Hawaii Big Island Older Teen Trip Overview
We’ll dive right into Hawaii’s biggest island on an adventure sure to leave you feeling rewarded and refreshed. Team up with a local marine conservation organization to earn 20 hours of community service while becoming ambassadors for a healthy Hawaiian ecosystem. Experience hands-on learning while working closely with marine biologists on important projects focused on the ocean and local sea life. Snorkel, survey reefs, collect ocean data and become educated about reef ecology. After three days of our marine biology project, you’ll officially become a certified reef teacher!
Plenty of adventure will complement our service projects. Hike through lava tubes, sail alongside pods of dolphins, snorkel with giant manta rays at night, horseback ride through the lush, tropical Waipio valley, and much more on this incredible journey to discover what many say is the best of the Hawaiian islands!
These programs are designed to nurture older teens and teach them to be more savvy travelers. Because as you grow, your interests and needs do too. So get ready to explore the very best the 50th State has to offer, connect with nature and local communities, and learn how to be an independent traveler!
*This trip is part of our longer USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service program.
During this program, you will…
- Earn up to 20 hours of community service focused on marine conservation
- Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and hike through a lava tube
- Snorkel with manta rays at night
- Learn about reef ecology and become a certified reef teacher
- Horseback ride or hike through Waipio Valley
- Explore lush rainforests, sparkling waterfalls and volcanic craters
- Enjoy a traditional Hawaiian feast at an authentic luau
- Learn the traditional art of hula dancing during our own private lesson
- Watch for dolphins as we enjoy a BBQ lunch while sailing on a catamaran
- Visit an amazing octopus farm and learn about these intelligent cephalopods
- Capture a once-in-a-lifetime sunset and stargaze from the summit of sacred Mauna Kea*
*This is an optional excursion
Looking for a longer trip? Come extend your travels by joining our 21 day USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service trip for more service hours and a truly thrilling summer experience!
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
When the group flight takes off, the trip has begun!
DAYS 1-10: KONA, HILO, NORTH AND EAST SHORE
Our Hawaiian adventure will take place on “The Big Island” also known simply as Hawaii! Here we will work closely alongside marine biologists for three days to learn and help care for the fragile underwater ecosystem that surrounds the island. We’ll encounter numerous exotic fish, an abundance of healthy coral, dozens of sea turtles and more! At the end of our project, we will be certified reef instructors ready to educate Hawaii’s visitors about safe swimming and snorkeling practices and what they can do to help keep the reefs lively. Our service projects will be centered around observational snorkeling to survey reefs, collecting ocean data for research, and educating visitors on conservation.
Marine conservation won’t be the only focus of our time on the West Coast of Hawaii, we’ll have plenty of adventures while there as well! We’ll witness the varying ecosystems and climates as we travel around the island, learn about aquaculture at the Octopus and Seahorse farms, and watch manta rays barrel roll through illuminated waters as we snorkel with these gentle giants at night. Take a horseback ride through stunning Waipio Valley and see what the North Shore is all about. We’ll dive into the rich culture of Hawaii in our hula lesson and learn that the dance is much more than just swaying the hips.
We’ll take a road trip from the sunny west side of the island to rainforest-centric Hilo to experience a different side of the Big Island! We’ll see numerous waterfalls, a rainforest-themed botanical garden, and lava rocks galore! We’ll visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to wander through lava tubes and hike the rim of an active volcano, and view turtles basking on a rare, black sand beach.
We’ll spend a very special morning on the slopes of the dormant Hualālai volcano with a family that are stewards of the land. This unique cultural experience will teach us the importance of native plants and animals, and we will help with removing invasive species and take time to connect with nature. We will plant a Koa seedling–a sacred and protected tree in Hawaii–as an aina, or gift to the mighty Hualālai volcano.
Our time in Hawaii will be topped off with an authentic Hawaiian luau, complete with amazing performances and delicious food! We’ll celebrate our journey and reminisce about our unforgettable adventures under the Hawaiian sun.
DAY 10: RETURN FLIGHT TO LOS ANGELES (LAX)
Travel with us and discover why we are consistently winning awards for Top Youth Travel Organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Kona, our hotel is right next to a small bay, perfect for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and right in the heart of Kona’s many shops.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about the USA for Older Teens: Hawaii Big Island Service & Adventure trip?
Students love the insight they gain from experiencing the “real Hawaii” on the Big Island. On USA for Older Teens: Hawaii Big Island Service & Adventure, the meaningful service project that protects both reef life and endangered species is an impactful start to learning the importance of marine conservation. Working and learning alongside peers makes for an even more enriching experience!
What is unique about the USA for Older Teens: Hawaii Big Island Service & Adventure trip?
USA for Older Teens: Hawaii Big Island Service & Adventure provides an amazing opportunity to explore in-depth one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets. The Big Island is home to a dizzying array of wildlife, beauty, climate zones, and things to do. In addition to the service component, students love the exciting mix of activities and cultural experiences that make each day an unforgettable adventure!
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; lunches; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old within the calendar year and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 13 and 24 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
The food in Hawaii involves plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course, seafood! Some typical foods we will have the chance to try are poke bowls, acai bowls, poi, and breadfruit.
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
US citizens do not need passport or visa for this program, but a form of government-issued identification is needed for airport security.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.