As I’m sure you can imagine, telling my family and friends that I planned to travel solo for 12 months was met with considerable concern. A bright-eyed but relatively naive 18-year-old, I was fresh out of high school, and a number of relatives who believed the trip was irresponsible launched a full-scale campaign to stop me (their efforts were in vain).
But after having extensively traveled at 18 & 19, I would actually argue the opposite. I would argue that encouraging travel is one of the most responsible things you can do for a girl in her teens.
If I have one regret from my teenage years it’s that I didn’t travel sooner. So whether you’re a teenage girl yourself, or a parent wondering if you should send your daughter overseas, from personal experience, the following are 7 compelling reasons why every girl should travel in their teens.
Seven Reasons Every Girl Should Travel in Her Teens
Builds Confidence and Self Esteem
One of the biggest issues teenage girls face today is confidence and self esteem. But travel is incredibly empowering, and this could be exactly the type of life experience they need.
Travel naturally forces you out of your comfort zone, and learning how to overcome challenges on your own is a huge step towards developing self worth and confidence. It also forces you to make decisions, and obliterates the self imposed limits we place on ourselves.
For every teen who has ever said “I can’t do that“, or “I’m not that type of person“, travel challenges your beliefs about who you are and what you’re capable of. It forces you to face your insecurities and helps you overcome your fears.
“Whether you strike up a fast friendship despite thinking that you’re painfully shy, or navigate a new city alone despite thinking you could never travel solo, the more you knock over long-held beliefs, more things in life will seem possible.
Plus, the life experience makes you more interesting!
It Smacks You With a Reality Check
For the teenager so caught up in their own world that they can’t see the bigger picture, travel is a fantastic opportunity to receive a much needed reality check.
Traveling will open your eyes to how large the world truly is, and how many people co-exist on this earth. We’re one of 7.6 BILLION people, and you realize quite quickly that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
This realization goes a long way to keeping you humble, and forces you to acknowledge what a small part in this world you actually occupy. It also gives you perspective on what is truly important in life.
After travel you realize just how many comforts we take for granted, and this realization – the ability to appreciate the small things in life and not confuse “want” with “need” – is the beginning of true happiness. You realize that things like having acne, or Brittney stealing your boyfriend, really aren’t that big on the true scale of things.
Problem Solving Skills & Common Sense
Travel is one of the greatest ways to develop your problem solving skills and common sense. Because if there’ one thing international travel will teach you it is the ability to think on your feet and adapt to change.
International travelers are constantly faced with new challenges and unknown circumstances, and the ability to react accordingly is a skill you don’t learn in the classroom. Plus, knowing that you can handle stressful situations goes a long way to building your confidence.
Re common sense, let’s be honest, we’re living in an age where common sense is not so common. But travel teaches you to survive by yourself, and imparts a sense of practical thinking and street smarts. A stranger offers you a drink? You don’t take it. That time of the month? You travel wearing Knixteen.
You’ll learn to be observant of your surroundings, to make practical decisions in the moment, and to be ready for change. You’ll learn good sense and sound judgement in practical situations, and how to perceive, understand and judge a situation in a sensible and level headed way.
Encourages Bi Lingual Skills
Being bi-lingual opens up new social and cultural opportunities, meaning you can interact with different people and understand the nuances of another culture. For teens, this means you might have more opportunities to make friends and achieve a more local experience while abroad.
But being bi lingual can also improve your career opportunities, and if you want to learn a new language, it’s easier to start when you’re young.
It’s no secret that post-millennial’s are facing one of the most competitive job markets in history, but living in the digital age has opened up many international borders that allow for the seamless integration of employees regardless of geographical location.
As technology breaks down global economic barriers, employment trends are changing. There will always be a need for a bilingual workforce, and you might find that being fluent in another language will increase your career options, and / or put you at an advantage for your chosen job.
Invaluable People Skills
We’re living in an age where face to face contact is rare, and teenager’s people skills are suffering for it. Post-millennial’s are struggling with face to face communication because they’ve always had the ability to edit a message, but travel is a fantastic way to change this.
Travel is one of the best ways to develop great people skills. Meeting with people from all over the globe exposes you to different cultures, languages and ways of life, and forces you to interact with a diverse range of personalities. You quickly learn how to relate to others, to negotiate well, and interact with people of different backgrounds.
When presented with language barriers, you’re forced to pick up on body language, and rely on alternative methods like non verbal communication (charades is a great ice breaker!). Being misunderstood is incredibly easy if you aren’t careful, so you’re forced to become a better listener and a more careful communicator in all of your interactions.
And when put in situations that shock, impact and move you (like visiting a third world country), these experiences will often develop a level of sensitivity and compassion that’s hard to grasp without having witnessed something first hand. You develop a sense of empathy.
Teaches Time Management & Organization
Anyone who has ever traveled will tell you that the secret to getting the most out of a trip is an effective use of time. And while managing time while on vacation is something you may assume should come naturally, it actually takes an incredibly talented planner to maximize their time.
Think organizing multiple forms of transportation, making sure not to miss any of the city’s best attractions or exploring a whole country in a short amount of time. All of this involves careful calculation, good attention to detail, prioritization, an incredible amount of organization, and the ability to set goals.
You won’t be on the road for very long before you realize how critical time management skills are to travel.
Facilitates Cultural Awareness
There is no doubt that travel makes you more culturally aware and sensitive, and in an increasingly multicultural world, it’s important that people learn this when they’re young.
Those who travel have a greater appreciation of culture and respect for other races, backgrounds, opinions and thoughts, and quickly come to understand that “different” does not necessarily mean “wrong”. You develop a tolerance and open mindedness that the world needs a lot more of.
“Having an understanding of different cultural nuances and customs leads to broader knowledge of the how the world works, why cultures function the way they do, where political tendencies stem from”, and this type of knowledge is not something you’re able to learn in a classroom.
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When I was 17 I booked flights overseas for just after my 18 birthday I didn’t tell my family I was going until about 3 weeks before I left because they didn’t agree to my travelling solo and now I’ve done it my mum encourages travel to all my family.
Good on you for breaking your family’s mindset! I’ve found it’s most difficult for people who haven’t been exposed to someone who has traveled before, because we’re most scared of the unknown.
Yup. I agree. In the UK it was/is actively encouraged to take a year off between school and university. I headed off to South America, the middle East, Australasia and the far East completely alone. It was incredible and set me up for life. I didn’t even blink before accepting a job in Rwanda after uni and now I live in Mexico . Probably a lot thanks to my parents never telling me I couldn’t do something or shouldn’t travel.
Sounds like a fabulous adventure Cassie, and wow what an incredible opportunity to have received a job offer from Rwanda straight out of uni! I’ve always thought that the most valuable gift a parent could give their children was encouragement and really supporting any aspiration. Including travel :)
Meg Jerrard me too. My parents have been nothing but supportive of all my crazy plans. My husband’s too. It makes me so sad when people say they’d love to do x y or z but their parents make them feel too bad about doing it.
I know, it breaks my heart. And makes me feel so fortunate to have the parents I do.
One of the best choices I made was to circle the globe as a 35 year old Meg. Not even close; it WAS the best decision. I became confident, clear, and tolerated diving into my fears as I left my comfort zone daily. If you are human, freaking travel. I cannot stress this idea enough, because seeing the world opens you up to another side of yourself you knew not existed. Rocking post :)
Love this Ryan, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and so glad that you had such a positive life changing experience as well. I genuinely believe that I learnt more in my one year of travel than my 12 years of schooling – it’s such an incredible opportunity for knowledge and personal growth :)
It depends on where you’re coming from. If you don’t grow up in a city, it takes a while to develop street smarts, and it’s better that one isn’t alone when something bad happens the first time. While we now live in rural France, my own kid has decent street smarts and knows how to navigate major airports because of trips back to the U.S. to see family and trips to big cities. However, my kid’s friends are scared (or not allowed!!) to walk around the small city where they go to high school. They would be such easy prey if they were traveling alone. They need to get their feet wet first, safely, with family or group travel.
I can see your point; I do think that there’s something to be said for the sink or swim mentality, jumping into the deep end forcing you to learn quickly, but I can absolutely understand that it would be more suitable, and safe, for those with a more sheltered upbringing to take baby steps.
I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that solo travel was the only way to go, that was my personal journey, but I would absolutely encourage a group of friends to travel if that made them and their parents feel more comfortable with the experience :)
The nice thing about growing up is that I can now do what I want and if that means that I travel every 10 weeks then so be it.
Very true! I love being in control of my own destiny :)
I went to Spain on my own when I was 15 to train as a tour guide. Really good and life changing experience. And considering I make a living from traveling these days, it was even a good thing to do career wise.
It’s so fabulous to be hearing such similar stories about how travel has positively changed the course of people’s lives – refreshing from the usual negative media which floods in around solo / young travelers. Being a Spanish tour guide at 15 sounds incredible!! What an experience!
It’s a scheme we have in Denmark where you can try what it’s like to have a real job, when you around 15. You do it so that you might have a better idea what you want to do career wise. My other school friends worked at the local auto mechanic, in a clothes store or something like that. But I rant a travel agency and asked them if I could try to be a tour guide. and they were positive about the idea. So off I went to the island of Mallorca, just after turning 15 :)
That’s incredible – good on you for chasing after such a cool opportunity. Sounds like an awesome scheme, Scandinavia always seems to be so ahead when it comes to schooling and education.
I moved across the world at 18 and it was the best thing I could ever do, and thankfully with my parents support! I learned so much from the experience.
As a high school teacher I also strongly encouraged my students to get out of the state, preferably the country, to experience the world and to allow themselves to grow from their experiences.
So glad to hear that you’re passing that encouragement on Catharina! Sometimes all it takes is someone being supportive or making them realize it’s possible, and sadly not everyone gets that at home.
Hells to the yeah!! I lived abroad for one year as a 17-year old. Highly recommend!
Awesome Claudia! So psyched to hear about so many people’s positive experiences traveling young – hopefully it inspires a next generation of adventurers :)
While I did not really get out and take long trips as a teen, I did get out and go to camps and weekend/week-long trips way more often than other girls my age – thanks to my parents (my dad would ensure my mom’s worries turned to just whispers of worries!). It did make me grow into someone more me.. :) And your blog inspires me to travel today, as an adult who can…
Fabulous Vidya, ultimately I think the best way to grow as a teenager is about life experience, so whether it’s traveling, or heading away on a weekend camp where you meet new people and learn new skills, it’s all positive :)
I’m so glad that our blog inspires you to travel today!
My cousin and his wife believed the same thing and, to make sure their 2 girls understood how to backpack, took them to Europe for the whole backpacking experience when they were 15 and 13. Then when the girls graduated, they both went on their own trips.
Oh wow what incredible parents! So cool to have that experience so young, and perhaps develop a bit of a taste / street smarts for it so they’re not totally thrown in the deep end when they head on their first backpacking trip themselves :)
I agree, I was a short skinny blond as a teen and My parents freaked out about me walking to the store. I could have benefited from the extra responsibility.
Never too late to travel :)
Depends on your locations.
I’ve traveled some.
LA / Boston /
Ya’ run with your luck.
Love LA! Opportunities will definitely depend on your location, my approach has always been, as you say, to run with your luck :) Though definitely something to be said for making your own luck if you want something badly enough :)
I would say, guy or girl, should travel while they are young and experience the world, people and cultures that is around them. Most of all, realize the power within themselves, independence and self-sufficiency. Great article!!
Absolutely John! Definitely an incredible experience everyone and anyone should take up. So glad you enjoyed the article!
Great article Megan, I’m grateful for young people getting experience of different cultures, enabling develop their potential through travelling, very empowering advice!
Thanks Ian, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!
I needed this post. I just discovered your blog and this is probably my favorite article yet! I’m 17 and volunteering in Ghana over the summer right before university so you can imagine both how terrified/excited I am and how relieved you’ve made me <3
So glad you’ve enjoyed the post Sophie! Volunteering in Ghana will be such an incredible experience. Obviously make sure it’s a reputable company and listen to the safety advice from your mentors and program leaders etc but I’m sure it’s going to be a life-changing opportunity :)
Happy travels XXX
I sent my 19-year-old to Europe alone for three months last year to help improve her confidence and independence. Worked a treat.
So glad to hear that it was a positive experience for her Paula! I’ve always thought that travel / inspiring & encouraging travel is the greatest gift in life a parent can give :)
YOur article reassured me. I have a 18 year old who is going to travel around South East Asia for 5 months I am terrified to say the least but I realize that these fears are unfounded. She is responsible and mature but as a mum I cannot help to be worried. I fear something terrible is going to happen but I know that living in Washington DC is probably more dangerous than Vietnam and Taiwan.
Your post reassured me . My 18 year old daughter is leaving for Vietnam in a week. She will be traveling for 5 months and I am terrified. I know she will be fine because I did the same and I was fine but as a mum it is scary and cannot help worrying about it. Any mums out there?
Hi Isabel / Maribel
Thanks for reaching out. I think as a parent you’ll always worry about your daughter, but absolutely in that she’ll be just as safe in Vietnam as she would at home in Washington DC.
I think the best way to calm your fears would be to keep up with what she’s doing as much as possible, whether that’s via following updates on Facebook, or emailing every now and then asking how the trip is. Social media has been a great invention in terms of being able to keep up with pretty instant and constant updates, and most teenagers seem to use it pretty prolifically these days. If she’s got a solid head on her shoulders like you say, she should be OK :)
I hope she has an absolutely incredible trip, I’m sure it will be life changing for her :)