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Ask Rene: My Teen Wants To Travel The World

backpacking

Dear Rene,

My 18-year-old daughter, Emily and her best friend Caroline are graduating high school this year.

The girls are great students and overall are pretty responsible, but Emily wants to backpack around the world for a year with her girlfriend before going to college. I told her I would think about it.

The girls have been saving for the trip and have planned it out carefully. Emily says they’re prepared to travel and live cheaply. But since the two have never been away from home for an extended period of time, I’m nervous about Emily being so far from home for such a long time.

I’ve never traveled outside of the United States and want her to have that experience. However I feel that at 18 she’s still a little young, but after college might be too late.

I want to be supportive but need to know the best way to prepare her for such a big trip.

Rene, should I let my daughter travel around the world with her best friend for a year before she goes to college?

Patricia, Colorado

Hey Patricia:

Here’s my one word answer to your question – YES!

And here’s why. I’m a firm believer that not all of life’s lessons come from a book. Kids also learn an awful lot when they’re out on their own so here’s what I would be thinking about if I were in your shoes.

THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY IS OPEN: Years ago, Buff and I went to Paris and while waiting in line for one of the overpriced guided tours, I saw two young women, probably about your daughter’s age. I was so taken by them; young, fresh-faced and giddy as they walked the streets with their stuffed packs on their backs. I felt a twinge of regret watching them and wished I had done that then. You see, no one tells us when we’re growing up and we don’t realize it until later but there are certain times in our lives when a window of opportunity opens. We have to seize that window before it closes forever. I suppose I could still walk the streets of Rome with a backpack and sleep in inexpensive hotels but 5 stars and fanny pack are more my pace now. Emily should do this while her knees and back will still allow her.

TAME YOUR OWN FEARS: Since you have never traveled outside of the US you know what a great opportunity this is for Emily. But I’m sure this is also a bit scary for you. I find one of the hardest things to do is not to project my own fears onto my kids and I think you need to guard against that too.

So let’s think about what makes you nervous. Are you concerned about her safety? Make sure you have a way to reach Emily and as best you can, know where she is at all times. Worried about her running out of money? How about the two of you sit down and put together a spreadsheet on what her expenses will look like? Use the internet, as there’s a wealth of information available there. I’d also ask around and see if there are people you know who’ve done this before.

LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE: When we are young this is something that we seem to innately understand, remember how a stick could double as a sword and a terry cloth towel became long, flaxen locks? But when we get older, a sense of practicality sets in that sometimes strangles the life out of our dreams. For Emily, the world is still full of possibility and she’s ready to tackle it with abandon everyday when she wakes up. There will be plenty of time for her to “be responsible” but this might be one of the last times in her life she has to truly be carefree. Let her soak it up, breathe it in, meet people she might not otherwise and grow by leaps and bounds in the process.

One more thing, make sure Emily and her friend don’t do countries where there are travel warnings and that they understand and use common sense. Then mom say a prayer, take a deep breath and let her go!

Good luck!

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6 Comments

  1. Wendy

    May 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I would totally support that decision. I am a firm believer that the most teachable moments are through life experiences and do not come from a book.

    I understand the mom’s concerned with being worried about her daughter, and a detailed financial plan prior to leaving is a MUST! But just in case unexpected financial situations arise, there’s always a way to get money to someone who is overseas.

    My daughter is only 13 and tells me almost on a daily basis that she doesn’t think she is going to make USA her home, so I better get use to that thought. Her goal is to travel all over the world and eventually make the UK or Italy her home. I totally support her seeing as much of the world as she can before deciding. I am also a firm believer that in order for our country to have a chance at getting better, it’s going to take a lot of our children seeing the rest of the world and having a better understanding as to how others live in order to possibly advance our own country once again.

    My parents who have been friends since they were 6 years old, made a pact to see all 50 states and to visit all 7 continents. They are now in their 70’s and almost accomplished their goal. They extensively visited all 50 states and all but one of the 7 continents. Antarctica they have yet to cross of their list.

  2. ConnieFoggles

    May 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    I’m a Nervous Nelly. There I said it. I’d feel much better if Emily and her friend started out with a trip in the US first. I’m sure they’ll have a fantastic time. Then Emily’s mom would feel better (OK I would) knowing that she could handle the trip, be responsible and have fun on her own. I’d hate to see Emily get out of the country and realize that she’s having a tough time.

    That’s how things were with me. Spring breaks in Florida, trips to upstate New York, visits to friends in other states and then on my own to England. Those were the days!

  3. Amanda

    May 21, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Interesting post. I’ve been in college for two years, and my dad still would never even consider giving me permission to go to Europe without an adult. He saw the movie Taken, and apparently he doesn’t have a very specific set of skills.

  4. Will Jones

    May 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I’m a dad and I saw the movie “Taken” too. My daughter is only 14 and, at least for right now, my answer would be “OH, HELL NO.

    To me. living cheaply means staying in bad hotels in bad parts of town. My inexperienced, naive, eighteen year old daughter with another inexperienced, eighteen year old friend, in some cheap motel, in a bad part of a country she’s never been to and knows nothing about… throw in Linda Blaire and my ex-wife’s mother and you’ve got my top three nightmares.

    A year is 525,948 minutes long, and it takes less than five of those minutes for a situation to spin completely out of control. At eighteen, you just don’t think about what COULD happen to you, like;
    -What address of what street of which country are you in?
    -What number do you call if you need the police and do you speak enough of the language to make them understand you’re in trouble?
    -Is the area you’re in a bad area or crime zone?
    -Does a cell phone get reception where you are or where you’re going next?

    When I was eighteen, I was gonna live forever and nothing bad was ever gonna happen. Uncle Sam sent me to some of the arm pits of the world and in any of those places, an eighteen year old girl walking the streets in a Hello Kitty back pack might as well have “victim” tattooed on her forehead. I’m not judging, but if mom has never traveled outside of the US, there’s a pretty good chance that her daughter has led a fairly sheltered life. Let her back-pack around California or up the east coast for a couple of months, where she’s out of her element but at least speaks the language and knows the laws of the land. She’ll gain a little street smarts, learn the ropes of being on her own but not be too far to reach if things go south. If all goes well, she can then take off for the rest of the world. She learns to be on her own, Mom feels better about her traveling, WIN-WIN. And if LA or NYC are too dangerous for her, she probably isn’t ready to go prancing off to Prague alone.

    I’m jus’ sayin’.

  5. Katherine

    May 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I am a college student currently. My idea to keep everyone happy would be to go to a University (in the US) that has a “Study Abroad” or “Travel the World” program.
    I have several friends who enrolled in this program through my school and traveled around Europe for a semester during their junior year. They were able to experience life in 3 other countries (the UK, France, and Italy)and visit countless others when their schedules allowed. The best part is that they were also able to do this while getting some of their required core class credits out of the way, and living in college dormitories with a college meal-plan. This way, they were able to keep up in school.
    All of my friends came back raving about it and saying that it was the best experience they have ever had. They said there was about as much supervision as there would be in any normal university program.
    This is definitely something you guys need to look into together. She would be able to experience life in another country independently, while you (mom) would be able to rest easy (well, easier) knowing that she’s safe.

  6. Rene Syler

    May 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    @Katherine: great idea! Thx!!

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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