Traveling Without Your Parents

(As a Young Traveler)

How exciting, you’re going on a trip without your parents! I began traveling alone when I was 8 years old, and I have collected quite a few tips over the years. Whether you’re traveling with friends, a sibling, or by yourself, these are sure to help you out!

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Safety Tips:

1. Make sure you have travel documents that are in date (a.k.a. don’t expire) during your entire trip!

When you travel, you want to make sure that your passport, Driver’s License, or any other forms of ID don’t expire while you’re on your trip. If it expires while you’re traveling, there is a chance that you won’t be able to get on your return flight. This would be especially bad if you’re abroad!! If your ID is going to expire during your trip, renew your passport, license, etc. ASAP! It usually takes about 6-8 weeks to get a passport renewed, so you’ll want to check when you begin thinking about your trip instead of waiting until you’ve booked your flights.

2. Research Visas needed for travel

Visas are another thing that should be done ASAP. Some places, like China for example, require a Visa for travel prior to arriving in the country, even if it’s just a short visit. Other countries, like many in Europe, don’t require that you obtain a Visa prior to arriving. For these processes, it is important to gather any documents before traveling or scheduling a meeting at a consulate/embassy. When I went to the UK, I had to bring all addresses where I was living, acceptance letters to the university where I was studying, return flight information, and bank statements. Be prepared with all sorts of documentation!

3. Get your vaccines!

With the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines are something we should all be used to by now! If you’re from the US, you probably have a lot of the mandatory US shots and you don’t even know it. But, when you’re going abroad there can be a lot more diseases that we don’t have in the US. When I went to the Amazon, there was a large risk due to the mosquitos there, so I had to get my Yellow Fever vaccine before I went. Another free tip: You should get a yellow WHO card with the vaccine record and you should definitely keep that safe and bring it with you traveling.

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4. Back up and copy travel documents

Copy your passports and IDs, tickets, and contact information. Give your parents or close friends a copy of your flight information and hotel/Airbnb/hostel information so they know where to reach you. You also want multiple copies of your passport’s photo and info page (if you have any stamps and visas, that would be ideal to copy as well). Store those copies in various locations in your travel bags in the event that you lose your physical passport, you will at least have a copy! It may not get you back in the country, but you can take it to the embassy to get another passport!

5. Write down the local embassy locations for your home country

In the event of an emergency, this is extremely important to have in writing and on your cell phone. You should also have (at least) a vague idea of how to get to the embassy from your accommodations without using Google Maps! I have been traveling in countries where there were natural disasters and military threats, and this information felt crucial to have at the time.

6. Pay attention

Stay alert and aware of your surroundings! If you’ve ever seen the movie Taken, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the movie, the young woman got into a cab with a seemingly harmless, young, good-looking guy. He worked for a group that was involved in selling young women. I’m not saying that that will happen to you, but be aware that there are dangerous people out there. Be vigilant and pay attention to who may be following you on the street, behind you when you open your hotel room, or even offering to take your photo at attractions.

7. Learn allergens in other languages

If you have any allergies, please learn how to say them in whatever languages your destination speaks. If you can’t remember how to say them, write the word(s) onto a Word document and carry it with you (e.g. “Comida sin leche”, which translates to “Food without milk”). Although I don’t have any food allergies, a friend I traveled with has a nut allergy and unfortunately had an allergic reaction because her sandwich had pistachios, and it was lost in translation. It would be really scary to end up in a hospital in a foreign country.

Money Tips:

1. Set a budget

Traveling can be expensive!! You don’t want to blow all of your savings on your trip, then have nothing left before you get home. I always over-estimate how much I will be spending on food since that (usually) isn’t something I can plan ahead of time, but I try to set limits on how much I will be spending on accommodations and attractions while I’m traveling. I also try to do some research about how much money transportation will cost and what the best way to travel would be before I get there. I also tend to overestimate so I have a little wiggle room in the amount I have with me to spend or in case of an emergency, and if I don’t spend it all when I’m traveling, it’s a nice surprise when I get home!

2. Money exchange

Though not entirely necessary, exchanging money at your bank usually gets you a better rate than waiting until you arrive at your destination airport. If you are planning to exchange money, make sure you do this a few weeks in advance because it can take some time for the money to come in.

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3. Communicate with your bank

Before you travel, make sure you call your bank to let them know you’ll be traveling. This is especially important for international travel! If they think someone has stolen your card, your bank might cancel your card and you’ll be stuck with no money!

4. Check your card’s international spending policies

Although I can’t speak for other countries, a lot of US cards have additional fees associated with international spending. Often when you spend, there is the option to pay in USD or the currency of the country you’re in. Depending on the rates, you should know which of these is right for you.

Accommodation Tips:

1. Research the area

Trying to find the cheapest hostel may be okay if you’re a grown man, but as a young adult, you may be trading your safety for a cheap price. Research safe neighborhoods, then try to find hostels or an Airbnb near there.

2. Don’t be afraid to compare lots of places!

Whether you’re staying in one place for two weeks or hitting a new city every day, hotel prices add up, and you’re barely going to be there! You want to find somewhere safe and comfortable, but also cheap, right? Usually those places don’t jump right out at you and you might need to do some research. Hostel World is a wonderful resource to search for hostels. Airbnb is another great place that has hosts all over the world. Some hostels and Airbnbs offer breakfast, which is a great price and definitely something to factor into your budget! Do some digging and see what you can find!

3. Try to stay close to the attractions you’re most interested in

Travel can be expensive. And commuting every day to the sights you want to see can really add up. If you have a car on your trip, it would be easier to stay outside of the city and drive in when you want to see things. But, if you’re traveling by train, Uber, or taxi, it isn’t super fun to pay $30 each time you want to go to a museum or out to the bars. You can do the comparison, but an extra $30-50 a night may be a good trade off from the multiple trips to and from your hotel.

General Travel Tips:

1. Set an itinerary

I am not usually a huge planner, but when I travel I like to do some research about places to see or things to do while I’m traveling. By doing this, you can make sure you (and your travel companions) can see everything you want to see! This can also lead to some great deals, such as the Paris Pass, which got us free transportation, a free wine tour, and a free hop-on-hop-off bus tour, as well as many other offers that we didn’t even have time to explore! There are tons of cool options out there that can help you do all of the things you want to see in a quick time.

2. Make sure you have the right clothing

It would absolutely suck to be stuck in the snow while only wearing flip flops and shorts. Make sure you research the location where you’re traveling and the normal weather during the time you’re going on vacation. You can almost always buy clothing when you reach your destination, but it is definitely a lot easier to have everything with you when you get there.

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3. Choose good luggage

Typically when I backpack, I have a cross-body bag (see examples on Amazon here) in which I use to keep my passport and wallet. Another alternative is a waist belt that you can tuck in the waistband of your pants (see examples on Amazon here). I also use a carry-on-sized bag (see examples on Amazon here) that has backpack straps. I can carry the bag on my back or using the carry strap, and it easily fits above my seat. I often have a small packable daypack (see examples on Amazon here) that I use to put my chargers, important documents, and snacks on the plane, then shove it into the carry on once we land. If you’re taking a large suitcase, I prefer the ones that have the four wheels and are sort of solid, but don’t have the completely solid cases (those just add unnecessary weight!).

4. Be open to trying new things!

Traveling is all about getting to know another country or city, and I believe the only way to really do that is to be open to trying new things: food, experiences, etc. It is certainly more fun to go to local eateries instead of sticking to the McDonald’s that you’re used to. I also think a museum trip and walking tours are a wonderful way to learn the history and geography of a city. When else are you going to be able to walk through the streets of Morocco with a local guide or see the Alhambra in Spain again?

5. Give yourself lots of time

I mostly mean this in the sense of reaching trains and flights on time. Public transportation always takes longer than expected, so make sure you have plenty of time to get to and from the train stations and airports.

6. Check train and bus schedules

Getting stuck on the other side of town at 2am with no way to get back to your flat is not super fun…not that I would know! Just kidding, I had a few mishaps when I was living abroad. Checking the schedules of the Tube before going clubbing on a Monday night would have saved us from having to take a bus trip all the way across the city, and getting lost walking to our flat. Make sure you know when the trains end and start each day (sleeping in the airport isn’t fun, but way better than missing your flight!), and make sure you have the money to take a cab if you have an emergency.

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