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Solo travel in Europe as a 18 year old female

I am currently a 16 year old that that loves the idea of backpacking through Europe after I graduate from high school. I have traveled to Canada a few times, Mexico once, Jamaica once on a mission trip, and all over the US. I would love to go to Europe in the fall (September/October time) and start college a semester late, I feel like 6 months would be nothing in the grand scheme of life but my mom fears a trip like this would make it so I don't ever want to go to college and would prefer I do a study abroad program. I all ready have an idea of places I would like to travel to; London, Luxembourg City, Milan, Warsaw, Paris, Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Bruges; i would plan on using the eurail system and would stay in youth hostels and some of my dads old friends he meet from backpacking himself and from when he was stationed in London with the air force. My dad is all for the idea and loves it and thinks 18 would be the perfect time and age to do a trip like this alone but my mom is a little wary of the idea of me being gone and alone for so long, so I was just wondering if there is anything that would help calm my moms worries or if 18 is to young to do something like this or would a study abroad program be better?

Posted by
12139 posts

Hi,

If you are entertaining the thought of traveling six months in Europe, forget it. The countries in the Schengen zone allow you to stay with a US passport for 90 days. That's why your passport is stamped upon landing. The UK allows six months.

Getting into a study abroad program could help solve this imposed time constraint. Look into the Erasmus Program. On my trip just ended, I saw American students in Potsdam across from the Neues Palais, part of which serves as a campus for the university.

Posted by
5401 posts

Not sure that colleges let you start out with study abroad, but my daughter did a "gap year" after high school with AFS where she spent an academic year living with a family and attending high school in Finland. You could also do just a semester. This type of program is single-country immersion, not travel. Having the family base and school structure makes it easier for Mom to let go.
If you want to delay starting college, it's probably easiest to do the regular admissions process in your senior year and then after you are admitted ask your college for a deferral.

Posted by
6544 posts

Let me just say that it's very rare to find an eighteen year old male or female that's got the maturity to take on such an odyssey. With the influx of so many migrants added to a place like Germany and their "skinhead" type of millennials, Europe is changing socially. Safety is of the utmost importance, and solo travel is now less desirable. We saw demonstrations and looting in Berlin last week by those type of people I'm talking about.
Do yourself a great favor and go on to college. Many universities have overseas programs in great cities you can attend after you get your feet on the ground. Life doesn't need to be so hurried as there are plenty of great experiences awaiting you that are less dangerous. I took advantage of one of those in residence college programs and it was one of my life's great times--with 8-10 of my close friends.

Posted by
23994 posts

I think that the demonstrations last week were about the Donald arriving, and a G20 meeting in Hamburg which also had demonstrations. Normally both areas are quiet and fun to visit.

Posted by
6259 posts

I think it's great that you're thinking that far ahead (2 years)...you'll have plenty of time to work out any kinks re: transport, where to go, where to stay, budget/money issues, etc. If you also consider this trip vis-a-vis a study abroad program (so you can compare and contrast the merits of both), then all the better. I think the one way you can calm your mom's fears is just to demonstrate that you have the maturity and resourcefulness in terms of enhanced travel skills to undertake the trip (or perhaps you'll need to cut it a bit shorter). In reference to prior comments about skinheads and demonstrations, the former has been the case in various areas of former Eastern Germany for quite some time (it's like whack-a-mole, disappearing and coming back now and again) and the latter is very context-specific (and again occurring in Germany, which you didn't even name as a country of interest). There have been demonstrations in Europe for decades, and you're wise just to stay away when they occur. Such broad generalizations as "social change" (really meaning "demographic change") are happening here in the US as well (although from different countries), and it's not a reason not to travel to Europe. I'm from Warsaw and can tell you there has been no major "social" change in the way that made the city suddenly unsafe (just a right leaning government that half the population doesn't support). Of course you need maturity and street smarts, but that's a given for a young person traveling alone. Good luck to you in this evolving decision...there's always a possibility that some things may change like having a friend traveling with you or making some adjustments to make this trip both feasible and a happy one.

Posted by
3000 posts

I think you may have a slightly romanticized view about backpacking around Europe. First step is to start doing some research about the cost and logistics of such a trip. Then, compare it with some of the options listed above. Many people, of all ages, find it easier to make their first trip to Europe with others. Then they feel more confident for solo travel.

I applaud you for having a goal and working towards it. Make sure to research and consider all options.

Posted by
2514 posts

I can't say it any better than Agnes, so I'll add to it. A trip like that will bring on a maturity and interest in life that no other type of trip will, IMO. You won't be alone all the time because you'll meet people at the hostels, should you have the need to socialize. However, you will learn to know yourself better. What better time? You might have to adjust countries to not stay in the Schengen countries too long, but that can be done. Perhaps if your mother met you once or twice during your travels, she would feel better? But at 18, you are starting your life, so try to follow your gut rather than regret not doing something you need to do.

Posted by
6259 posts

One other thing I would add is, if you're not taking any foreign language class right now in high school, definitely consider doing so. It will build your confidence, make travel easier, and even may narrow your interests to one country. I studied German (and Germany history) for several years (high school and college) and did a summer abroad program there. In retrospect, I think Spanish is the most practical, but it's all up to you.

Posted by
3352 posts

Ellen, I'm all for your travel goals and encourage you to do as much as possible while you are young. You go girl! My suggestion (to help alleviate your mom's worries) is that you get a girl friend or two and do two or three weeks (maybe four) in the summer after high school graduation. Then college in the fall where you can really start to explore study aboard programs. Even if the study abroad plan doesn't gel (and I can't imagine it not since there are loads of them) you can still go in the summer between semesters. Just food for thought.

Posted by
12139 posts

Skinhead millennials or wanna be types? Never saw any such thing, day or night, even in far eastern Berlin such as Berlin Köpenick, or small towns way up north, north and south of Kiel, or in Spandau, or at any of the main train stations, Hauptbahnhöfen, (Kiel, Hannover, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Potsdam, Jena, Munich, Frankfurt, Bremen, Cologne, etc ), early morning or at night pushing midnight during this past 52 day trip or any recent trip. However, I did see lots of other people.

Posted by
175 posts

This is an awesome aspiration, Ellen! I've done a lot of travel on my own in my twenties and have found it to be so rewarding.

Like others have said, Schengen poses a problem for this plan, though. I also think that first semester of college is important in terms of integrating into your school community, making friends, etc. That's when colleges expect students to start and so it's the time frame when they put the most resources into helping new students get oriented. For that reason, I'd suggest either taking a full gap year, or just starting on time, so that you're enrolling at the start of the school year.

That doesn't mean you can't do something like this, though! What about taking 2-3 months over the summer? That's still a really good chunk of time, and you can avoid running into Schengen issues. It also may make it possible for friends or family to join you for a week here and there. Solo travel is awesome, but doing several months of it right out of the gate might be a bit challenging. If you have a few periods of time when you've got company, that may be a nice complement to the solo time.

Posted by
4710 posts

You and your parents might want to read some of our host (Rick Steves') books about first time travel to Europe. It can be both reassuring and useful. I would be more concerned about pickpocketing and loss of unsecured property (due to lack of travel experience, I mean) than I would about (parental fantasies of ... ) "abduction." In many respects, European city streets are much safer than American city streets. And Europe does not have the problems of suburban and rural drug addiction that we do.

Because you used the term "eurail", I can see that you need to do research (as in Rick Steves, with some free material at top left of the desktop version of this forum) on the simplest and most economical means of travel, for both advance planning and spur of the moment decisions after your arrival. A Eurailpass is not likely to be your best option, but, "it depends."

Posted by
3545 posts

I agree with some comments of others. Work out the logistics on paper thoroughly for a 90'day stay. Itin, route, budget, etc then think about a summer after high school,grad. Make sure u have prep all for college, academics and applications, volunteer experience, partime job etc. assure that u have been accepted into a college for sure.
Frankly a college yr abroad is quite appealing. There is a purpose, for which u receive credits, a person is more able to handle situations that may arise etc.
And the experience will be a growrh and incredible memory for a life time.

with some ofmthe comments from others

Posted by
679 posts

Rick Steves son Andy has a company that specializes in travel for college age young people, you might look him up on the internet and see what he offers, it would at least give you a place to start. If you've never traveled in Europe before it is important to realize that there is a learning curve that we have all gone through and it is easier with fellow travelers to experience it with you. I like your spirit and enthusiasm, and I wish you the best and hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
11742 posts

Hi Ellen!
I'm also in the camp of figuring out the 90-day stay (the Schengen thing) and doing it during the summer between graduation and freshman year in collage. Study abroad programs can be great experiences but you would be going to school, with coursework requirements to fulfill and limited time for jumping trains, boats and planes hither and yon. If TRAVEL is your goal, then that should be the focus. Many colleges/universities offer study-abroad semesters for certain majors (not usually for Freshmen, that I'm aware of) so maybe that's an additional possibility in your Jr. or Sr. year.

No, you don't have to be completely alone all the time...although the solo piece doesn't seem to worry YOU. If you go the hostel route, you'll meet others doing the same thing you are. There may also be an opportunity for one or more of your friends from school to join you for a leg or two of your trip? As you formulate and chat about your plan over the next 2 years, some of them might catch the "bug"!! 🐞

Formulating the plan...
I'll second the vote for doing a lot more research. As previously mentioned, a Eurail pass may not be your best deal, depending on where you go. I'll also question some of your destination choices? For instance, I liked Milan well enough but it sure wouldn't have been my FIRST and ONLY choice for Italy. I didn't see it until trip #3 and largely because we flew home from there. Bruges? Love the place but there are other great destinations in Belgium as well: you might really like Ghent as it has a bit younger vibe and more lively feel at night. There are also destinations good for longer stays as they're within' easy day trips to other great places: lock up your pack at the hostel and just hop a train or bus. Bruges, say, is a cheap and easy half-hour from Ghent; Siena, Pisa and Lucca are easy from Florence; Haarlem, Delft, Edam and others from Amsterdam. If you're still set on Milan, then Bergamo, Como, Pavia and some others are within reach. You get the idea? 💡

Money: the downside of summer is that it's the busiest and most expensive time to travel Europe. The better hostels in the most-visited cities will book up in advance so I'd advise a plan with solid dates for those so you can pre-book your spot. There are bargains to be had, though, such as many free museums in London and glorious churches in Italy, and architecture EVERYWHERE that costs nothing but some shoe leather to enjoy! So start saving... 💵

You'll have a GREAT time and remember it for the rest of your life!

Posted by
12139 posts

Hi,

Since you qualify for it, look into getting Eurail Youth Pass, 2nd class, all the more so, if there is a promo going on.

Of course, you can do this trip alone, just don't do anything stupid. On my 52 day trip just recently ended, I saw lots of young college age travelers, young women your age, 18-19 or so, traveling solo or in pairs, especially Asians, (Japanese and the Mandarin speaking Chinese).

Posted by
7330 posts

I think it's a great idea ellen. Moved to Paris by myself when I was 18 and lived/worked there for a year. 18 is not too young to do it on your own imo. My son at 20 did it, and now at 27 is in Europe backpacking all over by himself for 5 wks. He did Thailand/Cambodia last Nov for a month. He loves staying in hostels, loves making friends. You will never be alone unless you want to be. As others have said, research it big time (Reddit.com is my son's favorite travel info source) and take a latin-based (French, Spanish, Italian) language (most useful) class in HS.
I totally understand your mom's anxiety, but it's your life and I admire you. Enjoy the planning, it's part of the fun of travel!

Posted by
256 posts

There are two of the Girl Guide/Girl Scout World Centres (hostels) that would be a great home base for you in London and in Switzerland.
https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/world-centres/

When I lived and worked in London as a volunteer at Pax Lodge, we could stay up to 6 months on a charity worker's visa.
https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/world-centres/pax-lodge/

This is the page with the application:
https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/world-centres/pax-lodge/volunteer/

So this might give you a good middle of the road option, you'll get experience and ability to explore on your days off, but also the safety and structure your mom might want. Can be a great thing to put on college applications, too! :)

This is the page for Our Chalet, in Switzerland. I've heard from other volunteers that this location is more remote than the London one. Might be harder to travel on days off.
https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/world-centres/our-chalet/volunteer/

And all you would need to do is to register as a Girl Scout, usually only about $20 for a year, and submit the application to the GSUSA Global Commissioner in NYC, they sign it and send it on to the World Centres.
-Alison

Posted by
256 posts

Also I've been using a company called Study Across the Pond (dot com) that has very good advisors that help US students study in the UK, there's no fee to the students, the universities they are connected with pay for their service. They help with the applications, visa processes, loads of stuff. You may want to go study there for your college years, and get to do all your traveling at the same time. :)
-Alison