Teen traveler bitten by the travel bug: DLHS freshman, Jacy Eckhoff, is hooked on adventure

Teen traveler bitten by the travel bug: DLHS freshman, Jacy Eckhoff, is hooked on adventure

“I like the travel itself,” she says of what she likes most about her journeys. “The anticipation before you get there, it’s very high.”

Not that destinations don’t matter — they do. It’s just that for Jacy, every destination matters. She doesn’t have a list of places in mind that she wants to go to, because she wants to go literally everywhere. And when asked what her favorite place or site that she’s visited so far has been, she says she can’t pick just one: “It’s all of them.”

Now a ninth grader at Detroit Lakes High School, Jacy has already covered a lot of ground. In addition to that trip to Spain, which lasted for three weeks, she’s also recently visited New York City and Washington, D.C. She spent a week in a Spanish immersion program at Concordia Language Villages in Cass Lake, and she’s taken a number of trips around the region with her family — to places like Mt. Rushmore, the Twin Cities and parts of Wisconsin.

Next up is another long trip to Spain, this time with stops in Germany and Paris, France. Her mom, LaJeanna, will be accompanying her. The two are also planning a girls’ trip to Chicago.

“My daughter loves travel and adventure,” LaJeanna says of Jacy. “I’m so proud of her… But I’m not ready to let her fly across the ocean by herself yet.”

Jacy’s first trip to Spain was a birthday gift from her grandparents. She always wanted to learn Spanish, and her aunt lives in the capital city of Madrid, so the trip was a perfect opportunity to visit family and get familiar with the Spanish language. She and her grandparents stayed with LaJeanna’s sister, her husband and their two daughters, who showed them around. In her three weeks there, Jacy saw the sites of Madrid and also visited the ancient coastal city of Valencia.

It was a memorable experience, she says — much different from the small town she’s growing up in.

“You can get so many different perspectives just by traveling to a different city, and it’s very cool,” she says. “I like to see different parts of the world, and everyone’s different.”

She liked Washington, D.C. and New York City, too. She traveled there this past July with a group of kids from school through World Classrooms, an educational travel experience organized every year by a local teacher. Jacy got to see Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Washington Monument, the White House, Arlington National Cemetery and more.

It was a whirlwind trip, and she had a blast.

Diagnosed with Graves’ disease when she was five years old, Jacy has battled different autoimmune disorders from a very young age. Concerns about her health add another layer to the usual stress of traveling, LaJeanna says, but Jacy “doesn’t let it stop her.”

“We’ve always told her she can do whatever she wants,” says LaJeanna, referring to herself and her husband, Chris. “I have no doubt she’ll travel the world.”

Graves’ disease is a malfunction of the thyroid, a gland in the neck that secretes hormones and regulates growth and development in children. Jacy had her thyroid removed years ago, but still spends about one month a year at Mayo Clinic as various complications arise.

“This is an autoimmune disorder,” LaJeanna explains of Graves’ disease. “This means her body attacks itself.”

In the past, Jacy’s organs were under attack, and more recently, it’s been her joints. She also has Celiac disease and can’t eat gluten. She has trouble absorbing key nutrients and maintaining the right hormone levels, which can result in fatigue and dizzy spells.

“So for travel, that creates trouble,” says LaJeanna. “It’s stressful for us, but…she pushes herself to succeed. We’re pretty proud of her.”

Despite missing some school for her Mayo appointments, Jacy is a straight A student. She takes her studies very seriously, with a particular love for art. Someday soon she’d like to join a school club or sports team, she says, and she’s also planning to find a job so she can save up for more trips.

“We’re looking at where we have family — in Seattle, and Texas — and looking at trips to those places,” says LaJeanna. “We’ve been mapping out different areas that would make sense for her to see. We really want to support her in this way. She’s really been bitten by the travel bug.”