Travelling is becoming increasing easy, as social media and travel apps open up the world for everyone. As it’s young people who primarily use these tools, it makes sense that travellers are getting younger – but how young is too young to start travelling alone?
Are there any practical issues? Assuming you want an official adult passport, you’re stuck until age 16 at the earliest. And, if you’re planning on flying on your own, it’s likely that the airlines will have their own rules in place – the age limits tend to vary from five to 16, but these do come with certain caveats. Your parents may have to sign certain forms before you’re allowed on the plane, and you may have to book in with the airline’s escort services while you’re on the flight. Most airlines set 16 as the age limit for independent travel, and that seems a sensible one to me.
For many young people, it is in your post-16 days, particularly as you’re taking your A-levels and thinking about university, that you think about solo travel. This is a point in your life when you probably have your first job and disposable income, and you have to start looking at the wider world. You’ll have what is often framed as your last summer of freedom between school and university and work, and it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity. Perhaps there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go to, or perhaps, if your school was anything like mine, you were told repeatedly that travel and foreign experiences look good on CVs and in applications.
My desire to travel alone was born somewhat selfishly of not enjoying the travel experiences of my family
In my experience, my desire to travel alone was born somewhat selfishly of not enjoying the travel experiences of my family. My mum is the kind of lady who enjoys two weeks away in a hot, sunny place, laying on a sunbed and doing little else. I would take books and be through with them by day two, and there’s little else you can do in a hotel. My body, rather annoyingly, is simply not built for these types of holidays – I can’t swim because my bones are too dense to float, and I’ve a skin condition that essentially causes me to combust in bright light. If I was going to be trapped in these places, I wanted to explore, at least – but, when you’re a young child, it’s just not an option.
I was 18 when I went abroad for the first time, on a trip to New York. I wanted to see a show, it was a one-night only thing, and the first performance in my lifetime, and it seemed too rare an opportunity to miss. I had a lot of money in savings from my job, so there was no reason not to. My mother was not pleased at all, especially when I told her that I was flying with a discount Iranian airline and, on the way back, one that had been founded about a month earlier. But those were worries that didn’t concern me, nor my father’s belief that big cities are full of pickpockets. I was excited for my first big adventure, able to do things that I wanted to do. My mother would never go to a museum full of freaks, for example, but I loved it.
I think that having the right mentality is probably far more important
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling alone, there are certain things you must bear in mind. Always keep your safety in mind, and don’t take any unnecessary risks – although travelling may be about new experiences, think very carefully about anything that seems dangerous. Do your research in advance – make sure you know where significant places are, how to reach police and ambulance services, a few useful words and phrases. Travelling alone requires you to display a certain degree of responsibility, and that should begin prior to the journey.
Although I think 16 is a reasonable limit for travelling alone, I think that having the right mentality is probably far more important. If you’re sensible enough to take care of yourself and your belongings, experiencing a new culture without being naïve enough to assume everything will always be perfect and safe, there’s no reason you shouldn’t travel solo.