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Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Travel experiences you can only enjoy while you’re young

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There’s no deadline on traveling the globe – strapping on a backpack and heading out to explore new destinations is an activity that should be open to everyone.

But if you’re still in your teens or 20s, it’s worth knowing about some of the amazing discounts, experiences and adventures only available to those under 30.

From discount air fares to working vacation visas, we’ve rounded up some of the best travel experiences to enjoy while you’re young.

Traveling through Europe by rail

Spending a summer traveling Europe by rail is a pretty incredible experience. From hopping on a train in Paris and rolling through the European countryside to Berlin, to wandering the canals of Venice before jumping on a train to admire the history and beauty of Florence.

The Eurail pass (designed for travelers hailing from outside of Europe) and EU Interrail pass (for Europeans) have been around for decades and originally, these passes were only available for under 21s.

Today, there’s no longer an upper age limit, but it remains significantly cheaper to while away afternoons on European trains before you hit your late 20s.

Travelers under the age of 27 can enjoy a 25% discount – with prices for young people starting at 194 euros for the Interrail pass and an equivalent $211 for the Eurail pass for travel to up to 33 countries over four travel days within one month. There’s also the option of buying a single country pass.

Kofi Landon, 20, from Manchester in the UK, traveled Europe by rail in summer 2022. Landon actually won a free multi-country Interrail pass via competition online (Eurail runs these kinds of draws relatively regularly, so it’s worth keeping an eye out) But even if he’d had to pay, Landon reckons the experience would’ve been more than worth it.

“It’s 100% worth using the pass whilst you can get the youth discount,” Landon tells CNN Travel. “Who doesn’t love a bargain?”

For Landon, visiting Lake Bled in Slovenia was a highlight of his month interrailing, he’d seen so many photos and the beauty spot lived up to his expectations.

“I remember the first morning I walked down to the lake to see the turquoise water surrounding the most picturesque church in the middle of the lake, with people paddle boarding and swimming around it. I remember, in that moment, I thought I was dreaming,” he recalls.

At the end of the trip, Landon calculated that he’d saved some £700 (about $890) on flights by using his Interrail pass.

“I wish I knew about this sooner,” he says, adding that he also used the pass to get discounts on certain tourist activities, including museums and sightseeing tours. You can check out all the Interrail partner discounts here.

Landon is already planning future Interrail trips, planning to maximize use out of the scheme before he hits his late 20s.

Working holiday visa

If you’re dreaming not just of a summer getaway, but a longer-term, far-flung adventure, a working holiday visa could be the perfect option.

The clue is in the name – holiday is the UK term for vacation, and this visa scheme offers both work and leisure opportunities for young people with wanderlust. Some 50 countries across the globe – from South Korea to Portugal to Iceland – allow people between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply for a 12-month visa program, permitting young adventurers to live and work in a new country.

In order to be eligible for the scheme, your home country and your destination country have to have an agreement, so it’s worth doing some research before you set your sights on a particular place.

Also, if you’re currently reading this and wishing you’d known about the visa before you entered your third decade, don’t immediately give up hope – while the scheme is largely for under 30s, there are a few exceptions. In Australia, for example, citizens of Canada, France and Ireland are eligible to apply until the age of 35.

Tammy Thurman, from the UK, first heard about working vacation visas five years ago, when she was in her mid-20s. Her friend jetted off to Sydney via the scheme, leaving Thurman enviously scrolling through social media updates from her London office desk.

Thurman absentmindedly Googled working working holiday visas, and to her surprise, realized the scheme “was so straightforward to apply for.”

“I realized that the only barrier was me and my decision whether or not to apply,” Thurman recalls.

Thurman tells CNN Travel that the visa appealed to her because although she was desperate to travel to fend off what she calls a “quarter life crisis” – she was also “career-driven” and worried about the long term impact of stepping off the corporate ladder.

“The working holiday visa seemed the best solution – I could work and not have a gap in my resume, but also travel and experience a lifestyle overseas.”

Thurman applied for the Canada and Australia based schemes, noting the paperwork was slightly different for both.

If you want to follow in Thurman’s footsteps, research is key – every scheme is slightly different in terms of requirements and application process. Plus, it’s worth bearing in mind that you need a bit of cash in your backpack – most countries have an application fee (Australia’s is AUD$510, around US$345) and some countries require proof of savings before granting entry.

Thurman also advises researching the types of jobs you can do on your chosen visa (“some countries have restrictions,” she explains) and familiarize yourself with the country’s current cost of living.

“It’ll help you check it’s feasible so you don’t spend all the money you earn just living, so you have something to take home with you,” says Thurman.

While Thurman arrived in Australia expecting her stay to be temporary, it’s now five years later and she’s officially left London behind for good. Thurman’s time in Australia was so transformative that she moved to Melbourne permanently, charting her adventures on her blog, Traveling Tam.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thurman recommends the work vacation visa wholeheartedly – with only one caveat.

“Just be warned – you may not be the same person you were when you left!” she says.

Student discounts

OK, so being a student has no age limit, so consider this section useful for anyone who’s currently enrolled in college.

If that’s you, you’re probably aware of the discounts offered in your college town, or even in your country more broadly, from reduced cinema tickets to retail store discounts.

But while there’s no harm in giving it a shot, your university-assigned card may not be accepted internationally. That’s where the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) – a globally recognized proof of student ID – comes in. The card costs between €4 ($4USD) and €25 ($27USD).

Students with valid ISIC cards can currently enjoy discounts at Walt Disney World Resort, reduced airfare with Emirates and Cathay Pacific and deals on car rental. Discounts are always subject to change, so check the ISIC website for any terms and conditions.

If you’re not enrolled in college but you’re still under 30, the International Youth Travel Card could be an alternative. The IYTC card offers similar benefits to the ISIC, including hostel discounts and Booking.com deals.

Some attractions also offer discount entry to young people, regardless of whether you’ve got an IYTC card or not. For example, as long as you can prove you’re under 24, you can admire panoramic views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower for a discount price, while if you’re under 30 or a student you can save 2 euros at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. Meanwhile, EU residents under 25 can admire the paintings in Florence’s Uffizi gallery for just 2 euros (around $2).

If you’re a student who doesn’t have an ISIC card but is traveling with your college ID card, it’s still worth seeing if you can still get student discounts while visiting an attraction. At the Tower of London, for example, full-time students and those aged 16-17 can enter for the reduced rate of £26.80 (around $33). 

Of course any student and youth discount is subject to change. And it’s worth reading the fine print – there may be exceptions depending on your country of origin. And while some attractions advertise their discounts on their websites, others are more hidden. Your best bet? Ask when you’re buying your ticket, the worst outcome is the seller will say no.

Discount airplane tickets

While airlines like Emirates and Cathay Pacific offer discounted airfare to valid ISIC or IYTC cardholders, there are other airlines that offer youth tickets to any young travelers with proof of ID.

Norwegian and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) offer exclusive discounted rates to travelers aged 12-25. The only requirement is a valid ID upon check-in or boarding, and that any travelers over 26 in the same party book their tickets separately.

Norwegian and SAS both fly internationally as well as across Europe, so these discounted tickets offer plenty of scope for adventure.

Gideon Hagström Lung, 23, is based between Helsinki, Finland and New York City. He’s been buying SAS youth tickets since he was a teenager, recalling first hearing about the offer via some Swedish friends.

Hagström Lung tells CNN Travel that SAS’ discount fare makes his transatlantic lifestyle doable, saying the youth tickets are “extremely easy to book” even though “none of my friends believe me and they say it sounds too good to be true.”

“The discount is valid whether you book tomorrow or for six months so it’s enabled a lot of impulsive trips,” says Hagström Lung.

Traveling from Helsinki to New York involves a layover in Stockholm or Copenhagen. While some might balk at the idea of changing flights, for Hagström Lung, that makes the deal even sweeter.

“I choose seven-hour layovers so I can get an extra little adventure on the way,” he says.

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