My Son's First Solo And Budget Trip Abroad

I am a young mom. My oldest, Lee, was born when I was married a year, when I was just 19.5 years old. Born in September he's one of the younger ones in the school year, and then he skipped a grade. Which means that when he graduated high school last month, he was just 16, and that definitely made me feel old. I feel old to have a 16 year old, but old enough to have a high school graduate? That's even odder for me.

But now this is even bigger, in some ways. My son just flew on his first solo trip abroad. Yesterday. And he'll be gone for almost 2 months!

My son got accepted to work at the same sleep away camp I went to as a child, and he'll be working there from the middle of July to the middle of August. The thing is- the camp is in the US, in Pennsylvania. And we don't live in the US. 

The salary to work at the camp honestly is quite low for most of their available jobs (only a few hundred dollars), but that's fine since they get to enjoy the camp experience even as staff. But it doesn't cover the cost of airfare though. The camp does pay money towards airfare... but that also is just a few hundred dollars. 

However, since we don't live near the US and international airfare there during peak travel season is basically the opposite of frugal (and is why I always travel at off peak times)... the price of the ticket is about double what my son is getting from his salary and travel expenses. That money will go to cover part of the cost I laid out for the airfare, and the rest is on me. 

Though my children are all American citizens, they have yet to go to the US because of how expensive airfare there is. (I, personally, have only been twice since I moved abroad 18 years ago, once on a work trip that someone paid for me, and once when I had no choice since I was locked out of my bank account and could only access the money I was earning by going to the bank branch in New York in person. I have since switched to a much more reasonable bank.) Going to work at this camp, in addition to being what I know will be a terrific experience, will also enable him to go to the US for much cheaper than it would have been otherwise. And my son is finally old and mature enough to travel on his own (I mean, he is a high school graduate already) so it is just paying for airfare for one instead of a kid and myself.

Keeping the cost of airfare down meant flying through London. Since my son was going to be stopping there anyhow, I asked if any friends of mine in London would be able to host him for a few days so he could do some touring, and a lovely friend of mine offered. (My son is too young to stay at a hostel or rent an AirBnB, so this was his only option.) 

After his few days in London, he'll be flying to New York, where he has about a week until the camp bus leaves from that area. After camp he has another week in New York, and then a few more days in London, and then back home.

The deal I made with my son was this. I pay for his travel expenses. His cell phone. Insurance. Public transportation. Groceries. He pays for any touristy things he wants to do, any restaurants he wants to eat at, and any shopping he wants to do. I told him that I was happy to plan a fun frugal itinerary for him to do during his trip, and he could tell me what types of things he'd want to see, what he felt is worth spending money on, and I'd plan it accordingly. (My son freelances as a computer technician so he's saved up some cash.)

Travel health insurance was more than I thought it would be, to be honest. His phone, on the other hand, was much cheaper than I thought it would be, because, fortunately, it has the capability of using e-Sims. I price compared a bunch of different ones and the ones via Airalo seemed the cheapest; I used a referral code and got $3 off the already low price (and if you use my link you'll also get $3 off).

While my son had a local debit card, it wasn't an international one. In preparation for his trip, I got him a USAA youth spending account connected to mine, and ordered a debit card for him, so he would have the ability to draw money as needed and not need to carry around cash (dangerous), or need to pay a currency exchange fee at a money changer, and so I could send money to him with no expense (since its considered transferring from one account of mine into the other). 

The list of what my son needed for camp was extensive, but I tried to see what I could get frugally, either what we already had at home, from discount stores, clothing outlets, etc... One of my friends that he will be staying at, while in the US, told me that if I need anything for him I can ship it to her there, and I did that for things that are much cheaper on Amazon than locally. Since I had to pay for every piece of luggage, other than his personal bag/backpack, I tried to see if he could manage with just checked luggage and his personal bag, but there wasn't enough room in that. So I thought about buying a carry on sized suitcase while in the US for him to take on the return trip, so I wouldn't need to pay for the fee there, but I realized that the cost for him to buy a new one wasn't that different than the cost of paying for him to take one from home, and it would make his life easier to have it, with all the traveling around he'll be doing, so I ponied up the cash for that. (Remember the times when we could have checked luggage, carry on, and a personal bag for no extra cost? Oh, those were the days...)

All the final last minute things that I needed to run around and get for my son (including the suitcase, because we hadn't traveled abroad for long so had no need of a large suitcase) added up, so in that sense the trip isn't such a frugal one... but since all the touring he'll be doing will be frugal, I'll still count this as a budget trip. Even if the budget was a little larger than I would have liked.

My son was a bit nervous about going away for 2 months, being away from family and friends and his room that long, but he'll be staying with relatives of mine and relatives of his dad when he's in the US, so it's not all strangers. But I know he'll be awesome and he's responsible and up for this challenge. I think this will be the greatest and most exciting adventure of his life so far, and I can't wait to hear how it goes for him. 

I did all the preparations I could possibly think of, teaching him all about the public transportation in these areas and how they worked and how to get around, preparations of what could happen if things went wrong, based on snafus on my trips in the past, and made an entire Google Drive folder with important information, addresses and phone numbers, itineraries, etc... and off he went.

We all drove to the airport extra early, just to make sure there were no problems... 

And there was one.

I hadn't bothered to check if there was a problem with a 16 year old traveling alone to the UK. I didn't think of a reason there would even be a problem. But the airport said that while they don't care, the UK requires any unaccompanied minor (and yes, 16 is a minor) to list the name and number of the person who will be picking them up at the airport, and otherwise they might not let them past security. Eek. My son was going to take the bus to my friend's house; she was doing me a favor and hosting my son, I wasn't going to ask her to come to Luton to get him! I asked him if we could just have him tag along with another group and be a part of their group "officially" and they said fine.

The person at the airline counter spoke with his superior and she said as long as they had the name and phone number of my friend it was ok if she didn't come to the airport. Crisis averted... While he went to check I was trying to figure out who else I knew in the UK that I could convince to come out to Luton to get him...

Anyhow, after that, we all gave him lots of love and kisses, and yes, he patiently tolerated all the love and hugs and embarrassing mom kisses that I gave him and that his siblings did (I know he'll miss that when he's gone) and then he was off!

I'll admit, there was just the tiniest bit of nervousness in me, but only because of what they said about going through security... I had my son message me about every step of the way, when he made it through security, when he got to the gate, when he got on the plane... and I was nervous about him contacting me when he landed because I had no experience with e-sims... but that went ok. He even made it through security with no problem; they didn't even bring up that he was a minor. He got through the airport so fast, I was shocked. 

He then figured out how to take the bus from the airport to London really quickly, and was able to make it to my friend's house in London before it was late. 

My friend, the hostess, welcomed him with sushi, then took him for a walk around the neighborhood. My son said that everything he'd seen so far was beautiful. And was surprised that it only got fully dark after midnight...

I'll update more about his trip to London in another post. Here's just a quick peek at the most iconic London tourist photograph, a phone box and Big Ben.

How old were you when you took your first solo flight? Was it domestic or international? If you have older kids, what was the first time they flew without you?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Wow! Amazing. I'm much older, and people didn't fly all that much way back when. My first flight was when I was 18, my freshman year in college when I went to friends for the Holidays in a couple of different states.

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