Edu-Cation with Teens
February 4, 2015 6:56 AM   Subscribe

This is possibly the greatest problem I've ever had; looking for outside the box answers. I'm able to spend about $3000 on a educationalish vacation for me and my 16-year-old son. There are a few specific parameters that need to be followed but other than that, anything goes.

We're traveling from Boston. We can go anywhere for up to 2 weeks in August. My kid is about to enter his junior year in high school, so some educational angle will be helpful.

Things we like: kayaking, walking, history, gaming, books,art museums, making movies, science,mummies, beaches, non-fancy foods, walking, running, big cities, lakes, surfing, boats, seeing new things, oceans, beaches, World Cup Soccer (and all things non-American football), speaking Spanish, Russian or ASL.

Things we don't like: long lines,long drives (no more than 3 hours in a car), fancy food, working with our hands, shopping, tennis and golf.

Where we've been and don't want to repeat: NYC, Vermont, Canada, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, London, the entire US East Coast, California, Hawaii, Mexico.

Places I'd love to explore: Russia, South America, Copenhagen, Prague, Scotland, Ireland, Texas, Grand Canyon, but I'm open to anywhere.

My kid loves gaming, comics and makes films, but he's pretty open to anything.

As much as possible, I'd love for recs to include some educational angle. If you had up to 4 weeks to spend with a $3k budget, where would you go?
posted by kinetic to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Galapagos islands will get you education, filming, beaches, walking, boats, seeing new things, beaches, oceans, speaking Spanish and has none of the things you want to avoid.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:05 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Go to the Galapagos, though $3000 will only buy you a week. You could possibly do a week in Galapagos and a week or two in the rest of Ecuador, though. Educational value: In the Galapagos obviously evolution, nature, etc. in the rest of Ecuador: Geology, history, indiginous culture, architecture and history (particularly in Cuenca, which is a world heritage site), Inca ruins. Go check out the new hydro-electric dams under construction (while they're under construction you can actually see them cause they're not underwater yet).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:06 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chicago has a ton of educational museums that are actually fun (I'd go for the Museum of Science and Industry alone), plus architecture tours, a beach, and tons of street art.

There's more than enough to do there, and I know you don't like long drives, but if you're willing to drive a couple hours you can also get to the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield (which is really worth the trip), spend the night in Springfield, and be in St. Louis in about an hour and a half - it's a great city with a lot more cool stuff to do than you'd realize (OMG the City Museum).
posted by Mchelly at 7:07 AM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

After my son got a C- in Spanish, as a sophomore, I enrolled us both in a language school in Guatemala for the 2 weeks of his spring break. We lived in separate families, and "attended" separate classes. Of course you can attend these classes as diligently as you like - they turned out to be largely conversations with a native instructor (who, in my case, was obsessed with using me to gain entry to the US, so I took off on sightseeing trips with a classmate). We did have an American friend resident in town, who agreed to be my son's "emergency person" if needed. But it was a great way to see a new country, for fairly cheap, and gain some independence but not too much (and his Spanish grade improved dramatically).
posted by mmiddle at 7:10 AM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's too bad that you have to travel in August, since the Women's World Cup is in Canada in June.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:14 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alaska! Spend a week or two on land exploring, and then take a southbound cruise!
posted by notjustthefish at 7:40 AM on February 4, 2015

I can recommend an awesome road-trippy vacation:

Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco.

Las Vegas is hella fun. Stay at Sam's Town for a cheap room, or on the strip. Vegas in the summer is pretty cheap. Visit the National Atomic Testing Museum. Hoover Dam.

When you're done with Vegas, head over to the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon head down to Sedona. Lots of great stuff to do in Sedona. See the Red Rocks, Slide Rock, hang out and do new age stuff. It's cooler in Sedona than in the southern part of the state, so you can do some easy hikes. It's really, really beautiful.

Drive down to Phoenix. Stop off at Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma's Well, on your way.

In Phoenix you can see the Heard Museum, the Casa Grande Ruins, Arcosanti, Tovrea Castle and just for fun, Big Surf. The Phoenix Zoo is great, with lots of neat conservation of animals. I did a program for a week there as a kid and it changed my life! Check the schedule closer to your dates to see what's on. There are city parks like Camelback and South Mountain Park to hike and explore in (I wouldn't it's too blasted hot) but if that's of interest to you there's hiking. Phoenix hotel rooms will be cheap in the summer. There are suites with separate sleeping areas and kichenettes. Eat at Ponchos.

From Phoenix, if you don't want to drive across the Mojave (although it's pretty interesting,) go to San Diego. Hit the Zoo there. Do a compare and contrast.

Head up to LA. Check out the Getty Museums in LA and Malibu. Go to the Beach. Watch a TV taping. Try out for a game show. Go to Disneyland in Anaheim.

Head up the coast. Stop in Solvang, eat at Pea Soup Andersens. Check out the Santa Inez Mission. End up at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.

Then go on Hwy 1 to Hearst Castle.

From there, head up 101 (you could drive up Hwy 1 through Big Sur, but it's a white knuckle thing and it's often closed,) to Santa Cruz/Monterey. Do the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. Head down to Monterey Bay Aquarium (you may recognize it from Star Trek IV.) Both are cute towns to poke around in, Santa Cruz will have a hemp store.

Then head up to San Jose (I like driving up 17, but I'm a nut.) In San Jose, go to the Rosecrucian Museum. and the Winchester Mystery House.

Then go to San Francisco. Stay at the Nob Hill Motor Inn. Free parking! Great neighborhood. See DeYoung Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, Arboretum, Chinatown, Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf, all that stuff!

Then fly home.

Have Fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:40 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Explore Europe and Asia in Istanbul... A very possible trip if you are at least somewhat budget-minded!
posted by maya at 7:44 AM on February 4, 2015

I also came in to suggest the Galapagos! I'd also like to suggest Peru (which, depending on what you see, could check off beaches, kayaking, history, mummies, food, surfing, boats, futbol, lakes, and science! And Spanish. And other things!). I'm seeing August flights from Boston to Lima for as little as $575 (check out Kayak). In Peru, you can hang out in beaches and wander around Lima, you can head down to Cuzco and see Maccu Pichu, you can head down to Puerto Maldonado and see the rainforest, you can even go to Bolivia very easily from there and see Lake Titicaca to check off the Big Lake like.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:09 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

How much does he read? If he's at all interested in current events and the news, why not take him to Moscow and St Petersburg, or if you felt it would be safe enough, Kiev, Moscow, and St Petersburg?

Few places will be as educational in this very antagonistic era between Russia and the west, and the lessons he learns about how different people can see the same thing so many different ways, as well as truth, freedom, and the media may be more educational than anything he'd get from a proper course.

All the history and the art and the food - and the incredible warmth of the people, if you are lucky enough to do more than just an intensive Russian course and meet locals somehow - would make Russia and Ukraine a win for me here.
posted by mdonley at 8:16 AM on February 4, 2015

Yes! Galapagos!

But please don't forget about Ecuador, mainland. It has the beach, the Andes, Inca ruins, guinea pig dinners, the Amazon, the Quechua people (along with the Huaorani, Shuar, and Chachi groups), crafting and craft bazaars (famously at Otavalo), cacao farms, insane bugs, natural hot springs in Baños, a dozen or so volcanoes (like Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Tungurahua), language-learning, and well... the ability to see how various cultures within the region (and outside of the US) live. Bonus points is that it's fairly safe!
posted by functionequalsform at 8:27 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Can you find out what his history class curriculum will be next year, and then tie the trip to that somehow? I always thought studying history would have been way more interesting if I had been to the place and could relate to it and see it in my mind as the class was talking about it.
posted by vignettist at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

One year when we moved cross country twice and spent a few months in Georgia in between moves, we hit Mount Rushmore on the way to Georgia and we just happened to see Stone Mountain while we were in Georgia that year. Both sculptures were worked on by Gutzon Borlum. My recollection is that Stone Mountain was essentially his "resume" for being hired to work on Mount Rushmore.

As a military wife, I have done a bit of moving around and we generally liked to go to museums and local historical sites wherever we lived. I'm not easily impressed and I am not inclined to get touristy mementos. But Rushmore was so impressive, we went relatively wild in the souvenir shop and spent over a hundred bucks. The fact that I saw them only a few months apart really stays with me. It seems to be lost on a lot of people that both of these pieces were worked on by the same artist.

So maybe you could pick a historical figure and go to one or more places important to that figure's life? If you want to go to Galapagos, you can study up on Darwin's theory of evolution and his life and perhaps try to hit a few other places in South America on the itinerary followed by the HMS Beagle. Possibly do some research and find a good tour on Galapagos that will educate you about Darwin's travels there. Here is a tour, I have no clue how good it is or how educational.
posted by Michele in California at 10:26 AM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mchelly: "There's more than enough to do there, and I know you don't like long drives, but if you're willing to drive a couple hours you can also get to the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield (which is really worth the trip), spend the night in Springfield, and be in St. Louis in about an hour and a half - it's a great city with a lot more cool stuff to do than you'd realize (OMG the City Museum)."

I'll do you one better -- you can take Amtrak from downtown Chicago to downtown Springfield, and get off the train two blocks from the historic Old State Capitol and three blocks from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. The same Amtrak line goes down to St. Louis and lets you off right at the Gateway Arch. In Springfield you can also walk to the Lincoln House site, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, the (new) State Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, a Frank Lloyd Wright house (Dana-Thomas House), the Illinois State Museum, Lincoln's church, Lincoln's bank, the Illinois Supreme Court, and other fun Lincolniana and governmentiana -- as well as hotels and lots of restaurants right there, all in about a ten-block radius of the Amtrak station. It's extraordinarily walkable because all the interesting bits are pre-car.

There are five trains a day and it costs you about $20 Chicago to Springfield; $15 Springfield to St. Louis; and $27 St. Louis back to Chicago. (If you grab last-minute fares, you can sometimes get the Chicago-Springfield route as low as $8, although I would not do that on a planned vacation.)

Anyone opting for a Springfield trip, memail me; I have connections.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so far; the Galapagos sound great but the prices I found start at $5k/pp so that's not in the budget. Also, we do not like long car rides, so avoiding a road trip would be awesome.
posted by kinetic at 11:40 AM on February 4, 2015

Have you considered Iceland? There's a lot going on in Reykjavík, which is a great city. I really enjoyed just walking around and taking in the sculpture, architecture and atmosphere of the place. And it's close to Boston, so airfares will be modest.

Arbaejarsafn, an open air folk musuem looks really cool to me. There's also a volcano museum and one for the Sagas of the Icelanders. You'll also have a lot of daylight to take advantage of if you're travelling in August. I was there in July, just a bit after solstice and it never got dark, just a little dusky from 1 to 3 AM.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:59 AM on February 4, 2015

And just to be fair to the other Scananavian cities I've visited that are easy to get to, I have a lot of love for both Helsinki & Stockholm, too. But I think Iceland might be a bit cheaper to visit...
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2015

If you want to see Scotland, by all means, go to Scotland. August is the time of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so there will be loads of shows, films and arts opportunities all month. It can be difficult and expensive to find lodging in Edinburgh itself in August, so my recommendation would be to stay there only a couple days, then head over to Glasgow, on the west coast. While in Glasgow, get your fill of International football by touring Celtic Park, home to one of the earliest and most storied football/soccer teams in the world. You would also enjoy Kelvingrove Art Gallery for the art and history, and the Huntarian at the University of Glasgow. Glasgow once had the largest shipyards in the world (The Queen Mary was built there), so more boat and science interests would be met at the Riverside (formerly Transport) Museum. Bonus: Nearly all museums in Scotland are free admission. The West End of Glasgow is home to students, trendy cafes and shopping. Great for walking and grabbing a curry. Overnight trips outside the city will fulfill more of your interests. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs is beautiful. Great for hiking and wildlife viewing. There are kayaking and boating opportinitues there, as well as on a number of Scotland's lochs. Continue north up the coast to see the "Harry Potter" train and white sand beaches you probably didn't think existed in Scotland. There are, of course, castles galore across the country. Stirling makes for another good day trip out of Glasgow-see the William Wallace monument and the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce beat the English. It's easiest to get around the northern areas of Scotland with a car, but anything in the central belt is well-served by train. Alas, it's not the place to go to practice Spanish, Russian or ASL, but Scotland ticks off all the rest of your boxes.
posted by weeyin at 1:45 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do your family tree and go to the places your ancestors are from. Teaches research skills, history, geography.
posted by goml at 4:41 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about you guys go do an Irish course in the Gaeltacht? Could get started with Duolingo for the basics and then go immersion on the west coast, lots to see and do, culture and craic!
posted by Iteki at 9:38 PM on February 4, 2015

I did something similar to Ruthless Bunny's road trip the summer before last with my mother and then 8 year old daughter; it could easily have been adjusted to accommodate the interests of a teenager. We flew to Jackson, Wyoming and spent several days exploring the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone national parks. Like you, I eschew lines and crowds and found that if you get to Yellowstone early in the morning you can avoid the crowds at Old Faithful and spend the rest of the day elsewhere where it is not nearly so busy. We then flew to Vegas and stayed on Fremont Street, which was far cheaper than the strip. We then rented a car and drove around the Grand Canyon, stopping at both the north and south rims. Along the way we hit Hoover Dam (my daughter who was initially uninterested was so impressed she wanted us to stop again on the return trip), Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Dinosaur Discovery Site in St. George, Utah. We considered a trip to Bryce Canyon but decided we didn't want to rush things so much. There are many other things in that area such as those mentioned in Ruthless Bunny's post that you could do/see according to you and your teenager's interests. The one drawback to doing things out west is that it is pretty much impossible not to do a fair amount of driving as things are so spread out; you could do a lot less than we did, though. And Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon really are must-see things if you can get there.
posted by TedW at 7:13 AM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

And to clarify a bit, you could definitely do a lot of what I did with less than a 3 hour car ride. The one exception is the Grand Canyon; the closest big cities are Phoenix and Las Vegas, both of which are over 200 miles away. You could take a flying tour from either city, but it would really not be the same and eat into your budget pretty quickly. Hotels close to the parks out west fill up quickly in the summer, so plan early if you go that route.
posted by TedW at 7:24 AM on February 5, 2015

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