Up & Coming Travel Destinations for High School Students

by Laura Jelich

Studying abroad and engaging in meaningful travel opportunities is by no means just for college kids. Afterall, why should adventurous teens seeking to make a difference in the world and expand their own horizons have to wait until they reach university? There are countless ways for teens to venture abroad, with travel abroad programs for high school students geared toward a variety of experiences, including:

    port with colorful boats in iceland
    Iceland has been on the map for a while, but now it can be on yours as you select your perfect program abroad.

    It seems that a large number of high school students would agree that waiting until college isn’t their only option, and more and more are consequently going abroad in meaningful ways. In fact, it is probably safe to say that most of us know a teen or two (or 10) who have already participated in high school study abroad programs.

    With the mass number of teens currently trotting across the globe, inevitable patterns have emerged revealing some classic and popular destination choices. While the crowd-favorite countries have undeniably earned their rank, trendsetting teens shouldn’t limit their journey abroad to the well-worn paths of previous high school program participants. Instead, why not consider blazing your own trail this year by expanding your high school destination list to include these up and coming travel destinations?

    No matter what section of the globe sparks your interest, there are awesome teen travel programs in countries currently flying barely under the radar, just begging to be given a chance. Why shouldn’t you be the one to put them on the map? Check out the following eleven countries and corresponding programs to be the student that went there “before it was cool”:

    Central & South America

    Costa Rica, Argentina, and Peru often take the cake when it comes to Latin American high school travel programs. While they are popular for good reasons, don’t discount these three closely trailing, equally incredible options currently rising in the ranks of top Central and South American travel destinations for high school students.

    Ecuador

    High school students wanting the laid-back culture and language of Latin America, but craving adrenaline-inducing activity and pristine landscape will find no better fit than Ecuador. Whether in the Andes, the Amazon, or along the Pacific coast, high school travel programs in Ecuador won’t disappoint. 

    Alongside language immersion and adventure travel, volunteer programs are especially popular in Ecuador. High schoolers will have the chance to be involved in various ways, whether working with kids in local communities or helping preserve the landscape. 

    Maya ruins in Guatemala
    Get your Indy Jones on exploring Maya ruins in Guatemala.

    Guatemala

    Guatemala is an excellent place to improve your Spanish and fall in love with the colorful culture of the ancient Mayan Empire. As a developing country, high school students can expect to live simply and leave changed after choosing Guatemala as the destination for their high school program abroad. 

    High school travel programs in Guatemala cover the full spectrum of options, but language immersion and service learning are especially popular. Many high school programs in Guatemala even combine several types of activities, ranging from exploring ruins, practicing Spanish, and engaging in cultural activities, such as making homemade corn tortillas.

    Nicaragua

    Nicaragua is the largest nation in Central America and has a reputation for being the most ecologically diverse. Recent intense political turmoil has likewise created an incredibly educational environment for high school students aspiring to be activists and diplomats.

    As a result of the thousands of plant and animal species and many diverse cultures that call Nicaragua home, this “land of lakes and volcanos” creates the perfect storm of sustainability and social justice programs for high school students abroad.

    Australia & Oceania

    While sunny Australia will likely always be a popular pick for teens looking to travel abroad, those preferring smaller bugs and more lush landscape should consider opting for the lesser-traveled New Zealand.

    New Zealand

    There’s a reason New Zealand has inspired countless adventure stories and is recently popping up more and more often on the radar of serious adrenaline junkies. Not to mention, the welcoming Maori people and legendary story of origin will ensure New Zealand provides a cultural experience to remember.

    As one might have guessed, high school adventure programs run rampant in this region. Some even offer complete package itineraries covering both Australia and New Zealand, while adding culture and service experiences for whirlwind week long stints. Or, opt for an even more in-depth cultural focus through a high school summer abroad program

    Fiji beach lined with palm trees
    If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in a desktop background, a high school travel abroad program in Fiji is just the ticket.

    Fiji

    Students picturing themselves in a palmy paradise during their high school program abroad need look no further than Fiji. Fiji is actually comprised of nine island groups and has strong English and Indian influence.

    This hospitable and community-centered culture often focuses their island-hopping programs on cultural service and volunteerism. Destination-specific opportunities can also be found, such as shark studies programs for the shark-week-obsessed.

    Asia

    The sheer size and global impact of China has resulted in a large number of high schoolers opting to spend their time abroad in this Asian country. But, with such a broad spectrum of development and unique experiences to offer, the following two equally awesome Asian travel desintation options deserve more than just a passing glance.

    Japan

    With a long isolated past, the island of Japan has maintained an autonomously unique culture. Simultaneously, it’s incredibly rapid recent growth (in the past 150 years), has made it one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita and earned it an imposing influence in global affairs. 

    Since the language barrier is a huge factor to consider when it comes to study and volunteer high school programs, high schoolers not confident in their Japanese will enjoy the long list of cultural programs, such as programs that provide a simple 17-day highlight trip of the country. Those who choose Japan specifically with the intent to improve their foreign language skills, such as through a summer language camp, will likewise not be disappointed.

    opulent Thai Temple
    The land of smiles will put one right on your face as you explore opulent temples and learn the extensive history and culture of this Southeast Asian country.

    Thailand

    With a reputation for being a safe destination in Southeast Asia, young travelers will love exploring the “land of smiles.” From enticing emerald waters and lush green landscapes to Buddhist temples, the enchanting culture of Thailand offers a taste of everything!

    As a slightly more developing nation, Thailand offers plenty of service and volunteer programs, such as infamous elephant conservation opportunities. Outdoors-y teens will also love Thailand for its hiking, climbing, and rafting adventures.

    Europe

    We all know Spain, France, and England are way popular for high school students seeking programs abroad in Western Europe. But, on a continent with SO many countries, each with their own long lists of benefits to offer, why should these three get all the attention? Furthermore, why should Western Europe as a whole steal the spotlight? For those wanting the proximity but not the popularity, check out Germany, Italy, or Ireland. Boundary pushers seeking an out-of-left-field spot, don’t miss Croatia or Iceland for high school study abroad programs in Europe.

    Germany

    Teens seeking not only the kind of cultural eye-opening adventure that only travel provides, but also a resume boosting opportunity will thrive in Germany. German efficiency is not just a bad joke, it is the real deal – as are their strong traditions, work ethic, and powerhouse economy.

    German language programs are incredibly popular in Germany (shocker), such as opportunities to attend the country’s prestigious universities. Cultural programs are likewise a great choice for high school students headed to Germany, with programs including everything from chocolate tasting workshops to visits to the Berlin Wall.

    Arno River, Florence, Italy
    Don’t call it a comeback because Italy is always a dream destination.

    Italy

    Students with an appreciation for the finer things who see life as an art form will find themselves at home living la bella vita (the beautiful life) in Italy. A mainstay on every list of best places to study abroad in high school, students who choose Italy for their high school abroad program will dream of colorful houses, coastline, and traditional italian pizza long after their stint abroad has ended.

    A few of the many high school travel programs in Italy involve studying or otherwise experiencing life abroad in unique ways, including learning Italian in Tuscany or combining language and cultural studies in Sorrento.

    Ireland

    Students who don’t mind the rain, love rolling green hills, and prefer an English-speaking country (although the accent and lingo may sound like another language at times!) should consider Ireland for their high school program abroad. Chatty locals and tasty traditional stews add to the charm of the Emerald Isle, so students should prepare to gain a few new friends (and pounds) during their stay.

    If exploring castles and improving your writing skills sounds like your cup of tea, Ireland may just be calling your name. Those preferring more general studies combined with constant touring of the whole island plus nearby Scotland, may opt for a program that involves travel to multiple countries.

    Iceland 

    Didn’t know that Iceland was considered part of Europe? Well, you learn something new every day! The land of ice and fire features surprisingly tame weather, despite the moniker, alongside otherworldly views. Students should note that winters endure long, dark hours, while summers feature the midnight sun, but Iceland is sure to provide a one-of-a-kind experience that won’t soon be forgotten. Whatever you do, don’t eat the puffin or whale on the menu!

    The most ambitious and adventurous of students will be pleased to learn there are gap year programs available for high schoolers in Iceland. Young travelers not quite ready to commit to such a long duration can alternatively enjoy two week programs living in and learning from nature with other like-minded adventurers.

    Rovinj, Croatia skyline from the water
    If you’re looking to make a bid for the iron throne, Croatia is the place to be for GoT fans and adventurers alike.

    Croatia

    Kind of like a combination of Greece’s clear blue coast and the Czech Republic’s red-topped roofs, Croatia has all the charm and none of the traffic of more popular Eastern European destinations. With a language all it’s own and a lesser need for English-speaking, however, students may benefit from learning a bit of the lingo before they go. 

    While the number of high school travel programs in Croatia may seem limited, the quality of summer adventure programs is not! From sailing, snorkeling, and swimming in waterfalls to your run-of-the-super-cute-mill site-seeing in this coastal country’s adorable cities, students won’t be disappointed if they pick this up and coming travel destination in Europe. 

    That’s all folks!

    With so many travel abroad programs for high school students and no wrong decision, choosing just one program can seem like an impossible task. Read user reviews, reach out to program alumni, and ask important questions to help determine which one lives up to your own individual expectations and desires. Then, take a leap of faith on one of these up and coming travel destinations and enjoy the ride!

    Got wanderlust? Search, save, & compare programs on MyGoAbroad