As a teenager, I was lucky enough to go on a 17 day trek across Germany. It was probably the best trip I have ever been on and will be incredibly difficult to top. As well as being generally very fun, it was a much needed trip to improve my wellbeing and left many of us with a deeper knowledge of ourselves and the world.
I am a huge advocate for the Scouts Association. If you are lucky enough, you will have a good group nearby where you are growing up (they’re not all great I must admit). You’ll be even luckier if you have an Explorers section, aimed at 14 to 18 year olds. I think we were some of the luckiest, as not only did we have a section, but it was awesome. Our main leader Jim, ex-firefighter and a well-qualified legend, was one of the few leaders who were able to take his own group on the Explorer Belt expedition. This was essentially a bunch of work that resulted in a fortnight of trekking in a foreign country of our choice, with 10 cultural investigations a must.
There were too many people wanting to go on this trip so we had to go in two groups, somewhat mirroring each other travelling from Hanover to Berlin. We camped exclusively until we stopped in Magdeburg for two nights and the same again in Berlin. We became experts in the railway and fields. And while there were always objectives on our minds (as one of our investigations was about food and I dream like a chef), there were 10 hours a day of walking and much more at night. A time that started as jokes and light conversations, and ended with discussing some of our most intimate fears.
Having two weeks away from literally everything at age 16 was a blessing. It gave everybody time to think and, as we had all just finished Year 11, we had lots of preparation together before Sixth Form and beyond. Essentially, it was the end of our childhood and this is something we talked about a lot. I remember discussing the gender and sexuality spectrums back when things were difficult to comprehend, as well as other people’s mental health journeys and disabilities. I learnt a lot about the people I was with and, thanks to my contributions to discussions, I learnt a lot about myself as well.
That trip was also at a very strange time for me. My grandad had just passed away and his funeral was due to take place while I was gone. Two days later, it was my 17th birthday. My friends and I drank a shot of Jägermeister in a field and talked about death. I blew on a lighter stuck into a swiss roll and we talked about life. We met some amazing people, including a group of elderly ladies from a small village in East Germany who offered us cake and coffee when we passed their station during a youth cycle race and became more confident. I gained skills that I definitely didn’t have before and had so many new stories to tell.
It was a shame once it was over, but I always look back at the time with fondness. While we definitely aren’t all friends anymore and most have gone in completely different directions, I can’t thank them enough for sharing those moments with me. Germany was mesmerising! The landscape was stunning and the walks were lovely and flat. But it wasn’t just the cultural education that I am so grateful for.