If some parents are helicopters, mine are more like taxis—reassuring in the event of an emergency, but they’re not always hovering around. Like many hippies, my folks did a lot of exploration. They road-tripped across the States, camped out at festivals, and my dad lived on something that to this day he insists wasn’t a commune, though it involved “a lot of sharing” and taking turns to milk cows. When I got into my dream university in New York City, they allowed me to move there, knowing no one, at the age of seventeen.
I say this not to brag, but to reveal that, despite their open-mindedness and carefree youth, and despite my now having travelled solo to dozens of countries, they still worry about me.
If you’re dreaming of traveling solo but facing resistance from your parents, here are a few things to consider:
When I was six, I finally got my first pet, a rotund hamster I named Ginger. One day, my dad suggested we liberate Ginger from her little plastic ball and let her roam around freely on our enclosed front porch. Despite my rational brain reassuring me everything would be fine, I still tried to convince my dad not to let Ginger out on her own. I was afraid something would happen.
You are that hamster, and the world is a really big porch. While it can be incredibly frustrating to meet resistance rather than support, understand that your parents are probably coming from a place of love and concern.
2) Understand and anticipate
I asked my mother what I do to make her feel comfortable with me traveling solo and she responded, “You research the hell out of things.” Ask about and anticipate your parents’ specific concerns and respond rationally, with detailed information.
Are they worried about you going out by yourself? Show them the hostels you’ve researched and the variety of group tours and events they offer.
Are they concerned about you getting sick? Highlight the minutiae of the health insurance plans you’re considering.
“How will we know you’re OK?”. Agree upon a consistent, realistic communication plan, whether that’s emailing them your itinerary and any changes as they occur, checking in by Skype once a week, or sending a regular DM.
3) Start small and close
Traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean going abroad. If your parents are initially uncomfortable with you crossing international borders, start by proposing a trip somewhere in the same time zone, close enough that they can easily come to get you in an emergency.
Do you have a cousin, grandparent or family friend in a different city? Your parents might feel assuaged that someone familiar lives close by. Granted, you may have to pop in for tea at Great Aunt Eleanor’s, but an afternoon of cheek-pinching and ignoring the mystery fluff on her decades-old hard candy is a small price to pay for a bit of freedom.
It’s also your responsibility to make expectations clear: while you’ll graciously accept the tea and you’ll call Eleanor in an emergency, this trip is ultimately about you proving your solo competence.
Traveling locally often means uncovering some hidden gems. When I lived in Toronto, I discovered nearby Buffalo, New York— to this day, one of the most underrated cities I have ever visited. On my last visit, I found myself in a bar with a bunch of locals, singing the Goo Goo Dolls’ ‘Iris’ as the owner of the gift shop I’d popped into earlier played along on piano. When you’re having a great time, it won’t matter if you’re two hours or 2000 miles away from home.
4) Plan purposeful travel
If you aren’t financially independent, your parents may justifiably have some say in how you are using any of their resources.
If you’re a student, take advantage of your school’s study abroad programs. Your folks may be more inclined to send you overseas for educational purposes, particularly if there’s a built-in support network, and you can travel independently on the weekends.
Sites like Workaway offer a variety of opportunities to work, intern or volunteer abroad. Your parents might not be keen on you gallivanting freely around Asia, but they may be more open to the idea of you gaining some international work experience. You may also find that having a built-in sense of community and purpose is reassuring during your early forays into solo travel.
I know, I’ve said this one already, but it’s worth repeating: resistance (usually) comes out of a lot of love and, often, a lack of information and experience. While I can’t guarantee that any of these tips will sway your parents, a little understanding and “researching the hell out of things” may set a positive foundation for your first solo adventure.
About Rachel: Rachel Steinberg is a freelance writer currently based in London, England – her sixth city and third country. Though she never did quite reach five feet tall (or the top shelf), she has reached all seven continents and prefers to say she’s travel-sized.