Is 17 too young to travel alone?

Old May 19th, 2009, 11:33 AM
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Is 17 too young to travel alone?

I'd love to give my rising hs senior a couple weeks with a Eurailpass to experience Europe on his own. He has been 4 times with us, as well as other trips in US. He acts and looks mature (looks like 20-24) and loves history, does not party.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:34 AM
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No I don't think that is too young, for the person you describe. Plenty of teenagers go around Europe on their own.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:41 AM
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Sounds fine to me, for as suze said. "the person you describe"
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:48 AM
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The only problem that might arise is some hostels do not allow anybody under 18 without a guardian. If he just graduated it would be a great time. If he is just now becoming a senior why not wait until he graduates and is 18?
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:48 AM
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I'd love to do the same for my 17 y.o. senior, but he is SO not ready. Sounds like yours it, though.

You know him best. If mine was ready, I'd let him go in a heartbeat.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:56 AM
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Just take some basic precautions, such as:
Cell phone so he can contact you and you him.
Access to credit/debit card.
Reserving at least the first and the last night in Europe.
A copy of youth-oriented guidebook like RG or Lets Go. There is a single-volume Europe edition.
You may need to furnish a letter (from both parents) authorizing him to travel. Without it he may not even be allowed to leave US.
Good insurance cover, including medical and evacuation.
Ask him to read up on street scene of the cities he hopes to visit. Take local advice (e.g. from hostel staff) about no-go areas.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 11:59 AM
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My daughter went to Europe as a 17 year old high school graduate. She was with friends though, all of whom were also recent graduates but were already 18. On the plus side, she got into some sights free or reduced cost because she was under 18. On the con, she couldn't get into some clubs that were 18 & up. And she also commented that, though they had a GREAT time, she almost wished they had gone 1 year later. This was because many of the other travelers that they met in the hostels were college kids. They had had at least one year under their belt of being on their own and my daughter said she felt this difference quite a bit. But at least she had friends with her, so she wasn't "lonely". I only mention this because you say he would go alone - but boys are different than girls and might not mind as much.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 01:04 PM
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thanks so far everyone. I will check on the minimum age at some hostels. Otherwise maybe some B'Bs might take him. I know girls want and need to have friends with them, but he is really more of a loner, though outgoing.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 01:48 PM
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A lot of places won't allow someone to register that age (hotels or other kinds of accommodations, etc.).

It sounds like he could handle it if he really wants to do it, although I think doing it at an older age would be more enjoyable and easier for lots of reasons. I think a lot of kids that age, male or female, would not want to be doing that on their own, even if if they were capable, though. It isn't clear if he wants to do this or if this is something you are going to "surprise" him with. I wouldn't do the latter, as if he doesn't want to do it, you can embarrass him or make him do something he doesn't want to do.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 01:55 PM
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As someone who went to France for the summer at 17 as a rising senior (staying with a family and traveling with them)--here is something else for your son to consider: Although I loved my experience, it made my senior year in High School very challenging in unexpected ways. In France, I fell into a lovely cafe culture and whereas European teens generally dive into juicy topics like politics, history, and philosophy, American teens, not so much. When I returned home, I found that this experience put me out-of-sync with my peers at a time I very much wanted to be "part of" as a senior.

In retrospect I wish that I had either stayed on in France for my senior year (which was an option that I didn't give much thought to at the time) or gone a year or two later when the re-entry wouldn't have been so challenging--more of my peers would have similar experiences.

My second thought is that completely solo and unstructured travel is tough--a life transformer if you are ready for it, and possibly lonely/scary if you're not. And I'm not sure that being a loner and independent at home is enough to tell up front which is which.

I'd suggest having an open conversation about pros and cons of going this year vs. next and also considering other, more structured options. These would be much more independent than traveling with parents, and yet not as completely on your own as an unstructured solo trip. How about a few weeks at a European language school (which would have a traveling component generally on weekends) and a chance to meet peers with whom to travel afterwards? Summer AP history course in Europe sponsored by an American school? Summer stay with a family? Organized teen travel with an agency/organization? Service trip in Europe?
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Old May 19th, 2009, 02:08 PM
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I've traveled a lot, and many times alone. Traveling alone does have it's pros and cons. One con is that there are times when you REALLY wish you weren't alone. I think at that age it would be better and more fun to travel with one really good friend.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 02:55 PM
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I don't think age is really the problem or solution. It is really about how a person acts and their understanding of various situations.

Has he ever been in a solo situation before, for an extended period of time? If not, then I think I'd try out a more local trip first to see how it works.

How does he interact with completely new environments and people? That is an advantage that college kids have, they move into a dorm and have to make it on their own.

He can be very mature, but if he's never been in a solo or completely new environment, with no support structure to fall back on, then it could be rough. On the other hand, it may be just what he would like.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 04:30 PM
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Um - because most people graduate from high school at 17 - not 18. And the person described seems perfectly capable of traveling on his own. People grow up at different rates and not all teens are kept small children by their parents.

And really,, is going to europe (when you've been several times before) any more challenging - or tempting - than going off to college.

The school I went to pulled a lot of students from NYC high schools - which at that time pushed bright students ahead so they graduated at 16 instead of 17. So weh ad quite a few 16 year old freshman - and some of them - esp boys - were quite immature - but many were perfectly functional completely on their own.

As long as you feel he's prepared and he's confident - why not? You only grow up by stretching - not sitting around in the local pizza joint.
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Old May 19th, 2009, 09:02 PM
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Had you thought about suggesting or arranging an exchange year or a situation with a host family? Because I think 17 is actually quite young to be in a completely new setting, with foreign languages. If something goes pear-shaped is he going to make the right decision under pressure? If he does an exchange year (/month / three months) there is the benefit of structure, responsible adults, and acquiring a new language. I say this particularly as my parents let me travel a lot semi-alone from the age of 16, and while nothing went wrong on home turf, I had a narrow escape at 19 while abroad and travelling alone. Yes, I'm female, but I don't think young men are particularly safe either.

Lavandula
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Old May 21st, 2009, 12:54 PM
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To get some feedback from people IN that age group, check on The Thorn Tree forum at www.lonelyplanet.com. It's from posts there that I know plenty of teenagers somehow go backpacking thru Europe on their own.
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Old May 21st, 2009, 01:10 PM
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I protest the description need and want people around them and boys don't.

That said, I don't know how people on an internet board could possibly know if your son is old enough to travel alone. Just be sure this isn't about you wanting him to be.
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Old May 21st, 2009, 01:12 PM
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Ooops, left out a word: boys.

Boys in lonely places can become crime statistics and have social needs to the seem degree girls do, and girls can be smarter about avoiding danger and be much less emotionally needy than teenaged boys.
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Old May 22nd, 2009, 04:12 AM
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I'm sure he'll have a blast. ^You were only thinking of a couple of weeks, not sending him over for months, so I think the lonely/coping/problems mentioned are a bit of an over-reaction.

If he feels confident about it, no problem.

Expect him to party a bit though!
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Old May 22nd, 2009, 05:33 AM
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17 is not too young to travel solo, depending on the person. The young man you describe would be fine on his own, with proper precautions. Figure out places to stay that would allow a minor, research the restrictions on him leaving the country alone. I'm assuming English is his first language, does he speak any others fluently/semi-fluently? For most people, I suggest starting in the UK and Ireland as their first trips solo because they can speak the language.

Absolutely send him with a cell phone and plenty of minutes. Make the agreement that he will call you every day or two, minimum. That way you guys will know he's okay, and it'll keep him from getting too lonesome.

Ask him if he wants to go, and let him do the planning to decide where he wants to go while there.
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Old May 22nd, 2009, 05:45 AM
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I would suggest he ask a best friend if he wants to go along. Sometimes 2 teenage heads are better than one, but 3 teenage heads are never better than one. So stick to one like minded friend. They can agree to have some free time alone, but if there are problems ,it's probably a good idea to have someone else with you.
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