I received a really interesting email the other day and wanted to get feedback from our community to answer it. Basically it covered the question of when someone is old enough to backpack alone. Here’s the email:
Hi! We are both 16 and want to try backpacking together. What age would you consider old enough for us to go alone without a parent chaperone? Thanks in advance for the advice!
I had to actually stop and think about this one. See, when I was 16, I was dying to get myself abroad. I was already researching study abroad opportunities for university!
Initially my response was that it varies by trip, destination and the maturity of the person involved. I mean, if someone hasn’t lived alone yet, they might not be able to hack it when traveling in a foreign country. (Just think about the amount of people that struggled when we all went away to college.) Perhaps a summer trip to Europe would be fine for the right person.
But after putting the question up on our Facebook page, I saw it in a different light. Yes, it is true that many hostels won’t allow people to check in until they are 18. Yes, there are some legal concerns when it comes to needing a guardian to sign off on certain things. And, there’s that whole factor of “how young do you really look” that could potentially make you a target. Gosh, when I was 18, people at the gas station were asking me if I was even old enough to drive! So I can totally understand that.
Here are a few of the responses on the Facebook thread:
I would say that hiking and camping trips nearby, as well as summer exchanges or group trips would be the way to go until someone is older and can be legally responsible and eligible in all manners.
What do you think? Leave you comment below, or join in the Facebook thread.
I took my first school trip at age 16, and my second one in my senior year this March at 18. If you’re responsible enough, 16 is a good age for a SHORT trip. I think 18 or 19 is when you could start working up to longer stays.
This is an interesting topic! I agree that a summer exchange is probably better for someone under 18 – it’s still an opportunity to travel, but it provides a little more structure, which can be a good thing for anyone’s first experience abroad, regardless of age. As you mentioned, though, it definitely comes down to maturity. I’m sure there are people under 18 that are mature enough to travel alone, just as there are some people over 18 who aren’t!
This question specifically states ALONE, and I believe you should be 18 years old to do this. It opens up a lot more opportunities once you are eighteen, from what you are allowed to participate in activity wise to your options of accommodation. I found that in Europe I relied a bit on my credit card to pre-book anything and people under 18 usually don’t have credit cards. However, if it’s a school backpacking trip or an exchange where you’re staying with a family, I believe any age above 14 is acceptable.
I went to the middle east when I was 16, granted I had adults with me. I can’t even imagine going by myself though, I would think you should be 18 before you go. Especially in such a different culture.
Hey! I am a 16 year old girl who just did her first semi-solo abroad trip. I have extended family that lives in the heart of Scotland. Hence “semi-solo”. I went to their house and used it as home base and did trips out from there that usually only lasted a day.
I find that most hostels did not have accommodations for under 18s. That was no bother: there was plenty of day trips to do. Scotland is relatively small and it doesn’t take too long to get anywhere by train! I would recommend researching connections (friends, family, friends of friends) and host programs abroad and do trips out from there. Having a home base eliminates the uncertainty of knowing where your next bed will be and gives you the local low-down on what is what. Look into churches or volunteer programs that provide room and board and weekends off.
Keep it real and keep it traveling, girls!
I am 16 and just started college. Having finished my GCSE Exams by the end of May, my Girlfriend and I decided to Backpack 400 miles around the Scottish Highlands. We are based in Central London, England. We were aware that we could not stay in hostels etc, but as it was June, we were not too bothered. We both had solo tents; the Gelert solo, and regularly stopped in for a night in a Bothy, especially when the weather was closing in. During our 4 week trip we did get wet, we did get tired and we did have blistered feet. BUT…we had fun. Very good fun. For anyone that is looking to go backpacking, but their parents won’t allow them to go abroad, Scotland is a great idea. It is better than the rest of the UK because of its Open Access Law, where you can camp pretty much anywhere. This means that if you are feeling tired, see rain closing in or want something to eat, you don’t have to worry about stopping and getting told off by a farmer who then calls the police to move you on in the middle of the night. It also means there are no pressures in getting to a campsite in time for dark. This also saves money on pitching fees. we walked the official Cape wrath trail from the English border, where my parents dropped us off, and walked to Cape Wrath, then onto John O’ Groats, where we got a bus back to Inverness and a train back to London from here. One major advantage we had was a food dehydrator at home, where we prepped ALL of our food before we left and only restocked mints and chocolate bars. Cape Wrath Trail is brilliant…Scottish Highlands are brilliant…Backpacking is absolutely awesome!!
I’d traveled all over with my parents since a young age, but I didn’t travel alone (far) until I was 16. It was a great experience and one I’d do all over again if I could. It wasn’t for too long, and it was an organized group trip with other similar minded 16-18 year olds on a volunteer trip. I flew there alone, but once I arrived someone from the organization picked me up and I was basically taken care of for the rest of the trip (supervision, guided tours, etc.).
I’d say 18 is the best age to actually travel alone (sans group, sans structure, etc.). It is true many places won’t allow you to check in until you’re 18. There’s a lot of issues with international law when it comes to minors, so you’re better off being responsible for yourself and traveling at 18+. That being said, there’s even 18 year olds who have no clue about responsibility so you need to really gauge yourself and your travel experience.