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Young And Free: Nearly Half Of Singaporeans Have Travelled Independently Before Turning 18

Ah, kids these days. According to a new survey from Skyscanner, nearly 1 in 2 Singaporean travelers have travelled independently before the age of 18, with over half of them funding these trips themselves.

With 1,000 respondents between the age of 18-25, this survey isn’t exactly emblematic of the whole country. But it did spark a discussion between my colleague Kai and I (26 and 37, respectively), about the accessibility - and necessity! - of travel when you’re still a teenager.

As a millennial born in the mid-1980s, I don’t remember independent travel being such a big deal during my youth. But for Kai, who is a Gen Z, traveling without parents or guardians before one hits 18 is practically a rite of passage.

We discuss the difference between generations, as well as the most surprising parts of the survey:

Diane: Let’s start with a bit of background - how old were you when you took your first self-funded or self-planned trip, and where did you go?

Kai: I was 25 - just last year - when I took my first self-funded trip to the US (California, Chicago, and New York City). As for guardian-less trips, I was 13 while on a mission trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and 16 when I went for a post O-Level holiday to Japan with my friends.

Diane: Wow. Not counting when I went overseas to study, my first time was when I was around 20. But that was just a domestic flight across the country to visit friends so I’m not sure if it counts. I only went on a self-funded overseas holiday alone once I was 24 or 25, with no exams to study for and with actual “adult money”. Now I feel pretty suaku compared to all these well-travelled Gen Zs haha.

Kai: Don’t worry, even though I’m Gen Z and 26 this year, I also feel as suaku. I’m one of the oldest kids among the kids of my parents’ friend groups, and I’ve heard of their kids travelling solo while still in secondary school. The youngest was 14 or 15, I believe!

Not gonna lie, IDK how they do it at such a young age. When I was in secondary school, I was still building up the courage to place my cai fan (mixed rice) order at stalls, much less dare to face “scary” immigration officers all on my lonesome.

Diane: Parents allow their 14-year-old kids to travel solo? Mine would have never allowed it! Maybe nowadays it’s more acceptable since you can use tracking apps and Facetime to keep tabs on your kid even when they’re abroad.


44% of Singaporean youths took their first self-funded or planned trip before 18 years old without their parents or guardians - does this surprise you?

Diane: My first question upon seeing this report was…where are these kids getting the funds?? But hey, as someone whose age is double that of the respondents, I’ve gotta respect them for financing their trips themselves. Why do you think travel is such a big thing with Gen Z?

Kai: I’m not surprised - travel is a huge thing with my generation. I think Gen Z loves to travel partly because of how convenient it is now with apps like or Expedia, international debit cards like Wise and Revolut, AI trip planners (covered below) like ChatGPT and Notion… you get the point.

Another reason could be the burgeoning use of social media apps like TikTok and Lemon8. Clickbait-y titles like “I SPENT LESS THAN $XXX FOR A EUROPE TRIP” push you down a slippery slope of cheap and decent holiday plans. Before you know it, you’re posting your confirmed air tickets on IG captioned “Let’s goooo” or “go where next LOL”.

As for the moolah, part-time jobs! I used to work as a server for hotel banquets (pay was good, but the working environment was full of 🚩🚩🚩) and there are all sorts of Telegram groups where you can find such job listings.

Diane: We didn’t even have iPhones when I was 18, let alone Google Translate or travel apps, planning trips overseas took a fair bit of effort back then. If anything, the absence of social media apps made us less FOMO too so I guess we “elder millennials” didn’t feel the same pull to travel the way that 18-year-olds do nowadays.


A significant majority (58%) of respondents took charge of planning the trip on their own without help from family and friends

Kai: Say hello to AI planning. Did you know you can ask ChatGPT or Notion to plan travel itineraries for you? Sure, word-of-mouth recs might still be good, but imagine having an entire itinerary planned out for you in a couple of seconds. Then you can just tailor it according to your wants and needs.

Diane: As apt as I am at getting itineraries from friends, using ChatGPT sounds like the perfect way to make sure everything’s within budget and planned according to our preferred travel style. (There’s nothing more humbling than acquiring a peer's itinerary, only to realise that you can’t afford any of their recommendations.) Do you know anyone who’s actually planned a trip using AI?

Kai: My girlfriend and I 🙂 when we were planning for our solo trip to the US last year. It was almost mind-blowing to see our laptop screens start filling up with dates, places to stay and visit - you can even specify budgets or certain restrictions! After we got a “Draft 1” done, we customised it in line with our own preferences, recommendations from TikTok and Youtube, and so on.


66% funded the trip using their personal savings.
Diane: Y’know, there was this trend on TikTok a few months ago about how you can always earn back your money, but you’ll never earn back the experience of being 20 while climbing the Swiss Alps. To what extent do you agree with that, now that you’re in your mid-twenties?

Kai: Huh…what about BTO? Wedding? Reno? I think it’s perfectly fine if you don’t have big ticket items to pay for any time soon, or you budget properly. But if you’re living life with little to no savings, that’s in the danger zone for me. I know of friends who travel multiple times - think 5 to 7 trips - a year, including getaways within the region and to Europe. And yep, they barely save anything each paycheck, faithfully embodying that TikTok trend you mentioned. To each their own, I guess!

Diane: Even though I only traveled independently at around age 25, as a debt-free singleton with no dependents, it was easy for me to spend money as I had nothing to save up for. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best use of my personal savings (a few extra thousands would go a long way in my house renovation and maternity bills), but I can’t say that I regret it since it’ll probably be a few years until I can happily drop a few grand for a getaway. If I could go back in time, I would have split my savings into a “fun” category and a “future planning” category, even though at the time, I had no idea when I’d get married or eventually need savings for my own home.


Even more intriguing is the fact that 22% of young people took their first trip alone, indicating a strong desire towards embracing independent exploration, highlighting travel as a pivotal marker for their coming of age.

Kai: It’s giving “Eat, Pray, Love” 🤣. Solo travel vlogs are also popping up everywhere from TikTok to IG reels, truly giving life to the saying that “travel broadens the mind”.

Diane: What a millennial-worthy pop culture reference, haha. I went on my first solo holiday (to New York) at the age of 26, then at 33, I went to Tokyo by myself. Do I wish I’d gone before the age of 20? Not really - I had more disposable income at 33 than I did in my mid-twenties, so I was able to stay in a nicer place and eat at more restaurants than I did during my first solo trip. Maybe 18-year-old me would have only been able to afford a hostel and street food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m glad to be at a life stage where I can afford to travel comfortably instead of penny-pinching. How about you?

Kai: It would be my trip to the US in 2023 to accompany my girlfriend for her semester exchange. I stayed alone in a shared Airbnb (I still keep in contact with the host till today), and explored neighbourhoods on my own.

My first solo trip was definitely an eye-opening experience for me, since it was in the US, where I certainly did not walk about with my Airpods in and eyes glued to my phone’s screen. I also made sure to be home before 10pm haha.

Even though I lived in a quieter and “safer” area, I recall having just missed an armed robbery at a bank across the street from a bakery I frequented. Yep, the robbers were robbing people at gunpoint once they left the bank with their cash. Imagine that happening in Singapore. That truly made me more grateful for the safety we often take for granted in our Lion City!

65% of respondents have expressed that a key motivation for travel is to assess cities to live or work in the future.

Kai: Wow, I can totally relate to this. We plan to live/work overseas sometime in the future, and right now, our top picks are Clayton (in California) or New York City, since we’ve been to those places, and really enjoyed ourselves there. Of course, going someplace as a tourist and actually living there are two totally different things - but hey, at least we got a feel of the vibes!

Diane: Not a bad reason to travel at all. Doing a vibe check is important. But as someone who did spend time living overseas, I’ve gotta say that healthcare policies, housing, and city infrastructure trump vibes every time!


24% of respondents booked their first trips only 1-2 weeks in advance, while 13% took their first trip without a return ticket in hand.

Diane: Unless I’m traveling to JB, I’m going to need more than two weeks to plan a trip. Gen Z should enjoy their freedom to do this before they need to deal with things like applying for leave and arranging for childcare. How about you, Kai?

Kai: Even before having to do “adulting” things like applying for leave, I couldn’t rest easy and just YOLO my way out of Singapore. I’m kiasu enough to bring extra emergency cash, print hardcopies of my personal documents, among other contingencies. Do you ever foresee yourself being able to pack your things and book a flight overnight once you’re retired and your kids are all grown up?

Diane: I dream of the day when I’ll be able to do that but LBR I’ll probably be almost 60. My knees might be a little creakier than they are now, but as long as I have a young spirit, why not?

Safety ranks the top factor of consideration (58%) for young adults when it comes to planning their first trip, with an even higher priority amongst women (80%). Following closely behind is budget (56%). This might explain why most (36%) youths are choosing Southeast Asia as the destination for their first trip – 51% consider it too expensive to travel out of Southeast Asia, while 43% have concerns about safety.

Kai: Most of these young adults would have travelled to Southeast Asian countries before with their families, so there’s a sense of familiarity. It’s like clearing “Level 1” before you embark on trips to more faraway places.

That being said, I think the survey results will change soon, because I see plenty of my peers (both female and male) going on inaugural self-funded trips to more faraway places like European countries. As for safety, I think any place feels less safe than our Little Red Dot 😆so as long as you take certain precautions and remain aware, trouble (hopefully) won’t come looking for you.

Skyscanner’s survey revealed that they typically spend around S$940 on airfare for their first trip, with the majority falling within the expenditure range of S$1,200 to S$1,600, expressing how youths are prioritizing travel and spending big, despite having less “adult money”.

Diane: Eh, what happened to 36% of youths choosing Southeast Asia for their first trip? You can easily get tickets to nearby locales like Bangkok, Bali, or even non SEA-destinations like Taiwan and Tokyo for less than that. Is flying budget airlines not cool amongst Gen Z? 

Kai: How are these kids splashing out such huge amounts?! Even with “adult money”, my friends and I still opt for cheaper flights like budget or routes with layovers. And budget carriers like Zipair even come with Wi-Fi hor.

Diane: Yeah, I’ve seen many 18-20 year-olds going for post-graduation trips in locales like Amsterdam and London. Maybe it’s for the social media clout, maybe it’s a “go hard or go home” thing - or maybe it’s not shiok to travel to Bangkok and Taiwan with friends when you’ve already gone there with your parents dozens of times.


Final thoughts: To what extent is traveling independently before 18 a necessary rite of passage?

Diane: Eh, not at all. I’d say it’s a “good to have” but not a “must-have” in life. Sometimes we conflate being well-traveled with being a smarter, more-informed, or even a better person, but even if you believe that, there’s no deadline for going abroad independently. To all the 18-year-olds who have yet to go overseas by themselves, don’t be peer-pressured into booking flights if you either can’t afford it or aren’t totally feeling it. By the time you’re 30, literally no one will care when you went on your first trip!

Kai: Likewise, it’s a good experience to have, but only if you’re ready (mentally and financially) for it. Everyone’s first solo trip will be different - it’s your trip and adventure, not a trip for the ‘gram or your peers.

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