Teenagers often feel boundless enthusiasm for international travel. Heading off to “the Continent,” to explore without the constraints of parents, can be alluring. Knowing some tricks of the trade can help avoid snags in the plan.
No Flights of Fancy, Please!
Don’t let your flight- and your trip to the Continent- become a figment of your imagination. Read the rules before you book. You can sometimes find cheap fares on student travel sites, but the trick is you may not qualify for those flights. STA Travel, for example, will book for ages 16 and up, but will not book for teens age 15 and under unless accompanied by someone age 18 or older. Student Universe membership is free but requires enrollment in college. Assume nothing and research everything when attempting to book through a student travel site. One common requirement is an International Student Identity Card. ISIC cards issued in the United States cost $25, so factor that expense into the cost of the flight to determine just how good a deal the advertised fare is-or isn’t.
Booking through discounters can be tricky or impossible. Name your price? Not you, if you’re not 18! Priceline (and several other discounters) don’t allow under 18’s to book unaccompanied travel, but the prohibition isn’t prominently displayed. You’re likely to discover it midway through the booking process.
Booking directly through airlines means parsing through rules on fares and unaccompanied minor travel. Being considered an adult for fare purposes does not exempt you from any unaccompanied minor restrictions. Beware, rules differ among airlines – you don’t want to get socked with an expensive unaccompanied minor fee or flight restriction such as a ban on connecting or red eye flights.
Some international airlines like Aeroflot offer youth fares. Choosing an airline with a youth fare may save you hundreds of dollars. It may also lengthen your trip to include a stopover in the airline’s country of origin.
Youth Hostels: for You? Or Forbidden?
They may be called youth hostels, but not all of them accept bookings from teens under 18. Youth hostels accepting underage, unaccompanied travelers may ban sleeping in dormitories and require the booking of a private room. Private rooms cost more than dorms; depending on the room configurations available, it may also mean booking more beds than you need. The trick is to familiarize yourself with the fine print and book early, since you’re confined to a subset of the total hostel population.
College campuses sometimes rent unused rooms to vacationers during the summer months. In my experience, colleges are the least likely option for underage travelers. LSE Vacations, the entity responsible for renting out London School of Economics dorms to vacationers, for example, follows a strict policy of requiring one adult 18 or up in the party. They are not alone.
There are clean, safe and affordable hostels and reasonably-priced, unrestricted flights available for underage teens traveling to the Continent independently; just don’t get your heart set on the first search return.