As solo travel becomes increasingly popular, more and more teenagers feel the draw to travel alone. Traveling alone as a teenager can be a great way to experience personal growth and develop a wider worldview, but there are major barriers that make solo travel difficult for most teens.
Challenges of solo travel for teenagers
The problem? In most countries, teenagers can’t enter into legal contracts- making it nearly impossible to rent a hotel room, stay in Airbnbs, get a rental car, or do many of the things needed to survive and thrive while traveling. Even many hostels, a favorite of young travelers, require guests to be over the age of 18.
Additionally, for teenagers who want to solo travel internationally, crossing borders without a parent or guardian presents additional challenges.
Alternatives: ways minor teenagers can Expereince solo travel
In this article, I’ve outlined a series of 10 alternative ways to solo travel for teenagers. This list of experiences builds from learning travel-readiness skills to taking mini excursions to get a sense of what it might be like to solo travel for real.
Even though teenagers are not able to get hotel rooms or rental cars, there are plenty of ways to experience the freedom of solo travel..
By working your way through this list of ways for teenagers to build solo travel skills and have bite-size experiences of traveling alone, you’ll be able to have a solo travel experience without bumping into limitations due to being a minor. By the time you progress through this list, you’ll be not only chronologically closer to legal adulthood, but you’ll have new skills that will make your trips as a young adult even more enjoyable.
First, Take a personal self-defense class
No matter your age or gender, a brief course on personal safety and self-defense is an investment in yourself – not just for travel. But when it comes to travel, a self-defense class (and the confidence and conflict resolution skills that often are part of completing a self-defense course) is a huge asset. Taking a self-defense course is particularly important for teenage solo travelers because travelers who look very young are more likely to be targeted for mugging, theft, and scams when traveling (source).
A good personal safety and self-defense course will teach you not just physical techniques for protecting yourself, but will also provide important training about how to prevent being targeted, conflict resolution, and general street smarts – all of which are vital for solo travelers to stay safe and enjoy their travels.
Click here to locate a self-defense class near you or just call your local community college- you may be able to get a college P.E. credit while taking a course on self-defense.
Learn about common travel scams and how to avoid them
The truth is, travelers of all ages fall prey to countless travel scams every year. Although the tactics scammers use to con solo tourists come in countless variations, most scams that target tourists fall into a few categories. Once you know these categories, it becomes easier to recognize a scam early enough to avoid a problem.
First-time travelers often fall victim to scams because they haven’t traveled enough to have the opportunity to develop an internal sense of when something is “off” about a situation. After all, intuition, some researchers propose, is just having a really good memory for previous experiences and trusting ourselves. First-time travelers traveling without a partner to co-monitor surroundings may be even more vulnerable.
Travel scams may happen in a moment. Like:
A jewelry vendor snaps a bracelet onto your wrist and then asserts aggressively that you have purchased the bracelet and must pay.
Or they may be drawn out over several days:
You meet a very friendly “fellow traveler” who gains your trust over a small manufactured “crisis” in order to create a later opportunity to steal all of your travel funds.
Knowing in advance some of the forms travel scams can take can help jumpstart a teenager’s intuitive sense of how to avoid travel scams.
If you enjoy stats and figures, you might appreciate the research of Australian Sociologists on the topic of travel scams, or for more entertainment-style education, use travel influencer-produced educational videos on Youtube to learn about stories and examples of travel scams.
Starting to Travel Alone as a Teen: Ways to scratch the solo travel itch
Solo travel, especially for teenagers, requires the ability to handle unfamiliar surroundings (and sometimes overwhelming stimuli) without another person at your side. Some of us are naturally better at this than others. All of us can grow skills to get more confident exploring the world on our own.
Here’s a progressive list of ways that teenagers can enjoy more and more solo travel”-ish” experiences as they wait and save money to solo travel as a young adult.
To Get Used to Solo Travel, Try hiking alone
Going hiking alone is a great way to begin getting your feet wet as a solo traveler. See, essentially, solo travel is all about growing the ability to explore unfamiliar places with curiosity. A natural environment like a forest can be a good way to start.
Naturally, with a recommendation to hike alone, I need to add a caveat: solo hiking can be dangerous- super dangerous! In the mountains outside Seattle, multiple travelers get lost every year simply by taking a wrong turn or stepping off of the trail to relieve themselves.
If, as a teenager, you choose to hike alone to prepare for solo travel, follow all relevant advice for hiking alone including:
- Always carry the National Parks Service’s 10 Essentials
- Never go off-trail
- Tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back
- Carry a personal locator beacon if available.
Eat in a restaurant alone
It’s funny how many people dream of solo travel to exotic international destinations but cringe in horror at the idea of eating alone in a restaurant in their hometown!
I think sometimes there’s a bit of magical thinking as people tell themselves that eating alone in a foreign country will be easier. Perhaps it is for some travelers, but in either case, it is a skill that takes practice and confidence.
One way to prepare for solo travel as a teenager is to teach yourself to tolerate – or even enjoy – eating alone in a restaurant. Based on my experience solo traveling, I wrote an entire guide to how to eat alone in a restaurant. This resource may be a good starting point for learning this essential solo travel skill.
Where to start: Not all restaurants are created equal when it comes to comfort eating alone. Start at a coffeehouse – where perhaps you already have the experience of enjoying a pastry or a sandwich while studying alone – and work your way up to more challenging dining experiences.
Go Alone to Restaurants of Unfamiliar Cuisines and Cultures
Once you know you can navigate eating in a restaurant alone, a good next step for teenagers to build the skills to thrive during international solo travel is to try dining alone in a restaurant where the majority of the staff don’t speak the same language that you do.
As you navigate what it feels like to be in a place where you are the outsider and figure out how to order from a menu that perhaps you can’t read, you’ll grow an increasing ability to understand what it might be like to navigate restaurants and dining during solo travel as an older teenager.
Spend the Day Exploring a Cultural District or Ethnic Neighborhood
If your city has cultural districts or ethnic neighborhoods, these neighborhoods can actually be a great way to get a tiny glimpse into what it might be like to travel alone to that country.
American cities have a long history of neighborhoods where immigrants keep alive the language, traditions, and small businesses of their home country. Exploring the shops and restaurants of these areas can be illuminating to what the experience of solo travel might be like.
If possible, visit on the weekend during a festival. In thriving cultural neighborhoods, these festivals can be a culturally immersive experience that will give you a better sense of what you can expect to be a traveler in another country.
Take a Day Trip to Another City by Yourself
Days spent as a solo traveler in another country usually include visiting museums, parks, and landmarks, taking long walks to explore interesting neighborhoods, eating alone, and perhaps some shopping. Even if you’re a minor teenager legally unable to travel alone to a far-off place, you can curate similar experience by visiting a city or town nearby and pretending to be a traveler.
With your parents’, permission, drive, take a bus, or ride by train to another city (or even neighborhood!) not far from your own home. You can even navigate using the app popular with solo travelers: Rome2Rio, which shows what combination of driving, walking, or public transportation is available to get from one point on the globe to any other point.
Use travel sites like Trip Advisor, Atlas Obscura, or Get Your Guide to visit that destination as if you are a traveler from a faraway land. Explore their landmarks with new eyes, take a look in the museums you may have missed during previous visits, and try a new restaurant. At the end of the day, you can return home- perhaps even recording the trip in your travel journal– confident that you have built new skills for taking your first real solo travel trip after you become a teenager legally able to travel internationally.
Go camping alone
While camping isn’t everyone’s style, for very independent solo travelers with access to the camping equipment needed to stay safe and have fun, camping alone can be a great way for teenagers to experience solo travel without venturing too far from home. Camping, similar to solo travel, increases our confidence and self-reliance.
Sign up for Group/Chaperoned Travel and Take Advantage of Free Time
One way to experience a small bit of real international solo travel as a teenager is by traveling with school groups or agencies that coordinate international travel for minors. Even young teenagers can enjoy international travel through these venues.
Although the level of organization can vary, many times these group-chaperoned international trips for teenagers include free time during the day. While many teens will stay in groups or even just use the time to relax or take a nap, you can, if allowed, use these free periods for your own mini solo travel experience as you explore the immediate area without your tour group.
Final thoughts on solo travel for teenagers
It can be frustrating to feel ready to travel alone as a teenager but limited by age. However, there are plenty of solo adventures to be had for minors without venturing too far from home.
While you work through this list, you might also want to work to earn money (or even, start entrepreneurial ventures that can later be used to make money while traveling) and put it aside for solo travel. By the time you have completed this list of teenage-solo travel preparation experiences, you will have gained many of the resources you will need to thrive as a solo traveler.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com