Travelling teens, learning with all the senses.

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

In Monotreme's first-ever youth contributor post, Morgan Burnside shares with us his brilliant photos and his thoughts on how travel has broadened his perspective.

I am 17 and as I sit in front of my computer thinking about the question “what made travel special to you” I find myself hitting a bit of a wall. Apart from the fact that I have procrastination down to an art form, the crux of my problem is that I’ve never really thought about that myself. I’ve never really thought about why travel has had such a fundamental impact on my young impressionable brain.

Back when I was in the disagreeable phase of my teenage years, my family dragged my younger brother and I around New Zealand several times in an embarrassingly emblazoned camper van. We listened to a lot of audio books, discovered snow, walked up some exceptionally beautiful mountains, gazed into some impossibly blue water and collected lots of rocks. It was, over all, fun. However when I think back to the bits that have stuck in my mind, I find myself remembering the people that I met more than the scenery that features in most of the photos.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was great. As a backdrop, NZ mountains are epic. It was however the random conversations I had that ended up being the things that stayed with me. If I really think about it, in a tiny way, they changed the way I see the world . Those conversations and the books that I was listening to at any given destination ended up being a sort of verbal theme song to the scenery unfolding in front of me.

The book I that we listened to as the picturesque scenes of NZ flowed past was Antony Beevor's The Spanish Civil War; a book detailing the brutal internal conflict that shook Spain to its foundations.

So, by way of an incongruous segue, I can jump twelve months forward to a similar scene in Spain. My family and I sitting in the back of a van listening to our young guide tell us about his family's experiences in that same war. He told us about how the war claimed the life of his grandfather and how just the previous week the family had had confirmation that the remains they had finally found after decades of searching had come back from a lab. The results confirming through DNA analysis that the remains where his grandfathers. Daniel, our guide, went on to tell us the story of his family’s time in the war and the powerful tale how his grandfather dies at the hands of a ruthless dictator.

I realize now as I am writing this that I do not remember where in Spain we were at the time; we could have been on the moon for all it mattered. The memory that burned itself incandescently into my memory was the story that was told to me from the front seat of a beaten up VW van. Then and there I listened, and relished the moment. I felt no need to cheapen the scene by sharing it on Instagram or Facebook. I felt comfortable in the knowledge that I would never forget this.

Stories like those cannot be sought out, they have a habit of simply popping out like some narrative-based whack-a-mole.

Another similarly memorable encounter happened in the same trip – our European adventure – this time in Iceland. It was our second last day and we found ourselves enjoying one of the country's many thermal pool facilities.

My brother and I had found a less tourist-centric corner of the pools and were trying to get used to the rotten egg smell given off by the pools minerals. Suddenly, and to the shock of my brother and I, a distinctively enormous man surfaced like a pale submarine next to us. He introduced himself as Keith, and we found ourselves in a conversation with him and his wife who had surfaced in a similar fashion shortly after. We soon learned that Keith was a very well-travelled man himself. He was an American living in Japan with his wife who he had met when he travelled there many years ago. He had been to every country on the Asian continent that I could list and knew all about them. He began to describe the nuances of Japanese culture and why is was like no other on earth. So there I was, in Iceland, talking to an American, about the depth of Japan’s culture. You can't make that stuff up.

Morgan with his brother Angus, testing out the true limits of thermal adventure wear.

I realize now that the essence of what made and will continue to make travel such an important experience to me is the people. Each conversation you have on whatever journey you choose to make will be a glimpse into a whole world of experiences and ideas. These experiences will shape you as a person and broaden your own ideas about the world more than sitting on the couch at home scrolling through your feed ever will. As a young person who is growing up in an increasingly connected world I have come to realize the very important role travel can play in the lives of people who choose to take the leap.

"Each conversation you have on whatever journey you choose to make will be a glimpse into a whole world of experiences and ideas."

As social media becomes the dominant lens through which we view the world around us, it has become more important than ever for young people to gain their own perspective on the world in which we live. We have reached a point when disconnecting is now a harder process than connecting. The decision to travel is one that needs to be made by the individual. It is an unfortunate fact that the best way to get a teenager to not do something is to directly tell them to do it. So with this in mind I will leave my experiences as inspiration and hope they help the young people who read them to take that leap into an adventure.

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