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High school graduations are in full swing, and traveling can be a great way for graduates to celebrate the milestone before they head to college or begin a job.
Along with education, travel is the most impactful experience of a young person’s life, according to a recent study from tour operator Contiki, which provides trips for clients ages 18 to 35. Travel advisors who help graduating seniors plan memorable celebration trips may see their client base expand, as those grads will continue to travel and eventually take trips with their own families.
“The gift of travel is an unforgettable and life-changing gesture,” said Adam Cooper, president of Contiki USA. “The lifelong benefits of travel — from building self-confidence and overcoming fear of change to helping clients better understand their place in the world — makes it the best graduation gift of all.”
Here’s how to help high-school grads plan the perfect parent-free adventure.
Pick the Right DestinationFor teens fresh out of high school, the opportunity to travel without parents for the first time is an exciting step toward independence — and it’s also a golden opportunity to pick a destination that’s meaningful to them. While some may want the thrill of traveling abroad, others might be wary of venturing far from home. For the latter, there’s still a lot to discover in U.S. cities.
“With intriguing attractions and activities, delicious cuisines from around the world, diverse cultures and celebrations, and famous places they’ve seen in movies and on television, San Francisco offers opportunities to experience something new, whether it’s a type of food or transportation they don’t have at home or a museum that explores a culture or perspective different from their own,” said Laurie Armstrong Gossy, senior director of media relations for San Francisco Travel.
Meanwhile, Donna Schorr, director of communications for Visit Philadelphia, suggests a visit to the City of Brotherly Love.
“Philadelphia is a great destination for young people who haven’t been back since a class trip that included a cheesesteak and a visit to the Liberty Bell,” she said. “The city is filled with history, culture and great food. Plus, since it’s only 25 blocks river-to-river, young people can navigate with public transportation or walking.”
Prepay if PossibleBudgeting for a solo graduation trip can be tricky for grads who have no parents around to manage day-to-day spending. A benefit to paying in advance means that teens will carry less cash.
“Walt Disney World Resort is my pick for high school graduates who want to celebrate with friends,” said Meredith Wallace of MM Travel in Bedford, N.Y. “All transportation is included [and even meal plans can be added], so the cost is determined in advance, making it a great graduation gift. Or, it allows teens spending their own money to know exactly how much they need to save.”
Wallace also notes another reason to pick Walt Disney World: On-site resorts allow guests to check in without a guardian at age 18.
Plan Itineraries Several tour operators specifically cater to younger travelers, so advisors can confidently recommend them for graduation trips. These companies design escorted itineraries to focus on things young travelers want to see and do, ensuring grads won’t miss any Instagram-worthy items on their “must do” list.
“Gen Z travelers look for authentic and immersive travel experiences with opportunities to form connections with destinations they visit,” said Contiki’s Cooper. “Our founders felt that young people should have access to trips that are exciting, affordable and built to their unique interests — not what their parents want, but what they truly desire.”
Another benefit of preplanned itineraries is that they can reduce unforeseen travel-related snafus, which may ease the minds of parents concerned about kids traveling alone. Prepare for the UnexpectedFor some, the most exciting part of travel is that anything can happen. But for high school graduates traveling solo, that means a possibility of emergencies that adults would normally handle.
Travel insurance protects against some situations, but some policies won’t cover everything if a true medical emergency arises. For that, agents can recommend Medjet, an air medical transport and travel security program that transports clients from locations all over the world to their home hospital. Because it’s a membership program rather than an insurance policy, the only cost is the membership fee, which starts as low as $99.
“Travel advisors should explain the limitations of the travel insurance their clients select,” said John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet. “Most travelers mistakenly think 'evacuation coverage' means their child will be airlifted home in the case of a medical emergency, but that’s not true with most insurance, nor with platinum-level credit card benefits, which they also mistakenly think covers the child if the ticket is purchased with the card.”
Pack ProperlyPacking correctly for any vacation is challenging, but agents can be great resources for young travelers who may never before have had to think about what goes in their suitcase — let alone what they’ll need when they’re on their own.
Sarah Fazendin, a Denver-based travel designer for A Family Travel Blog, says solar- charging stations with USB connectivity, such as the Addtop 24000mAh Solar Power Bank, are worth their weight in gold.
Brenda MacKellar, Europe product manager for Tauck, recommends a money belt.
“They’re the safest place for teens to keep passports, money and emergency contact info,” she said. “Plus, pack copies of travel documents separately in case anything gets lost.”
And don’t forget a small first-aid kit, says Danielle Kirk, content and social media manager for Contiki.
“It will see teens through in a pinch should a minor accident happen,” she said.
San Francisco Travelwww.sftravel.com
Walt Disney World Resortdisneyworld.disney.go.com