Use it, don't lose it, is the plea from a teenager as final-year students across Australia book their plans for schoolies week.
Getting trashed on the Gold Coast should be a thing of the past, declares 18-year-old Mia Tarantini. Instead, school-leavers should grab the opportunity to celebrate with an adventure somewhere else in the world, and give back at the same time.
"A lot of people still go and get drunk on the Gold Coast and that can be dangerous and stupid," says Tarantini who, on leaving school last year, went trekking in the Himalayas then helped out at a remote village school in Nepal.
"But there's now so many great alternatives to have fun, enjoy the freedom and also do something productive with your time. You can go out and party the rest of your life if you want to!"
Tarantini is part of a new trend among school-leavers who are increasingly opting to take special organised schoolies' trips to the developing world and combine exploring with helping communities.
While 85 per cent still opt for the traditional Gold Coast high jinks, with others planning fun in the sun on the Sunshine Coast, at Byron Bay, and trips to Bali and Fiji, the number this year planning to combine a holiday with good works is estimated at up to 1000.
About five companies are offering specialised trips, and others are organised through charities, Rotary clubs and other not-for-profits. Brad Atwal, the brand marketing manager of World Expeditions' school division, World Youth Adventures (WYA), says the number of youngsters opting for a real experience over just chilling somewhere relaxed is rising exponentially.
"It's a great sign of how young people really want to give back," he says. "They want to have a good time, but they also want to make a real contribution."
Tarantini went on a 15-day WYA trip, trekking on the Annapurna Track, then doing maintenance jobs at a school, as well as spending time with the kids and the staff. "It was an amazing time of my life," says Tarantini, now studying health science at Bond University.
"It's definitely added to my life journey. It puts life into perspective for you so much. You come home to a First World country like Australia and it's, 'Oh my God! We have so much!' It makes you really appreciate everything we have."
Also on the trip were fellow school-leavers Caitlin Foley and Jemma Scott, now also 18, who have become lifelong friends. "I really recommend a trip like that, 100 per cent, to everyone," Tarantini says. "I think it probably ends up costing the same as you might spend drinking on the Gold Coast, but you meet new people, you get to do fun things, and you give back. It's the perfect way to celebrate schoolies!"
1 WORLD EXPEDITIONS' WORLD YOUTH DIVISION - NEPAL, EVEREST AND VIETNAM
Tarantini travelled with WYA which has a series of trips for schoolies in Nepal and Vietnam, with an additional new trek this year to a base camp by Everest, to provide alternatives to mark the end of school days.
"The trips are priced around the same as a week away at the Gold Coast, but school-leavers will have great adventures with some of the most colourful and welcoming remote communities, and get involved in community projects," Atwal says. "We've been doing this for about five years but now it's becoming much more popular. School-leavers seem to be more open to the idea, and their parents are often keen, too. And there's a tangible benefit for our community when kids get involved in helping others and enjoying the cultural interaction."
From $2290. Ph 1300 707 734. See worldyouthadventures.com
2 SCHOOLIES UNEARTHED - BORNEO, CAMBODIA, VIETNAM AND THAILAND
The Antipodeans company launched Schoolies Unearthed trips two years ago, with tours including a sustainable community project, as well as sightseeing and "epic" adventures. "We took our first group of students away last year and had 40 of them," director Dan Donati says. "This year, we have 150 to 200, and next year it's looking like 400 to 500. "There's been a real shift in the number of young people wanting to do something more meaningful when they leave school, a big uptake in the kids who want to do something cool."
from $4440. Ph 1800 502 014. See antipodeans.com.au/schoolies-unearthed
3. PROJECTS ABROAD - DEDICATED SCHOOLIES' PROJECTS IN SRI LANKA AND SAMOA, AND OPTIONS IN 28 OTHER COUNTRIES
Projects Abroad offers projects specifically tailored to schoolies in Sri Lanka and Samoa, but schoolies are also welcome to take part in any of its other trips, all promising excitement and a deeper understanding of how others live. "We're finding the number of inquiries, and people going on our trips, are going up every year," director Will Pashley says. "I think schools are trying to encourage students to do something a bit different and there's a large cohort of students who are very responsible and want a different way of celebrating the end of school.
from $2870. Ph 1300 132 831. See projects-abroad.com.au
4 MESSING AROUND ON THE GOLD COAST
The traditional Gold Coast schoolies trip usually involves a group of mates booking an apartment together and spending days on the beach, evenings at a variety of special events organised for them and nights ??? who knows? Sometimes parents even volunteer to accompany groups of youngsters to make sure they don't land in any trouble they can't handle, or aren't preyed upon by adult "toolies". National schoolies travel company schoolies.com says most school leavers spend an average of $600 a person on accommodation on the Gold Coast, and $1000 on food and entertainment. Airfares will depend on where they're coming from. "The exchange rate is more favourable now for them to stay in this country," chief executive Matt Lloyd says. "So we might expect more school-leavers to take their break here this year than overseas."
from $1600. Ph (07) 5572 7627. See schoolies.com
5. UNLEASHED TRAVEL - EUROPE, VANUATU, FIJI
This company offers a variety of schoolies trips, with the most elaborate being 22 days travelling around Europe visiting countries including France, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium - from $3199. A more fun-focused alternative is a schoolies' hideaway, a five-minute boat ride from mainland Vanuatu on a coral island that's designed as a youngsters' party place for 100, with a price starting from $1399. Then there are pool parties on Fiji's Mana Island from $2299, or a whole resort on nearby Plantation Island reserved for 17 and 18 year olds, from $2359.
Holidays from $2299. Ph 1800 981 320. See unleashedtravel.com.au
6. THRILL-SEEKING IN NEW ZEALAND
As an alternative to lazing around during the day and partying all night, try burning off all that excess energy at the thrill centre of the world - New Zealand's Queenstown. Here, school-leavers can plunge down 134 metres from Australasia's highest bungy jump, Nevis Bungy, take the sweeping luge for some competitive racing down the mountainside, raft white waters, hike, or, if you're lucky, catch the end of the ski season.
An average of $310 a night for accommodation, with return airfares from $450. Ph (+64) 3 441 0700. See queenstownnz.co.nz