Study Hall: Essays On Travel, Travel U for Kids

Travel U: The power of travel independence.

In the day and age of helicopter parenting and tiger moms (maybe they are called barracuda moms these days), it seems that a few life lessons have been lost in the fray. At the top of the list is the sincere practice of independence. It seems like our kids never ever get a chance to do anything on their own- ever. We parents sit with them to do homework, take them to play dates, drive them to practice and oversee them brushing their teeth. Just what is it that our kids get to do independently? Not much. Could travel independence for teens be the place to start?

Kids and, perhaps more importantly, teens need a chance to problem solve and be responsible for themselves in order to develop those skills that help us become the successful adults that foster the global mantra. So how do we prepare our kids to be global citizens if we never give them a chance to experience anything on their own? More importantly, how do we provide those very important travel independence opportunities in a safe manner?

The very answer to this issue can present itself while doing the very thing global citizens do best- travel.  Several opportunities can be found to practice independence while traveling including:

Allowing teens to practice their driving skills on road trips.

I know! You all just freaked out a little but, let’s face it, will you ever allow them to drive on their own if you never see for yourself whether or not they are capable? The first time I let one of my kids drive on the highway was on the way to Pensacola on I-10. We accelerated from the rest stop and I was so busy looking at the traffic we needed to merge into that I didn’t realize that he was going 70 in the slow lane! Once we calibrated our driving lesson, things went really well and he got a lot of quality practice. I know I lost a few nerve cells along the way. But it was good practice and I know that he could take a road trip with his buddies if he wanted to.

shopping is a great step toward travel independence
Shopping is one way of practicing global citizenship
Photo by Artem Bali on

Sending kids to the gift shop with a budget.

I was recently in the Museum of American History where I watched an eight year old bargain for a stuffed panda bear in the gift shop. The bear was well over one hundred dollars and the kid had no qualms about spending his mom’s money. At the same time, another family discussed whether the book on the first ladies was a better purchase than an ice cream out on the mall. One child ultimately chose a book while the others all opted for the ice cream. Those kids had to think about what to buy. They had to weigh the pros and cons and not destroy the outing by nagging their mom to death! Using money and sticking with a budget is a great way to avoid the gift shop trap (which is ready to spring on you in every corner of the world).

Having kids order off the menu and follow through with the consequences of their choices.

Having a conversation about the menu is a great way to talk about the local culture. Whether it’s shrimp and grits in the Carolinas or sushi in Japan, knowing what you are eating and ordering wisely not only gives kids a sense of ownership but also allows kids to be held accountable and think things through a little more. One way to encourage this is to serve ethnic foods at home to make them part of everyday life. Another choice is to order meze, appetizers, and tapas (small plates) to share then order a “safer” option that is guaranteed to hit the spot.

Giving older kids a chance to walk down a shopping street with a time to return and a list of gifts to buy.

Just as having a budget is important, a chance for a little freedom to not be at arm’s length is imperative as well. So many cities and towns have a well designated shopping district that is easily navigated and full of fun stores. We were enjoying the town of  Kilkenny, Ireland and my daughter asked to wander off on her own for a bit just to explore while the rest of us enjoyed an outdoor cafe. I was happy to have her explore on her own but I did a poor job of creating a check in time. Needless to say, from that point on, everyone knew had to use local wifi to check in and set an alarm on their phone to know when to be back.

Photo by Pixabay on

Travel independence for teens on public transportation.

I had the luxury of living in Japan for several years and I learned so much from the local culture. One of the very first surprises that I came across was the fact that Japanese kids as young as 5 or 6 use public transportation independently. All by themselves! Successfully!!! Daily! I realized that if I was ever going to create smart resourceful travelers out of my kids, I’d better let them start being smart and resourceful. Teenagers are often underestimated and can do much more than first meets the eye. Additionally, knowing how to use public transportation is a must in most metropolitan areas overseas. So swipe the metro pass and explore!

crop person choosing route near map
Photo by Enric Cruz López on

Travel independence for teens when eating.

My kids aren’t always interested in the Michelin rated restaurants that dot the globe. Quite frankly, I don’t want to pay for them to eat it if they don’t appreciate it. Instead, I make my reservations for the adults. Let the kids choose somewhere that looked interesting while we were out and about. They often enjoy the street food scene and I get to eat my meal in peace. Travel Independence? Win-win.

Each and every one of these experiences requires a set of rules and expectations. Make it crystal clear that safety and security are the priority. Every time we let kids spread their wings, we need to ensure that they are on the same page as we parents. So, prioritize their safety and security and ensure that there are clear time limits, budgets and communication. Here are some guidelines to help set the tone:

  1. Know what areas you can and can not go
  2. Ensure everyone knows how to check in (on wi-fi if overseas)
  3. Know the meeting point
  4. Be clear about the budget
  5. Know how to be aware of your surroundings and the possible dangers that can be nearby

Most importantly, travel independence is a privilege and not a right. It can be revoked at any time when these roles of respect are not followed. If everyone is on the same page, travel independence could be the next level experience you’re looking for! Bon Voyage!

We can answer:

  • How can I help my kids be better travelers?
  • Can I let my kids explore on their own?
  • How does travel help kids?

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