Best Summer Travel Programs for High School Students – 2024

April 18, 2024

best summer travel programs for high school students

Studying abroad isn’t only for college students–high school students can also benefit from the opportunity to push their boundaries, develop cultural sensitivity, and explore other countries. In the process, they’ll develop their independence and resilience–skills they’ll need for college and beyond–as well as engage in academic and career-focused exploration. Additionally, there are programs available for just about every interest, from wildlife conservation to service-learning to sailing. Since critical aspects of attending an international or travel-based program for teens are safety and staff quality, our list only includes well-regarded providers with long-term track records who employ highly vetted and trained faculty, counselors, and trip leaders. If you’re set on leaving the US behind this summer, use the below summer travel programs for high school students as your research start point.

1) Outward Bound High School Summer Expeditions

  • Location: starting points for expeditions include Maine; Oregon; California; Colorado; North Carolina; Washington; Mid-Atlantic; Minnesota; Texas; Southwest; Central America; Pacific Northwest
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 5-30 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $1,855-$10,395, depending on program
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 14-18, although age requirements vary by program
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served

Outward Bound’s objectives are straightforward: they aim to push students socially, emotionally, and physically by allowing them to experience the natural triumphs and consequences of making their own decisions. Dozens of summer travel programs for high school students are available, of varying lengths and in multiple locations. Moreover, most teen summer travel programs are US-based.

Each program focuses on imparting both technical and interpersonal skills to its participants. For example, the 8-day Southwest Rafting expedition in Grand Junction, CO teaches technical skills like basic paddle strokes, river reading, knot tying, and sheltering strategy in addition to interpersonal skills like camaraderie, leadership, resilience, and self-awareness. Alternatively, the 22-day High Sierra Alpine Backpacking expedition, which begins in Fresno, CA and journeys into remote backcountry, stresses technical skills like campcraft, map and compass, and natural history while developing interpersonal skills like conflict resolution, positive risk-taking, and responsibility. To choose the best fit, prospective students should review the skills they’ll learn alongside the program locations & activities.

To apply to these teen summer travel programs, students will need to complete a 5-10 minute application. They’ll also need to provide a $500 deposit that secures their spot.

2) CIEE Global Navigator High School Summer Abroad

  • Location: Argentina; Australia; Botswana; China; Costa Rica; Czech Republic; Denmark; Dominican Republic; England; Estonia; France; Germany; Ghana; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Mexico; Morocco; Netherlands; Portugal; Scotland; Singapore; South Africa; South Korea; Spain; Taiwan
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 3-4 weeks
  • Cost: Typically between $5-7,000 per program
  • Eligibility: Current freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors aged 14+
  • Application Deadline: January-May; rolling enrollment

CIEE–the Council of International Educational Exchange–offers a number of summer travel programs for high school students in nearly thirty different locations around the world. Focuses offered include arts & culture, business, language, leadership and service, social change, and STEM, although they are location-specific.

For example, programs in Mexico include Spanish Language and Mexican Culture as well as Leadership & Service in Youth Development. Students traveling to Portugal dive into Aquatic Ecosystems and Sustainability. Interested in music or gaming? You’ll want to check out the two programs offered in South Korea: K-Pop Immersion and Diplomacy and Peace Studies. Finally, some programs, like Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe, are offered in multiple locations (Dublin, Copenhagen, and Berlin).

Similar among all programs is the cultural immersion, relationship building, and singular focus on a particular language or topic. However, each program has its own unique objectives. For example, K-Pop Immersion students learn from music producers, songwriters, and choreographers while attending performances and visiting famous music video sites. Alternatively, Spanish Language and Mexican Culture students, who are based in the city of Mérida, spend the morning in immersive language classes and the afternoons exploring the city, visiting museums, taking cooking classes, and exploring Mayan ruins–all while participating in a homestay experience.

To apply, students need to fill out a general online application. They’ll need to be ready to do so well before summer begins–some deadlines for these teen summer travel programs are in January (others are later in the spring). All are first-come, first-served, and some programs have prerequisites.

Summer Travel Programs for High School Students – Continued

3) Putney Student Travel

  • Location: 25+ countries; all continents (except Antarctica) represented
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 8-34 days
  • Cost: $4,690-11,490, depending on the program
  • Eligibility: Current freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors
  • Application Deadline: Rolling, but it’s best to apply early as some programs fill quickly

What sets Putney apart from other teen summer travel programs is their exclusive focus on middle and high school students. Students can choose from career, exploration, service, pre-college, or language-focused programs in a number of different countries. Moreover, all students participate in cultural immersion and complete a creative independent student project of their choice. Past projects have included apprenticing with a gelato maker, designing sports marketing campaigns, and learning to play a traditional instrument.

Wondering what you can expect from each focus? Career-focused programs include wildlife conservation, writing, and public health, among others.  For example, Writers’ Workshop and Craft, held in Dublin, Ireland, gives students the opportunity to experience Ireland’s storytelling tradition, write in famous historical sites, and travel to a three-day writer’s retreat on a remote island. Alternatively, Exploration programs are all about discovering a new country and immersing oneself in its culture. As such, students journeying to the Faroe Islands & Iceland participate in activities like lighthouse hikes, boat and helicopter excursions, and glacier and volcano treks. Service program participants participate in structured projects that give back to the local community they’re staying in, while those undertaking a Language program engage in authentic interactions with their homestay family as well as the local community on a daily basis. Finally, Pre-College students undertake academic coursework alongside experiential learning activities.

To apply to these summer travel programs for high school students, you’ll need to complete an Applicant Statement and two teacher references. Looking for more options? Putney collaborates with a number of other providers, including Smithsonian Student Travel and National Geographic Student Travel.

4) Broadreach Summer Programs

  • Location: Caribbean; Bali; Fiji; Curaçao; Costa Rica; Amazon & Galapagos; Red Sea; Bahamas; Bonaire; Mexico; Portugal
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 12-24 days, depending on program
  • Cost: $4,880-9,480, depending on program
  • Eligibility: Current freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors
  • Application Deadline: Rolling, but it’s best to apply early as some programs fill quickly

Broadreach programs center on one of five specializations: scuba diving, sailing, marine biology, veterinary medicine, or wildlife biology. In addition, certain programs are land-based and others are liveaboard.

Broadreach’s philosophy is that students should learn and build skills in a hands-on environment. As such, students can expect to develop knowledge in a particular field while having the freedom to explore their curiosities. At the Bahamas Veterinary & Wildlife Care program, for example, students not only assist with animal care procedures and learn more about animal handling, restraint techniques, and conservation but also explore the islands via kayak and snorkel. Alternatively, students enrolled in Red Sea Advanced Scuba participate in more than 30 dives, earn multiple PADI dive certifications, and take part in community-based projects as well as Egyptian coastal and desert hikes.

Groups are kept intentionally small (approximately twelve students). Moreover, all students who attend these summer travel programs for high school students participate in some level of academic coursework, including journals, discussions, research projects, and exams, and can receive college credit for some programs.

Summer Travel Programs for High School Students — Continued

5) ISSOS Summer School

  • Location: St Andrews (Scotland); Cambridge (UK); Yale (Connecticut)
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 3 weeks
  • Cost: approximately $8,500-11,000, depending on program
  • Eligibility: 13-18 years old
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

Looking for an intensive academic experience abroad? ISSOS runs three summer travel programs for high school students: St Andrews, Cambridge, and Yale. Over the course of three weeks, students choose one Academic and one Elective. They’ll also participate in plenty of social programming and trips.

Classes meet for three hours each morning; all three campuses have different Academic options available. These include Debate, Study Skills, English Language, Creative Writing, Youth Leadership, IB Extended Essay, Business & Entrepreneurship, and Journalism. Similarly, electives vary according to campus and include theatre, tennis, film, outdoor leadership, photography, golf, or art. All courses are hands-on and seek to teach essential skills. For example, Journalism students practice interviewing, research, writing, and debate.

Socially, students are divided into four Clans, which serve as their core group during their time in the program. Clans also compete against each other in friendly competitions. Moreover, excursions are held weekly. St Andrews students visit Glasgow, Edinburgh, and historic castles while Cambridge students explore Windsor, Oxford, museums, and cathedrals. Yale students travel to New York City and Boston.

No matter which of these teen summer travel programs you choose, you’re in for an international experience. Enrollment is limited to only 10% of any given nationality. Teacher recommendations are required as part of the application, and students should find out within 24 hours of submission whether or not they have been accepted.

Final Thoughts – Summer Travel Programs for High School Students

In our ever-changing world, being a global citizen–respectful of other cultures and perspectives, aware of one’s place within the larger community, and civically and environmentally active–is more important than ever. In addition to helping students develop critical academic and professional skills, teen summer travel programs also give students the opportunity to build the empathy, respect, understanding, awareness, and independence that will impact and shape them for years to come.

Looking for summer programs closer to your area? Consider checking out the following: