To Schoolies or not to Schoolies? What are my alternatives?

Cooling off in Cambodia | John Nichol
Cooling off in Cambodia | John Nichol

Try a trek in the Himalaya for Schoolies week - no that's wild!

I remember my Schoolies Week. Well actually, I don’t really, and it’s not because of alcohol. What I remember is that I know I just didn’t really enjoy it.

So, what’s wrong with me? How come I cannot wax lyrical about a monumental occasion that so many Australian school leavers consider a ‘right of passage’? First, I was only seventeen, so I couldn’t go out with my friend’s, who were of legal age, to celebrate the end of Year 12 in a thumping nightclub. Then there was the fact that it was just sooo busy (I realised then I wasn’t a fan for large crowds) and with kids in various states of sobriety, you either made what you thought were friends, or easily annoyed someone to make a quick enemy.

Twenty years on, the only strong memory I have of Schoolies Week is that I don’t really have much of a memory of it at all.

Sure, I do recall five of us sharing a hotel room, and some sort of day trip out to the beach to enjoy the sunshine and watch some of the group try to surf, but I just don’t have that strong, vivid experience that I know I have for many other childhood accomplishments, which were rewarded without the promise of binge drinking in the company of like-minded individuals.

I’m sure my story isn’t unique. Actually, I know it isn’t. I have recently spoken with many students about to finish Year 12 who have told me they hate the idea of getting drunk at Schoolies. So what do they do?

Recently, I began to research what options were available for kids today only to realise that not much had changed. Ok, the Gold Coast crowd had spilled into Byron Bay, and even down to Coffs Harbour. For those who could afford it, there were now Schoolies tours to Bali, Fiji and even Vanuatu. While not directly encouraging or promoting having a tipple or ten, the promises of ‘schoolies only’ resorts, partying with themed all night events just reminded me of that classic saying you’ll hear often in South-East Asia – same same, only different.

Here’s a time in a young person’s life where they have access to time, a little bit of money, perhaps, and a great reason to go reward themselves. Until recently, there have been very little options for those students who don’t want to celebrate schoolies in the conventional way. I’m very surprised. It could be argued that, here we are, the grownups in society, telling the leaders of tomorrow that going out and getting hammered is the best way to celebrate simply by the omission of providing them with any other alternative.

Well, let’s change that.

Let’s look at what, say, $2000 could get you. Let’s see if we can begin to promote the idea to students that there are alternatives for them. That alternative I believe is travel.

It maybe cliché, but travel is the reward that keeps on giving. Not only will a young adult learn skills that will help set them up for university -  and life -  such as budgeting, problem solving, even the art of making new friends, they’ll also have the opportunity to open their hearts and minds to a world other than their own through rich experiences they’ll never get back here at home.

Plus it’s actually fun, exciting and possibly the only alternative that may seem ‘sexy’. Travel is a just reward that school leavers, who have just completed one of the most arduous mental tests anyone will ever go through, fully deserve.

And it doesn’t have to be unaffordable. Consider the option. How much is a week’s hotel accommodation in a major tourist centre, meals, travel to and from there plus miscellaneous spending money. Is there even a price on worrying whether you’ll see them on the news?

For perhaps the same money, or maybe even a teeny bit more, they could head off on their own independent adventure abroad. Free from the tentacles of teachers, parents and any other restrictions they have the opportunity to grow, learn and most of all have some fun.

So, where could they go on AU$2000-$3000? Many places. How long they can survive on that money is the real question.

Travelling independently doesn’t automatically mean students will be able to get further on their rations. Contrary to popular belief, travelling independently isn’t always the cheapest option. One student does not have any ‘buying power’ compared to an established travel company. Countries in Asia are not as ‘cheap as they used to be’ with smart local operators knowing where the big money is and adjusting pricing accordingly, and if it’s their first time on their own there is no guarantee they will make smart decisions with their money.

Guided tours are strongly worth considering. If not just for peace of mind, but also knowing there is someone in charge who is first aid trained, has an intimate understanding of the region and also to enhance the overall quality of the experience. Join a regular departure that has a mix of ages or do a search on ‘schoolies adventures’ to see what comes up specific for that demographic.

So where to go?

Stay on a Junk on Halong Bay, Vietnam

Vietnam: go chill out on a junk boat in Halong Bay, travel the length of the country by train and bus, go trekking amongst hill tribe villagers in Sapa or take a journey along the Mekong River. Travel with a friend or make them along the way.

Thailand: beach time might sound nice. But isn’t this something you could easily have at home? Take a cycle tour of Bangkok’s streets, head north to travel on bamboo rafts or even elephants. Hill tribe trekking really is quite common here, so there is no shortage of affordable opportunities. If you hate the crowds though, this is where an organised tour may come in handy as they may just take you on the road less travelled.

New Zealand: you won’t get as much bang for your buck as you might in Asia, but head to Queenstown for access to the adventure capitals most daring adrenaline activities. Or cycle along the Otago Rail Trail, voted the number 2 ‘must do’ experience in New Zealand by Lonely Planet.

Australia: Why not discover some of your own country? Head down to Tasmania and sample the amazing, pristine wilderness experiences, such as the trekking the famous Overland Track, or kayaking in the Freycinet Peninsula or even taking on the one of the world’s final true expedition rafting journey’s along the Franklin River.

Nepal: from trekking the lower foothills of the Annapurna mountain ranges to searching for rhino on the back of an elephant in Chitwan National Park, while you might fork out a little more for the airfare the country represents one of the most affordable and rewarding places for young people to travel to in the developing world.

See what life's like on a student trek in Nepal

The end of school should be a memorable experience. If we want to encourage positive values, try and rid society of such scourges such as drink driving and so on, we should be encouraging school leavers by providing them with alternative options to Schoolies Week. Travel is that alternative.


Findings from a study in 2011 showed that 7 out of 10 kids rated the traditional Schoolies Week as a negative experience. What do you think? Would you prefer to go to Schoolies or try something refreshingly different?

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Alternative Schoolies

Comment (1)

franz chong

We have a family friend whose son is graduating this year and as such the family are off to New York and onto Europe instead of schoolies week thanks to their mother in law.I commend her for encouraging such things.In Asian Culture we don't believe in such waste of time events to mark the end of our education.I plus my brother and cousins were straight to work when we graduated in the periods anytime between 1986 and 196 so excuse my age a little and have no real regrets doing so except in my case meeting my uncle,his wife and kid for the first time 15 months later.having them masquerading as an oversized bunch of toolies was no fun on my first holiday alone to the point with the exception of weddings,funerals and graduations no relatives were allowed on my holidays or to be present at all for at least two decades and every time I broke the rules another 6 months were added on to ensure i keep to my word.21 years for me since I have been in the big world as of this November and this December it's another Christmas Cruise for me,what will be most fascinating for me to see will be how many young people with parents will be present who were born after June 1999 to May 2000 on board who sensibly chose a family holiday like that given the closeness of the timing over going to BALI OR GOLD COAST OR EVEN THAILAND with their mates.

4 years ago
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