Laws and practicalities
The laws that apply to under-18s travelling without an adult vary from country to country, so look at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. An FCO spokesman says: « Laws and customs can differ between countries, and specific detail in these laws can change, so we advise parents of young people travelling for the first time to check with the country’s embassy in the UK before booking.
For example, Spanish law defines under-18s as minors and subject to parental control or adult supervision. Any unaccompanied minors that come to the attention of the Spanish local authorities (because of, say, criminal incidents or admission to hospital) are deemed to be vulnerable under the law and face being taken into a minors’ centre for their protection until their situation is resolved and a parent or suitable guardian can be found. And under-18s travelling to Portugal must have travel authorisation from their parents or guardian, authenticated at the Portuguese embassy or consulate in the UK in advance. They may also be refused entry if they can’t prove they have someone in Portugal taking responsibility for them during their stay.
The UK Identity and Passport service says 15,000 Britons under 25 lost their passport on holiday last year, so keep an eye on it! Make two photocopies and give one to a mate. You also need travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers says there are policies specifically for under 18s, (try insuremore.co.uk or essentialtravel.co.uk). You might be covered under your parents’ policy even if not travelling with them, though this may require you to be named on it, or that you travel for a maximum of 21 days.
« It’s up to the airline what its rule is on unaccompanied minors. There is no aviation legislation about this, and the minimum accepted ages vary, » says James Fremantle, spokesman for the Air Transport Users’ Council « Most airlines will accept those aged 15 and over, but have to supply a member of staff to accompany minors on and off the flight, and as the airline covers the cost, some low-cost airlines will not accept young passengers for that reason. Those that do, do not usually pass on a surcharge to the customer. »
Many airlines insist that parents accompany under-18s to check in and passport control. British Airways allows anyone over 12 to travel as an adult. Younger children must be accompanied by a person 16 or over, or register with the airline’s Skyflyer Solo service, at a cost of £35 per leg for short-haul, £50 for long-haul. Children aged 12-16 can also apply for the service if they want someone to accompany them through the airport. See britishairways.com/travel/childinfo/public/en_gb for more information. Ryanair doesn’t carry unaccompanied minors under 16. Easyjet does not accept unaccompanied minors under 14; those aged 14-15 must be accompanied by someone 16 or over.
Whether you choose one city to explore, or an area of a country, travelling independently is a surefire route to maturity and adventure.
Patrick Kingsley, Guardian student journalist of the year 2009, said: « When I was 16, a friend and I spent a week running round Istanbul, and the next summer another chum and I spent a month hiking and taking buses from Krakow, Poland, to Lviv in Ukraine.
« Both trips were self-organised: I just booked flights and Googled ‘cheap hostels’, and bought maps to plan routes in advance. Some parents might balk at these trips, but we felt safe – mum and dad were only an (expensive) mobile call away. In fact, there were two occasions where we were stumbling around in a Polish forest late at night, utterly lost, and my father and brother were able to direct us over the phone towards civilisation using Google Maps. »
Hostelbookers.com, which collates hostels all over the world, says there is a vast range that accept those over 16; probably your best bet as Teletext Holidays says many hotels won’t accept bookings from under-18s – or under-21s in America.
It’s easy to plan a route on public transport. « Rather than opting for a fortnight in the Costas, taking a trip by train to a few cities will give you a taste for adventure and introduce you to the joys of travelling slowly, » says Tom Hall of Lonely Planet. « My first overseas jaunt without parents was with my brother. We made our way overland to Rome. »
See seat61.com for global rail routes and links to sites selling rail tickets; and interrailnet.com for InterRail passes for discounts on European rail.
Long-haul adventure holidays
« We find that lots of young people want to travel before they embark on the pressures of A-levels, and this can be a good time to start experiencing all the world has to offer, » says Emma Mitchell of STA Travel (0871 230 0040. « Pre sixth-form people often opt for south-east Asia or Australia. Australia’s sunshine and English language mean it’s an appealing, safe option, whereas those wanting to push their boundaries love south-east Asia because culturally it’s so different. »
There are plenty of group tours available to people of pre-A-level age, which allow them freedom but with a safety net to fall back on. You travel with a mix of people aged from 16 into their 20s. The Oz Experience tour (+61 2 9213 1766) uses a « hop-on-hop-off » bus on different routes, where the drivers double up as tour guides who book hotels and teach people about local culture and wildlife. It costs from £306pp for 21 days, including accommodation. Flights to Sydney available to students start from £605 return. Flights to Perth start from £615.
A 30-day Indo-China Discovery tour with STA Travel costs from £1,319pp for a small group trip starting and ending in Bangkok, with potential add-ons including Fiji. Flights to Bangkok available to students cost from £379 return.
« The best gap projects or long summer trips for 16-17-year-olds are through friends and familyoverseas, » says Tom Griffiths of gapyear.com. « So seek out those long-lost relatives in Italy, Spain or wherever, or someone the same age who might be up for an exchange, as long as your parents are happy to host their child for a few weeks. »
You could start by finding a pen pal, perhaps at penpalworld.com or penpalparty.com. Longer stints, including gap years, normally involve a family friend with a business overseas who can give the teenager a work experience/live-abroad placement. These are very good for workplace practice, language skills and your CV.
« After I finished my GCSEs, aged 16, » says Tom, « I spent the summer in France, staying with my mum’s French exchange student’s daughter. The plan was for me to become fluent in French to help me with my French A-level – which it did. I travelled down to Toulouse and all the way back to the UK by myself. It gave my parents nightmares, but it gave me an incredible life experience and the hunger for further travel. This type of activity is not only safe, but fun and beneficial – as after eight weeks speaking only French/German/Spanish, you’re almost guaranteed an A in speaking tests and you’ll probably go up a grade or two overall. »
Accompanying school, youth club or church summer trips overseas is another option: 16-17-year-olds act as « older assistants » for younger kids.
« With teenagers there is one overriding principle, and that is that a contract cannot be enforceable with a minor, » said a spokesperson from the Association of British Travel Agents. « So some companies insist on a party member being over 18 while others require parental permission. »
Thomas Cook lets 16- and 17-year-olds book some of its trips, depending on the brand. « In general, for parties that are under 18, written authority is required from a parent or legal guardian, who must sign the booking form in the presence of one of our sales consultants, » said a spokeswoman. « The consultant may ask the parent/guardian to produce a copy of their passport showing their name and signature to prove their identity. »
One of its most famous brands, Club 18-30 (0871 895 0066), actually accepts travellers from 17 (up to 35), though under-18s must get a parent or guardian to sign the booking form in the presence of a travel agent, and must book in a travel agent’s office, not online or by phone. Destinations are still the party favourites – Ibiza, Mallorca, Crete, but also Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach resort on the Black Sea, and Marmaris in Turkey. Prices can be ridiculously cheap: seven nights in a basic apartment in San Antonio, Ibiza, departing on 26 June costs £249pp, including flights.
Thomson and First Choice holidays, including their youth brands, Freestyle (for trips to Egypt, Mexico, Spain, Greece) and 2wenties (European party destinations), are stricter, and insist the lead member of the group is over 18, to be responsible for the rest of the group, who must all be 17 or over.
Lads Holiday (08445 889 998) sells trips from various operators to top European party resorts – Zante, Ayia Napa, Tenerife – and takes anyone over 16. Malia in Crete is its most popular summer destination, with July packages from £299 including flights. A week from 20 August at Magaluf’s Mallorca Rocks Hotel costs £339, including flights.
« Finding a campsite that will take groups of under-18s, and single-sex groups, is a real problem for young people, » says Casey Mead, spokeswoman for camping website pitchup.com, which has just added a list of those that do. Search under « student friendly » . You could always wildcamp too, legal in Scotland.
Several campsites in the UK cater specifically for young groups wanting to let their hair down. One of the most popular destinations is Cornwall, particularly Newquay. Group holiday specialist newquayuncovered.co.uk says the ones to head for are Trevelgue Holiday Park and Smugglers Haven, whose Exodus programme for 16-17-year-olds arranges under-18s club nights in conjunction with local youth services. It also lists hotels and self-catering accommodation that cater for young groups. However, Cornwall’s tourist board says the resorts’ popularity has caused problems with underage drinking, and it is trying to discourage under-18s from holidaying there unaccompanied. The Newquay police are cracking down on underage drinking this summer, patrolling trains, confiscating alcohol and informing underage drinkers’ parents if they are caught.
Before there were such things as 18-30 holidays, youth hostelling was what many a fresh-faced youngster did for their first parent-free break. YHA (01629 592700) accepts those aged 16 or over, and has hostels all over the UK. You could hike between a few; the Lake District or Scotland are good places for this.
Or why not learn some skills and meet people at the same time by booking one of the hill and mountain courses the YHA runs, such as peak walking for those aged 16 plus in the Peak District (£106 for two nights), National Navigation Award Scheme trips to qualify in map reading and compass use (£141 for two nights), or various summer camps (see overleaf).
Underage festival in Victoria Park, London
You can’t beat a summer festival with your mates for unlimited fun, but you need to find one that lets in under-18s – most of the big ones insist they are accompanied by an adult. The Wickerman festival (23-24 July, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, Goldie Lookin Chain, 808 State) takes unaccompanied under-16s. Lounge on the Farm (loungeonthefarm.co.uk/ 9-11 July, Merton Farm, Canterbury, Hercules and Love Affair, Tunng, Beardyman) gets a big teen crowd, with weekend tickets for 13-17-year-olds costing £75. Camp Bestival (30 July-1 August, Dorset, £77.50 for 11-17s) lets youngsters in and hosts special under-18s parties called Let’s Go Crazy, as well as this year’s acts, Calvin Harris, Chipmunk, Friendly Fires and more.
It’s only a one-day event, but the Underage festival in Tower Hamlets, east London on 1 August, tickets £29.50) is for 14-18-year-olds only and doesn’t let anyone older in. Acts this year include Lightspeed Champion, MIA, Ellie Goulding and New Young Pony Club.
Adventures at sea
Tall Ships Adventures (02392 832055) offers voyages on amazing boats aimed at 16-25-year-olds. Clyde MacFarlane, Guardian student travel writer of the year 2009, says: « When I was 16, I took part in a tall ship race across the Baltic, from Gdynia in Poland to Turku in Finland. It’s not exactly a holiday – you have to take it in turns to be on watch through the night. Learning a few basic knots on deck may sound easy, but putting them into practice when 45m up the mast is a very different story. » This year the race is in the North Sea, with seven-, 10- and 12-day legs between Belgium, Denmark and Norway, from late July to early August. Prices range from £699 to £899, including all accommodation, meals, safety equipment and instructions.
A working holiday with the National Trust. Photograph: NTPL/John Millar
Even strict parents are bound to let you go on one of the UK’s many volunteering holidays. One of the best is National Trust Working Holidays (0844 800 3099), which accepts over-16s. « Groups are usually made up of a dozen volunteers, of varying ages, and they are sociable experiences », says Alison Dalby, press officer for the National Trust. Some of this year’s trips include a photographic survey holiday at Hardcastle Crags in the south Pennines (10-17 July, £125), running an outdoor play week for kids in August at Gibside landscaped gardens in the north-east (£105), and fencing, footpath clearing and beach cleaning at the Penrose estate in Cornwall (July, £105). For more volunteer holiday ideas in the UK, see do-it.org.
If you’re looking for something more structured, where you’re guaranteed to develop new skills and knowledge, and meet people the same age, a summer camp isn’t necessarily a dorky option. Many are lots of fun. For example – the YHA’s Doit4real.co.uk has 23 camps for ages 10-19 (with separate camps for different age ranges) offering four days of activities such as quad biking, paintballing, film making and street dancing, with prices from £79-299. You can also try a team leader camp, for 17- 19-year-olds, to develop leadership skills (whether you want to boss about young siblings or become a chief exec). Also check out campbeaumont.co.uk for three-, four- or seven-day multi-activity camps; summerdrama.co.uk for acting, mime and dance camps in Northern Ireland; and pgl.co.uk for surfing, film making and learner-driver camps.
• This article was amended on 15 June 2010. The original stated the Underage Festival was being held in Hackney. This has now been corrected.
(Source : guardian.co.uk)