Recently a friend asked me to chat with her 23-year-old son. She said that he had been talking about going to Europe with a friend and was fascinated by the idea of backpacking and hostelling. Here is what she had to say. “He is not very worldly and hasn’t travelled much and as his Mom, I would worry about where he was and whether he was OK.”
I hear that from parents a lot. They worry about things like:
- How can I be sure he/she is safe?
- How will they get around when they only speak English?
- What if they get “roofied” in a bar?
- Is this just going to be a drunken party? (sometimes it is…)
- What if they get robbed?
- How are they going to navigate between cities?
- Where are they sleeping? Is it full of bed bugs (ewwww!)?
- Are they going to make friends? The RIGHT kind of friends?
- Are they going to be molested?
- Will they lose their money?
- Since I am paying some/most/all of the money for this trip, how do I ensure they actually get something out of it.
- Are they coming home with a tattoo (Can’t promise anything about this…)?
Kids feel this way too but they are reluctant to talk about it with Mom and Dad so they fumble through the planning process and sometimes miss out on the best parts of travel and adventure in foreign places.
In the end, I had some very specific recommendations. I suggested that he (and a friend or two) join a youth-oriented small group tour through an established tour company. Here are some sample tours and an explanation of how we got to this conclusion together below.
I met with her son over a coffee and we chatted about where he was interested in going, what his interests were and how he felt about travelling alone, travelling with friends or travelling in a small group. This is a key decision.
Travelling solo has advantages:
- You can see what YOU want to see and go where YOU want to go. You can spend as little or as much time as you like at a particular place
- You don’t have to put up with someone else’s quirks, moods or occasional ill-tempered tantrums. or fear getting into an argument with your travel buddy and winding up solo anyway.
We started with a planning process. For me, that process is:
- Where do you want to go and when?
- How do you plan to get there (that may affect the first bullet)?
- Where would you stay? and
- How will you get from place to place?
He had not really planned like that so we talked about resources like Google Flights, Skyscanner, YYZ Deals, Next Departure etc to find cheap airfares (Look here for an upcoming article on cheap airfares and how to find them…). You can also look here in the Travel Resources page.
We talked about accommodations. Hotels, Airbnb, Hostels and Couchsurfing. All of these options were new to him and were options that he had never considered. (See my Accommodation Page for links and resources to plan accommodations)
We talked about food, tours, attractions and ways to find things to do when you are in a foreign city. Our discussions continued about backpacks vs suitcases, major cities vs smaller suburbs, tourist sites vs hidden gems. It was a wide-ranging morning discussion and it occurred to me that this is something that kids (and parents) face all the time.
Some kids want to take “Gap” years. This is usually a period between high school and college/university when kids are typically a but younger are are not sure what they want to do (More typical in the UK and Australia than the US and Canada) Other kids take their Gap Year between College/University and starting a full-time job or grad school. I wish I had done that
In the end, I recommended that he consider taking a small group tour with an established youth tour company. Again, he had never heard of them. Youth tour companies provide a market for 18-30-year-olds to join small group tours of various durations around the world. Typically these do not include airfare but they provide an all-inclusive (except for alcohol and some attractions) experience for youths. It provides the best of both worlds for kids and parents.
A small group youth tour gives you a city by city itinerary, what sites you will see, where meals are included, your accommodation and transportation all packaged into one price. Singles can go and be matched up with other travellers, pairs can go and have shared rooms and groups can join. Often these tours can be combined to make two 14-day tours into a 28-day tour.
For a first time traveller, you have a built-in group of friends and travel companions from around the world. You have security in the group and you know you have confirmed reservations at hostels and hotels.
Here are the companies that I recommend. (This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you).)