Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

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6 Reasons Teenagers Should Travel Alone

6 Reasons Teenagers Should Travel Alone

With summer vacation just around the corner in a couple short months, the question among many parents is how to keep teenagers occupied when they're out of school and don't have much to do aside from take it easy, relax, and sleep until noon or the early afternoon.  While many teenagers will undoubtedly work summer jobs or intern at a variety of places to help pad the college resume, others will probably take summer classes either out of interest or requirement.  It can be reasonably expected that an equally large number of teenagers will probably travel with parents either domestically or internationally.

Even though many teenagers don't mind traveling somewhere with parents, especially if it is free, it is a fact that teenagers are at an age where they like independence.  Not only do they like having their independence, they also like being around people their own age and being away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Thus, the question arises as to whether parents should let teenagers (16+) travel someplace alone or with a group of friends?

Most parents would probably respond quickly with "No!" for many reasons.  Safety would probably be the #1 issue.  While travel can be liberating and eye-opening, it can still be dangerous.  After all, what can a parent do if their son or daughter goes missing or runs into a problem?  Will they know to go to the embassy?  What if there is a medical emergency?  These are just a few things that probably run through a parent's head when their teens ask to travel somewhere either alone or with friends.

I will admit it.  I am not married, nor do I have any children.  I realize that all teenagers are different.  While there are many very mature ones, who would probably flourish traveling responsibly, there is an equally large number of teenagers who have a serious lack of maturity, judgment, and need more direction.  However, I think, based on the teenager's level of maturity and the rules for airlines and hotels or hostels, teenagers should be allowed to travel alone or with a group of close friends for a summer holiday.

Here are 6 reasons why teenagers should travel alone.

1) Expand Their Horizons

Getting a taste of travel at an early age can be a major boon and help plant the seeds of curiosity and wanderlust that can continue for a lifetime.  While I believe parents should foster a traveling and curious spirit when children are younger, the children might not be old enough to truly understand the privilege, especially if they are below 14.  However, when kids reach their teenage years, this can change.  Teenagers who are allowed to travel alone or with friends will be able to expand their horizons and learn that there is more to the world than their immediate circle of friends, family, and the general area they grew up in.  In many cases, this can be an eye-opening experience for them, and it can help them discover areas of interest they might not have known about.  It can also allow them to see how other people live their daily life.  They might be surprised how similar or different they with people who live in a different part of the world.

2) Show Trust

I am sure some parents will shudder at this idea, but I think a great way for parents to show their teenagers that they trust them is by letting the teens go on a trip solo or with friends.  When parents allow teenagers to travel alone, it sends a very clear message to the teenager that the parents trust them enough to be responsible, make wise decisions, and not do something stupid that could get them in trouble or killed.  Of course, trust is a two-way street.  This trust should also give the teenager the desire to show the parents that they can indeed handle the maturity.  A lot of maturity will be absolutely needed when they travel since traveling for leisure is a privilege and not a right.

3) Engage in Learning

Travel is not only about partying and relaxing on a beach.  There are literally thousands of sites and museums to visit throughout the world.  Of course, I completely understand that not all teenagers will be particularly keen on spending all their time exploring museums or visiting historic sites.  However, I truly believe that when teenagers are left to their own devices and not forced to go to museums or other places they would rather not visit, their natural curiosity will take over, and they will start exploring their surroundings on their own terms.  This can be a great way for them to get some passive learning.  The wonderful things is they won't be learning from a book.  In many cases, they will be able to see examples of living history and get a perspective that can never be learned about or experienced from even the most lively and entertaining history book.  Sometimes the best way to learn about something is to actually see it and engage with it.

4) Develop Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is an extremely important life skill that will be needed for the rest of their lives since mom and dad will not always be around.  What better way to develop a sense of self-reliance by letting teenagers travel solo or with a group of friends for a couple weeks in the summer?  When a teenager travels independently, they will have to learn to rely upon themselves, and they will soon realize that mom and dad will not always be able to bail them out if problems occur.  Granted, I'm not saying a parent should let their teenager travel independently through some of the more dangerous and problematic parts of the world, such as areas of Central America or the Middle East, particularly if they don't know the language.  However, letting them spend a weekend or a week traveling elsewhere in another state or maybe letting them travel throughout Western Europe, which has an advanced tourist infrastructure and many English speakers, can be a good possibility to let them develop self-reliance in a relatively safe way.

5) Develop Responsibility

Along with developing self-reliance, teenagers who travel alone or with friends will develop a strong sense of responsibility.  Travel can be a lot of fun and fulfilling, but it is absolutely imperative to be responsible at all times.  Scams are everywhere, and it can be extremely easy to fall prey to them; even among seasoned travelers.  Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to this, especially if they have never traveled alone before and don't know how the world works.

In addition, because the drinking age in many countries is lower than in the US, many teenagers who are not legally allowed to drink alcohol in the US will probably be tempted to test out the nightlife.  There's nothing wrong with this per se, but overdoing a night of drinking can lead to a terrible hangover the next day at the minimum, a possible robbery, or maybe even death.  Plus, it is not unheard of for drugs to be slipped into drinks by unscrupulous patrons or bartenders, and that can sometimes lead to robbery, rape, or death.

However, while those events are every parent's worst nightmare and can absolutely scare a parent into not allowing a teenager to travel solo, a teenager has a great opportunity to show parents they can handle traveling alone by not overdoing the partying.  If they do decide party, it is better to go in a group rather than alone.  Despite those fears that parents might have, I strongly believe that most teenagers do have enough common sense to not do something stupid, especially if they are mature and responsible.

6) Build Confidence

If parents permit a teenager to travel alone or with a group of friends, it can be a great way to build their confidence.  After all, they are away from mom and dad, they are trusted to make wise decisions, and they will probably have an unprecedented degree of independence.  In addition, if they travel internationally, they will get practice reading train schedules, interact with people from a different culture, have a chance to use foreign language, and they will learn how to read a map.  Most importantly, they will return from a trip knowing that they were able to survive with the help of mom and dad.  All of these things can greatly increase their confidence and show not only parents but also themselves that they can be successful when away from mom and dad, and that can be great practice for when it is time to leave the nest and head off on their own.

For all of you parents out there, what do think?  Do you think teenagers should be allowed to travel alone or with friends?   

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