Teens Traveling Alone

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ID for 16-year-old flying alone?(6 responses, 2 pending)
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Passport and forgetful teen

July 2010

My 14 year old will be traveling abroad, mostly with adult family members, but one lap will be with her 16-year-old cousin. I arranged for the unaccompanied minors supervision, but would like to know about how she should carry her passport, so as to reduce the likelihood of losing it. She has lost glasses, so I don't have total confidence in her ability to remember things. What I'm looking for are ideas about how to help her hold on to the passport and any other important documents. a little nervous

My 13 yr old son has just returned from a trip to New Zealand by himself as an unaccompanied minor on Air New Zealand. On Air NZ the staff kept hold of his passport, customs form and boarding passes from the time of check-in until he was met by his pick- up on both trips, there and back. But as a precaution I also bought him the ''REI Water- Resistant Document Organizer'' ($12.50) and said he had to wear this at all times on his plane trip to carry any important document, like tickets, boarding passes, etc. and stressed that the most important was the passport if it was given back to him during the trip (which it wasn't). When he arrived in NZ the staff handed the passport to his uncle who picked him up and his uncle kept hold of that plus his holder until his return trip. You should ask the airline if they follow a similar procedure. Sui

My daughter, who is almost 12, is quite forgetful as well. Under ordinary circumstances, she can lose anything that's not stapled to her. Honestly. (Ok, I haven't actually stapled anything to her.) But last year she and her sister (then 8) traveled back from France as unaccompanied minors, and she really rose to the occasion: not only did she have no trouble keeping track of her passport, but she took care of her sister and even helped translate for some of the non-English-speaking UMs on the flight.

So my guess is that your daughter will understand how important this is and rise to the occasion. But for added peace of mind, I recommend getting her a neck pouch from REI for important documents -- she can wear the string around her waist and tuck the pouch into jeans or shorts; it's like an extra-secure pocket. It's also a good idea to scan her passport and email the image to yourself (and/or her)... in case the passport does get lost, you can access a copy of it from anywhere with an internet connection. Sounds like a great trip!

There is a simple silk/cloth holder worn around the waist (inside of your clothes) that is easily accessible to the wearer but not others. The passport slips easily into it. They are easily available at all travel stores. It may sound bulky or difficult but I wore one and found it simple, efficient, and inexpensive. traveler

I lost my passport multiple times when traveling as a teen. It was ok, we figured out to get it replaced -- for me, that was part of learning how to become more responsible. For the trip itself, you can give your teen a way to ''wear'' the passport and other documents around her neck or waist, they sell items like that at REI and other outdoor clothing stores. once forgetful teen

22-y-o son travelling alone to Europe

April 2009

My 22 yr. old son wants to travel to Europe for three weeks this summer. He is starting in Athens and from there to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin, Venice, Florence, Rome, Sicily. I am looking for advice from parents of kids who have traveled via hostels/train through parts of Europe on their own. Did they meet a lot of people through traveling or were they on their own a lot of the time? He doesn't know whether to try and find someone to go with him or not. He has no problems on his own but I am hoping he will meet up with other kids his age doing the same summer-type travel and make new friends. Is this what happens? Also, what is your suggestion on how to get around and how to find places (hostels the best) to stay. Does he make reservations in advance or figure it out while he is there? Are there travel agencies that specialize in this type of adventure? anon

I am not the parent of a kid who has traveled alone to Europe, but I did the Railpass thing in Europe on my own a couple of times when I was in my early- to mid-twenties; I was working for a guide book. First of all, congratulations on having an independent kid with a curiosity about the world. That's great. He can have a wonderful and not particularly lonely time on his own, because one is rarely actually on one's own in these situations -- there are so many young people from around the world who follow the same routes, so he can join up or part ways as he wishes, which can be better than being bound to a friend. I would advise him to buy one of the travel guides and ''study'' in advance to make up his itinerary and get basic important info. I wrote for Let's Go, but there are lots of other options now, like Lonely Planet, so he can browse at the bookstore to see which fits his personal style and needs best. The guides will give him info about documents, money, communications, etc as well as cultural and historical info. I don't know of any travel agency that helps to plan this kind of travel, though the student travel agency at Cal offers low-price airfares, railpasses, international student IDs, etc.

Where a traveler should stay depends very much on the local culture and the traveler's budget. I carried a tent and sleeping bag and camped at campsites, and I also stayed in youth hostels. Occasionally I would splash out for a B, but usually I couldn't afford it. Campsites were often designed more for RVs, though I found some really nice ones and in some countries (Scandinavia) you can just pitch your tent in the countryside. In some cities/countries (Germany, for instance) official youth hostels are largely devoted to kids' groups and can be oppressive for single travelers. But in places like Berlin there are also independent hostels that are designed more for backpackers. So studying up by reading a guidebook and going on line (www.lonelyplanet.com has a travelers' forum; www.letsgo.com has stories from their researchers). Though I recommend reading up and studying, it is really not necessary to reserve rooms in advance unless there is a big festival going on at the destination. If your son wants to talk to me (now a middle-aged lady, but still a traveler) he's welcome. Linda

These are all important questions you pose but I wonder why your 22 year old son isn't the one asking them to his friends and elsewhere on-line.

I went to Europe on my own at 16 and then again at 17, and this was in the stone age, before email, IM, and cell phones, when an international phone call was a huge deal. He'll be fine. I encourage you to let him figure all of this out himself---this is part of what it means to travel on one's own. He'll have a great summer no matter what. Former traveller

What a great itenerary! As someone who has backpacked in Europe myself, it was great. In Southern Europe, people are much more friendly and warm, and you won't feel alone, I didn't at least. Youth Hostels I would say are the BEST because ther you'll meet the young people like you who are travelling. I don't think I reserved ahead of time, but it may be different now (or not, with the low economy, maybe less travellers?). Avid Europe traveller

I went to Europe by myself when I was 24-I still consider it one of the best things I ever did for myself. I went to every city you listed except Athens-and several more! I was almost never alone as I met other fellow traveler's on the train etc. People traveling in twos and threes inevitably disagree about what to do or need a break from each other. Here are my top tips: Buy a Eurail pass and make a broad plan of countries to visit. Check it out here http://www.eurail.com. I found Rick Steves ''Europe through the back door'' (http://www.ricksteves.com) invaluable for travel/packing/where to stay info. I also recommend taking ''Frommer's Europe'' ( http://www.frommers.com).

I never booked in advance and with exception of cities that have large well attended events happening (i.e. The running of the Bulls in Pamplona, I always had several choices of places to stay. Folks in Europe are also extremely generous about opening their homes to travelers. He should definitely get a hikers style back pack (http://www.rei.com) instead of luggage. I also took a lightweight sleeping bag. Buy him a phone card so he can call you. He'll have a blast! roxanne

Camping in Italy is great. The campsites are usually very clean and well cared for, and often have restaurants, places to buy food, phones, etc. Here is a nice website which lists campgrounds in Italy:


I've stayed at a campsite just north of Rome which I like a lot. This place is quite a scene, especially during the summer months, and is very popular with Australian tourists, and has a restaurant, swimming pool, bar, disco, even peacocks wandering around the premises. But when I was there, it was relatively easy to get away from the noise of the Australians, since once I had a tent with me and just camped, and several other times I rented (for not much more money) a little private tent, which was like a little cabin. It's easy to get into Rome from this campground. Here is their website:www.sevenhillscamping.com.

Many of the campgrounds in Italy are near stunningly beautiful natural settings, i.e. the many campgrounds around the Lago di Bracciano, a little further north of Rome. A great way to explore Italy is by bike; this is how I've done it in the past: that way, you are very flexible as to itinerary, what and when to see things, you don't have to worry about compatibility with traveling companions, etc. Plus you get an amazing sense of adventure and being completely on your own. The best books for traveling in Italy are published by the Touring Club Italiano, which are kind of like the Michelin guides, and have detailed maps.

Another option is staying in monasteries, which I've never done, but have heard really good things about. Besides the amazing experience of seeing a beautiful monastery from the inside, this option is often really inexpensive. The one down side of staying in a monastery is that there is usually a curfew. There are books you can buy about staying in a monastery, and I think also websites.

I hope your son has a great trip. It should be the adventure of a lifetime. I still have vivid memories of my travels in Italy thirty years ago. If your son would like more information about traveling in Italy, please feel free to have him contact me. Buon viaggio! Jim

18-year-old boys travelling to Europe

March 2009

Hi - My 18-year-old son and his best friend are starting to plan seriously for a trip to Europe in June, shortly after graduation. The main impetus for the trip is for his friend to attend his half- brother's wedding in Berlin, but the boys want to travel around Germany after the wedding, and also try to take in Amsterdam and Paris. The boys are fairly self-reliant, but boys being boys, they can also be a bit spacey and let things fall through the cracks, which is my biggest worry. They've been investigating rail passes, hostels, tours, etc., but since they'll pretty much be on their own there, I wondered if any parents who've been through this have any pointers, specifically regarding safety, whether to bring traveller's checks or credit/debit cards (do they work in Europe?), cell phones, resources in an emergency, etc. Thanks for any pointers if you've let your teen-''adults'' travel alone. Wanting this to go smoothly...

They'll have a great time. I was impressed that one of my daughter's friends was highly organized and made bookings at every hostel they were going to visit. It turned out, however, that that was because she was very nervous about being in a fluid situation, and she suffered a lot of homesickness, so some disorganization may not be the problem you think it is. We bought them rail passes with a certain number of days of travel, rather than the monthlong ones which oblige you to race all over Europe to get value for money. We gave them $55 a day each in expense money (including accommodation and food), plus the passes. You would have to adjust that now - the exchange rate then was about 1.2 euro to $1 US. Big cities like London and Paris are MUCH more expensive than everywhere else. We also gave them a cell phone which worked well (because of one girl being extremely homesick) but did cost a lot ($600 because of the homesickness). They definitely used that in preference to a calling card where they had to find a phone. Also, we could call them. They had six weeks of three girls together and had two incidents. One where they were using an atm late at night in Paris and ''magazine sellers'' came up to them, obscured the screen and managed to withdraw money from their account, the other where they fell asleep in a park in Barcelona(!) and a bag was stolen with passport and card inside. Getting them replaced was a cultural experience in itself and quite hilarious, but, because they were together, not dangerous or scary. In terms of banking - I had online access to my daughter's account and she could also look it up online. Get them to post to a travel website or facebook as they go -that way you'll be able to follow all the great times they're having, and how much they grow. Fiona

My 17-year-old son and a 19-year-old friend will be taking a similar trip to Europe this summer. He's traveled to Israel on his own before, so I think he can handle this. For money, the easiest and least expensive exchange rate, is to use a debit card at any atm machine. They can even get some euros before they leave from an atm in the international terminal at SFO. Definitely don't bother with travelers' checks. And don't use exchange places as their rates are the highest. Credit cards also charge a high fee, so debit cards are the best bet. Just make sure there's enough cash in the account to cover them. And a credit card for emergencies is a good idea. Trains are expensive, so eurail passes are a good way to go. Most cell phones now can work in Europe, but the calls are very expensive, so I'd make sure it's for emergencies only unless you want a horrendous phone bill. We have lots of friends in Europe so the boys have many places to stay, but they also plan to sleep on trains and in youth hostels (very reasonable), which your kids can also do. I did a trip like this when I was 17, so I know how great it can be and I hope all the boys have a wonderful experience. marissa

My son and his buddy travelled from Barcelona to Berlin (where he had tickets to the World Cup finals he had ''won'' in the ticket lottery) the summer after high school. I was definitely concerned, but he had travelled internationally on a student exchange previously, and was/is a smart, sensible kid--although definitely social and somewhat risk inclined...

I had them make all the arrangements--figure out schedule, Eurail passes, hostels, friends of friends to stay with, etc as part of demonstrating ability to manage. We contributed the airfare (and World Cup tix) as graduation present, but he used summer earnings and savings to pay for on-site expenses. He had a US debit card which worked at ATM machines and carried little cash. We used email at cyber-cafes as primary way of staying in touch; phone for back-up/emergency. My husband had the once-more-with-feeling safe sex discussion with him. I don't want to know everything they got into--but there were no obvious disasters, it was a fabulous trip, and I figured this was a wonderful launch into the world of independence.... one launched (almost)

Almost-15-year-old traveling alone from Europe

May 2008

Through circumstances that were entirely unavoidable, our daughter will be taking two separate flights on her own this summer, each with connections in major US airports. The first trip involves a two-hour layover in Chicago as she flies between London and Philadelphia. The second involves her return from Philly with a lay-over in Denver later in the summer. She is almost 15, has been flying forever, has made many flights alone but has never changed planes or gone through customs alone. I know she is a capable organized traveler, with a cell phone, who knows how to navigate airports, and all of her flights will be on United with ticketless travel. She'll be taken to the airport and met at her destination by family for both flights. Nonetheless, I would appreciate any tips on helping her move through big airports on her own. What I really do not want is 1) anyone suggesting I don't love my kid because how could I let her fly alone or 2) any horror stories, because I just can't handle that. So, any constructive tips for teens traveling alone would be welcome and beneficial. This is the start of lifetime of travel on her own, and I'd like it to go as smoothly as possible, of course. Lonely planet family

Congratulations on having an independent, intrepid daughter! That's great. I loved to travel and started at about her age in a different era -- no paperless tickets then! I think the best thing to do is get as much info in advance as possible. Go up on the internet and look at the layout of the airports. Where in the airport will she arrive? There is probably an international terminal and a domestic terminal, and if she does on-line check-in the day before (that would be a good move) there might even be a gate number. She can look at maps of the airports on- line and see what the lay-out is and how she will move from one place to the next. It also helps to talk to travelers who have gone through those airports recently. What are the pitfalls? Are there any cool shops or restaurants? You should also talk to the airline and find out if there are services provided to minor travelers. She doesn't need someone to accompany her necessarily, but she does need to know whom she would approach if her flight is delayed, her bag is lost, etc. Anticipate what could potentially go wrong and have a strategy for addressing that. Cancelled flight -- whom to call? In case her bag is lost -- what to pack in the carry-on? As a fifteen-year-old traveling alone, she should feel confident about walking up to airline personnel and explaining her situation in a pro-active way, so that they will help look out for her. bon voyage!

I have two daughters, 15 and 18, both also well-traveled. They haven't yet traveled alone internationally, but I'd be comfortable with them doing that. Your question got me thinking about what I'd tell my 15 year old if she had to go through customs on her own (which is likely the most confusing thing she'll have to do...not that there's much that can go wrong). I think I'd tell her that if she had questions or felt uncomfortable in any way, to find a family traveling together that she could ask a question of. Another family is likely to be sympathetic to her plight and would probably be both helpful and comforting. I'd probably also go through all the things that I could think of that could potentially go wrong (missed flight, lost paperwork, etc.) and try to come up with contingencies for those things. On the US side, her cell phone will work and she can always call you for advice. It sounds like she'll be taken care of on the foreign country end of things, but I wonder if you could buy her a phone card in advance so she can call you if she runs into trouble?

I would think a well-traveled 15 year old would have little trouble handling this. Want my kids to travel, too

It sounds like she'll do fine and you're allowing life to unfold for her at a pace she can manage. Yes, most of us wouldn't send our kids solo on an international flight with customs and plane change if we could help it, but it's the times we can't help it that the kids get to find out what they're capable of. That's when life is exciting! People can get a bit loopy from fatigue and dehydration after such a long flight, so remind her to drink a lot on board and to keep her purse under her arm and keep alert moving through the terminal so she doesn't lose track of any of her things. cheering you both on

Your daughter will be fine. The flight attendants will help, and so will the airport staff. There are no language differences and nothing unusual...just a student flying home...very ordinary and nothing to worry about. Just make sure she has a cell phone (or borrow one from family for the flight home), and all the right numbers, and a plan that will let her call when she's in either country. Andrew

You could call US customs and ask them how it is for a 14 year old to go through the lines and see if they have any tips. (Will she need a letter from you?) Also, because of her age, maybe the airline could be made aware that she's flying alone and to point her in the right direction when at the changing airplane location. I would reinforce to her that's it's fine to ask for help from the airline folks if she's lost or unclear about something. And I'm sure she's cautious about who to trust, etc....? Ask her to call you when she arrives and when she's ready to board the next plane, when she's out of customs, etc. good luck to all of you! anon

You are NOT a bad parent for letting your child fly alone. You are a GOOD parent, recognizing her competence and independence and trusting her to do what she can do. Last summer, our 15-year-old son flew alone to Paris, where he changed to a flight for Marseille. We created a document with all the flight numbers (a copy in his wallet and a copy in his carry-on bag), got Euros here so he had cash, gave him a credit card for emergencies, went over each airport's layout with him, and had him call us when he reached each waystation. He did fine. Since then he has flown alone several times within the US (changing in Reno and Dallas and Denver), even taking ground transport to his destination. He (begrudgingly) sends us a text message when he arrives each place. He is very able to navigate his way, and confident in just the way we want him to be. I can't understand the paranoia of our generation of parents about letting our kids be independent. Our kids have cell phones, security cameras, wireless access to email. We had none of that, but had the freedom to ride our bikes all over town alone at 7, take the train into the City (in my case NYC) at 13, visit colleges on our own by bus or train. My husband took the city bus across Munich to school starting at age 7. Our kids are by far more threatened by predators lurking on MySpace and Facebook than by fellow travelers in tightly monitored airports. She'll be fine

My son did this for the first time last year at age 16. No problems. You should get her a credit card and/or ATM debit card, just in case 2nd flight is delayed a lot (set some guidelines for use!) She should have a CA id too. try not to worry!

Sometimes the most obvious needs to be stated. My daughter successfully traveled solo last summer, age 16, with connecting flights. On her way home and sleep deprived she chose to wait 1 gate over from the crowded gate of her connecting flight. Busily texting all her new friends, she didn't notice boarding and came very close to missing her connection! She now knows the importance of waiting at her flight gate. As well, change of clothes in carry on would have helped as luggage was delayed 1 1/2 days. I think traveling and her experience of staying at a college campus program for h. s. students was a great experience and one that she was ready for. Mom

What a great opportunity for your daughter. By thinking through what pitfalls there could be and giving her useful information, you can gently prepare her.

It is important to know what type of teenager you have-- observant or lackadaisical? Polite or rebellious? One you can trust with a credit card? These will guide you as to what issues to emphasize.

Purpose of Customs: I believe it's useful to let your child know why people go through customs and what the customs agents are looking for. It she knows that, then she will understand the serious stance of the customs officers, why they are insistent that everyone ''stay behind the yellow line on the floor'' while waiting in line, and why they may ask the same questions more than once. She needs to understand that they have the right to search her belongings and to confiscate forbidden items (such as meat, certain cheeses, counterfeit items).

Customs form: I'd tell her about the form she will fill out on the plane, and how to fill it out. Make sure she understands she has to convert her purchase prices into U.S. dollars. And that she should have all her receipts available.

Customs area: Go over with her the procedures for this area: Enter large room, find your luggage on carousel, join long line that says ''U.S. citizens,'' and wait in line to talk with customs agent. Answer all questions. Follow all instructions. After you've been given the OK, if you're continuing on a connecting flight there is usually a place in the customs area to re-deposit your luggage so it will be automatically transferred to your connecting flight. Sometimes this place is over to the side; hopefully there's a big sign. If she can't find it, ASK. Once she puts the luggage there, she would rush on to her gate. Check ahead with your airline to see if this is how Chicago airport handles it.

Finding new gate: Two hours layover in Chicago coming in from an international flight is not a long time. She should know that Chicago is a very large airport and the walk to the gate could be long. As soon as she gets out of customs, she should check the airline screen to find out where the connecting flight gate is. ASK if she can't figure it out. Will she need to change terminals or concourses? She should immediately start over to the next gate. And even though she may have a boarding pass and is ''checked in,'' it's a good idea to check in again at the gate, in case the plane configuration has changed.

Layover in U.S. airports. The most useful thing would be for her to have a cell phone, recharged before she leaves London. If anything untoward happens, she can call you for advice. Other than that, the key issues are: 1) be sure to follow airport signs to terminal, concourse, or gate, 2) be early to the gate, not late, and 3) have enough money (or a credit card) to buy a meal and/or to buy food to take on the plane (no food is served on mid- range domestic flights). The credit card is good because it would cover unexpected costs. A minor can get a credit card if her parent co-signs for it (Capital One and CitiBank offer such plans). Otherwise, give her enough U.S. dollars to cover anything unexpected.

Run through these ideas with her initially and then remind her right before the trip. And make sure she knows to keep her passport with her in a safe place, where it can't fall out. Should be wonderful for her! Anonymous traveler

Is your daughter going to London or coming from London? If she is going to London, you need to know that British immigration is very cautious with girls under age 16 travelling alone entering the UK. Make sure that she is carrying a letter from her parents giving her permission to travel and informing them the name of the adult she will be staying with locally and the contact numbers, including cell phone. The person you designate on the letter needs to be waiting at the airport outside customs. Our experience (on several occasions) has been that the immigration agent will call the adult's cell phone and personally escort the girl to this adult waiting in the arrivals area. They are concerned about under age girls either running away or engaging in prostitution. I am not sure if they follow the same procedure for boys under age 16. Pat

Aug 2008

Just a quick note of thanks to those that responded to our request for tips on supporting our fourteen-year-old daughter on her air travels this summer. The great news: she is home safely and without incident! I really appreciated both the practical tips and the comforting reassurance that we were doing the right thing to allow her to travel alone from London to Philadelphia via Chicago, and then home through Denver. I took all of advice offered, created a working plan for her, reviewed it with her several times while away, and off she went, traveling safely, asking for advice, and knowing what to expect along the way. It has certainly added to her confidence as a traveler, and changing planes in Denver on the way home turned out to be ''no big deal'' as she ''didn't even have to go through customs.'' And I think that, because I was more relaxed, she felt more assured as well. So thanks to everyone who took the time to write - it was so important to the success of our summer and the future travels of our adventurous daughter. Explorer's mom