live in one of the most naturally diverse countries in the world, with everything from snow capped-mountains and vast deserts to remote beaches and pulsating rainforests. Each of these environments offers different challenges that require varying degrees of preparation, presenting meaningful, memorable trip opportunities that are within relatively easy reach. We have also been extremely fortuitous with the management of COVID-19 in our communities, making local trips a privilege that many other people around the world don’t have.
If we consider the fact that millions of international travellers see exploring Australia’s vast and diverse wilderness as a ‘bucket list’ activity, it seems only fitting that – during this period of uncertainty – we should take the time to appreciate all that Australia has to offer as well.
With that in mind, we share five reasons why we believe Australia-based educational travel is just as good as heading abroad. Don’t wait for borders to reopen: it’s a big country out there – time to start exploring.
1. Educational trips teach important soft skills
Exploring a destination through an educational lens – with knowledgeable outdoor educators and a group of enthusiastic friends and peers – creates opportunities for cultural immersion and skill-building that a day trip or family vacation could never offer.
On an extended trip, without the watchful eye of parents, students can discover their independence – taking risks and making decisions that they might otherwise have deferred to their parents on. They don’t need to be abroad to experience these benefits; any new or unfamiliar environment challenges students to think differently and assert their autonomy, whether that’s on a multi-day hike in the Snowy Mountains, or an extended expedition in Outback New South Wales.
Often, Australia-based trips (like those we offer at Land’s Edge Foundation) require students to think outside the box and problem solve, with activities like map-reading, route planning, capricious weather planning and general outdoor living – activities that also teach them time management, as they’re suddenly accountable for how long they take and the impact that has on the rest of the team. This is alongside the huge number of soft skills they’ll pick up: from taking responsibility for their actions and remaining resilient in the face of problems, to communicating clearly and staying positive…the list goes on.
Students are always supported from afar, but they’re encouraged to think for themselves and make decisions that help them develop skills the classroom could never teach.
2. Students learn what it’s like to go beyond their comfort zones
It’s important to help students venture outside of their comfort zone while they’re still in a relatively safe and controlled environment. Educational exploration does this by putting students in unfamiliar (and sometimes uncomfortable) situations that force them to find their confidence, without subjecting them to environments that are too extreme.
Learning how to cope with the unexpected is essential for development, so the more they learn to be open to different possibilities – while under the watchful eye of teachers – the better prepared they will be to face difficult situations and overcome challenges when they occur in the ‘real world’.
The good thing about educational trips in Australia is that, for the most part, they’re extremely safe – not to mention a lot closer to home. This is especially reassuring for children who get homesick, or parents who worry that a trip abroad could be dangerous. Multi-day trips in Australia still allow students to experience the ‘unfamiliar’, but in an environment that typically feels a little safer and more manageable – for them, their teachers and their parents.
3. Relationship are fostered, between peers and with teachers
People skills are one of the greatest benefits to come out of experiential learning trips. On extended journeys, students are forced to spend many more hours a day together than in a normal school week, requiring them to find new ways of getting along, communicating and working together. These are often in mixed boy-girl groups – a controlled environment in which they can learn what it means to respect one another.
As well as helping pre-formed friendships develop deeper bonds, students are often encouraged to interact with those they don’t normally spend much time with – a great way for new friendships to blossom. With prolonged time together outside of school, the normal social structures fall away, which can be a liberating experience that encourages friendships that wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to form.
Beyond peer-to-peer relationships, these trips also help teacher-student relationships. Getting to know students on a more personal level helps build rapport, which is beneficial long after the trip. Teenagers that have a personal connection with a teacher are generally much more participatory and motivated in class. They’re also normally better behaved, as they care more about what the teacher thinks, and can see how bad behaviour – or even just not paying attention – directly affects that teacher.
4. An opportunity to disconnect and reconnect
Teenagers today spend a huge amount of time on their screens – especially troubling when the bulk of that time is on social media. Studies have shown teens spend up to a staggering eight hours a day on platforms like Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat. This can have negative effects on mental health, self-esteem and confidence, among other issues.
Educational trips are an opportunity to completely switch off – reconnecting with their peers in person, instead of through an app. Often, on extended journeys – like those we can run in Kosciuszko National Park – there can be no signal, or no battery to charge their phones. They are forced to be present in the moment, instead of seeing it through the lens of a phone camera. Students often find this alarming to begin with, but soon embrace the freedom that comes when they don’t feel the pressure to post pictures and provide regular updates on what they’re doing.
5. A chance to learn beyond the classroom
Educational travel, coupled with experiential learning and challenge, is one of the most empowering, life-altering forms of learning possible. By getting out and experiencing our country, students build empathy and understanding for the way things are today – including why we have certain laws and belief systems, where we stand on an international platform, and what biases might have crept into society and why. This gives them a deeper understanding of people, places and situations, which can teach them to think more freely in their own life.
Educational travel is also a multi-sensory experience that can also reinforce ideas learnt in school. Subjects like biology, geography and curriculum areas such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture are brought to life beyond the four walls of the classroom: meeting Aboriginal communities, hiking among unique geological rock formations, immersing oneself in unique ecosystem can have profound outcomes. These kinds of experiences will stay with the student far longer than their textbook – sometimes making memories that last for life.
For those students that struggle with more ‘traditional’ education, learning outside of the classroom can also be a big help. Switching up the environment and putting those students in a real world setting – where teaching is informal – can spark interests they’d never previously shown, igniting passions by ‘doing’ that they didn’t even realise they had.
6. Discovering a greater appreciation of Australia
Australia is one of the most geographically diverse countries on Earth. There are few places on the planet that have such landscape diversity: vast deserts, pulsating rainforests, snowy mountains, marine-rich coral reefs, thundering rivers and 37,000km of coastline, home to over 11,000 beaches – with some of the whitest sand in the world.
Despite all this diversity though, living in Australia can feel somewhat isolating for young people – a vast expanse of land, far away from the world they see on the TV. It can also become boring. As humans, we have an evolutionary drive to seek out new environments. This same evolutionary drive also makes us lose interest when we spend a lot of time in the same surroundings. Familiarity breeds contempt, and it’s all too easy to become overly familiar with the environment you live in. That’s partly why we don’t look at our own country with fascination like travellers do.
However, it is possible to teach ourselves to appreciate our own surroundings again. A professor in the US conducted an experiment in which he went walking with two different groups of participants every day for 10 weeks. With one group, he’d just have a normal conversation, while with the other, he would actively point out things that he thought were beautiful. On following up with the participants a month later, he discovered that those in the second group were still actively noticing beautiful things in the world around them. It had become a habit, and they claimed to be feeling happier because of it.
In the same way, we can apply this practice to young people. By exploring locally – deliberately discovering and highlighting beautiful places in Australia – we can instil a sense of awe that will leave them feeling content not just on the trip, but when they return back home too.
7. A more sustainable way of exploring
Last but not least, Australia-based travel is more sustainable. For a planet that is increasingly under threat from global warming and climate change, choosing to do these multi-day experiences locally means reducing your carbon footprint drastically. Train travel, for instance, actually cuts carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) by half compared to plane travel. And travelling on foot – hiking or biking in Australia’s National Parks – creates nothing.
Considering these trips offer all the same benefits of going overseas, why not make the conscious decision to choose local? It also means supporting Australian businesses – especially important after COVID-19.
Land’s Edge Foundation’s verdict
We love local exploration. There is no doubt about the benefits. Visiting somewhere new builds confidence and an ability to cope with uncertainty. Travel strengthens communication skills, creates new friendships and makes memories that often last a lifetime. It helps students disconnect from their daily routine – which can also help them appreciate what they’ve left behind – and offers real life lessons, usually well outside of regular comfort zones.
Why go abroad when we have so much right on our doorstep? It’s more environmentally friendly and gives back to the community: plus it inspires a sense of pride, stewardship and respect for our country and culture.
At Land’s Edge Foundation, all of our trips are Australia-based, including our year-round expeditions to Kosciuszko National Park and the main range of the Snowy Mountains. We run bespoke school expeditions, Duke of Edinburgh trips, school leaver trips and more – each of which can be tailored to suit your student or child’s needs and requirements.
We only ever implement our programs in locations that we really believe are truly inspirational – unique places that have an immediate and positive impact on young people and adults alike. We’re looking to create new pilot expeditions along the heritage listed cultural route, the Bundian Way, running from Kosciuszko to the coast and along Travelling Stock Routes (TSR) in far west of NSW. Imagine the journey of a lifetime traversing from the highest part of the continent to the eastern coast on a pathway that will rival any Camino or catching the train to Menindee and walking south on the Western Darling TSR.
If you’re a parent, teacher or caregiver and you’re interested in hearing more about how we help children explore and discover the NSW coastline, mountains and far west of NSW, we’d love to speak to you.
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org today.