Travelling as a teen: Why you'll never feel as free

On paper, it sounds like an incredibly bad idea. Six teenage boys, three scooters, and a plan to ride 30 kilometres to a nightclub, dance the night away at a "foam party", and then rely on three of those boys to stay sober enough to pilot the scooters home at dawn, with everyone laughing and yelling and covered in foam. 

In a foreign country, of course.

I'm not sure I ever told my parents about this, which is probably for the best. Scooters are dangerous when they're ridden on familiar roads by competent adults, let alone when they're roaring across the south of Portugal at daybreak with four Scots and two Australians on board, none of them over the age of 17, and all of whom have just spent a long evening ogling the lifestyle of the European superclub-goer at a place called Kadoc. This is not parent-friendly material.

And yet, we did it. Many moons ago.

I was piloting the fastest of our three scooters: a 150cc Honda that we'd nicknamed "Black Beauty", because it was black and beautiful and we weren't very imaginative. The other two hadn't been given loving epithets, because they were slow and ugly, and one had a mirror that was being held on with chewing gum thanks to Tierney, one of the Scottish guys, who had accidently twisted the throttle while standing next to it and sent the scooter careening – by itself – into a wall.

We'd been in charge of these little machines for a few days before the planned excursion to the Kadoc Club. In that time we'd travelled from our base in seaside Armacao de Pera to a water park, where Spink, another one of the Scottish guys, had fallen asleep in the sun and earned himself the nickname "Pink"; we'd ridden to the nearby resort town of Albufeira to have a look around; and we'd cruised the hills of the beautiful Algarve. And we'd managed all this, impressively, despite a strict regimen of sleep-ins until 3pm.   

Our daily itinerary for the entire two weeks of that trip went something like this: stir at about midday, but then make a group decision to go back to sleep for a while. Get up eventually, and wander down to the beach to snack on fresh, hot churros from a local vendor and then go for a swim. Grab the scooters and go on some sort of adventure. Head back to Armacao de Pera, settle in at a bar and drink until closing time, which in Portugal isn't exactly early. 

For two whole weeks. Ordinarily this would not be my idea of a good time, given the pointlessness, in my mind at least, of going on a beach holiday when you live in Australia. If it's beaches you're after, there's nowhere better than Australia.

But this trip to Portugal was an exception. I was young – at 17, probably far too young. I'd also met some great people to travel with and had jumped at the chance for adventure. 

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Little did I know it would turn out to be one of those formative trips that you look back on for the rest of your life and think: "That was amazing." 

Everyone has these moments when they first start travelling, when they get their initial dose of the freedom and excitement that comes from being in a foreign country where everything is different, everything is interesting, where no one knows who you are and it feels like there are no rules. You think you can do anything and get away with it. 

Hence the hiring of the scooters. Hence the plan to ride through the night to party at a superclub with a whole lot of people far older and more experienced than us who'd probably arrived there by cab. 

There were five dancefloors at Kadoc, each featuring a slightly varied blend of Euro doof-doof. There was a mini racetrack out the back of the club where you could roar around on comically small motorbikes in between sips of sugary, watered-down cocktails. And there was the foam party room, where jets of soapy water were sprayed on the dancefloor as everyone gyrated in the middle.

To understand this scene in its entirety, YouTube the song Samba de Janeiro, turn it up nice and loud, and then picture six sunburnt teenagers flailing around a dancefloor covered in foam and God knows what else while a whole lot of attractive European partygoers do their best to avoid them.

It was, in short, incredibly good: freedom at its finest, a natural high so great that I've spent pretty much every day and every dollar since that moment chasing it, with not a single regret.

And the best news? We all got home safely. 

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au    

See also: 10 places around the world you can be a big kid

See also: 15 lessons every traveller learns in their 20s

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