OK. Let me go ahead and assure you that I'm aware that you too have considered stamp collecting to chill out. And now you're headed into your big chill, summertime. And you're tired of being the scholar, so you won't read a book. You're sick of home ec., so you won't be baking any cakes. You've had it with wood shop, so you won't be making a matching lamp to go with the one you polished for the last month of school before summer recess. So what do you do? You collect stamps.
Like you, stamps are part of a big world
I know, I know, you've heard it referred to as philately -- that's the fancy name for the hobby -- and that alone is enough to creep you out. But wait a sec. Be aware that stamps aren't collected the way your grandparents collected them. Putting together a worldwide collection is impossible these days; there are simply too many stamps. It is now necessary to specialize. But that's cool, because all that means is you can collect whatever you want.
If your interest runs more to a topical style of collecting, meaning stamps that share a subject like buses (and if you chose that as a topic you've already specialized, because a broad topic like transportation would be impossible to do justice to) you'll naturally find other collectors, who for one reason or another enjoy buses on stamps. Sometimes all a collector needs as an explanation for what he collects is "For the heck of it."
Meet a bunch of characters, on stamps and in life
Which brings us to the next point of stamp collecting: the real world benefits to you. You’ll learn about the world through stamps of different countries and through the people you'll meet at club meetings, stamp shows and online. But wait, don’t worry. You can take it slow and not start learning right off the bat if you don’t want to. After all, it's summer right? Lucky for you recent stamp topics have included Pixar characters like Buzz Lightyear, fantasy characters like Harry Potter and Tolkein’s Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. Not to mention Marvel and DC comics superheroes and Bugs and Daffy from the Loonytoons years. It'll be like meeting old friends.
Speaking of meeting people; stamp collecting isn't the lonely hobby it once could be -- and you can thank the Internet (in part) for that change. Not to be Captain Obvious, but collect German stamps and you’ll find a predominance of Germans in the chat rooms, message boards and forums you frequent. Collect France and you'll find French amis who share your interest and passion. I know, you've heard that "stamp collecting breeds international understanding and cooperation" bit before. But guess what: it's true.
And anyway, if you're planning on going to college it's good to meet people of the world. One of the large international shows or even a mid-size NY show gives you the opportunity to meet those people, to help prepare yourself for leaving the bubble of your home town and high school for college and the world.
Choosing your collecting area
I know your big question: "What do I want to collect?" Well, a modest expenditure can get you a pack of a thousand worldwide stamps that will give you the chance to figure that out. Look at them. It's better to have the actual stamps in front of you than looking at small illustrations in catalogs, even if they are in color there. Divide them up in several ways, the first being by country. You may find one country whose stamps appeal to you more than another. Or perhaps you have ancestors who came from a country that you have always meant to learn about.
After you've looked at the stamps grouped by country, try grouping them by topic. These stamps will be of relatively more recent vintage, unless the topic is leaders, politicians, flags, crests and the like, because those were the type of stamps that prevailed nearly until the 20th century. Now you will decide in which direction you will go -- topical or country. There will be time to refine your area later when a few technical considerations come into play. But right now you will want to start adding to your collection.
It may be hard to think of stamp collecting as an adventure, what with peacefully sitting in front of an album in your cozy room, a soda and a bag of chips within easy reach and dreams of putting together a collection that will one day sell for a cool million. But stamp collecting is loaded with adventurous elements and now you're already well on your way to being a part of them.