An Open Letter to the Parents of Daughters Who Wish to Travel the World

I hope Annie and I raise a daughter with the confidence to take on the world, but thinking about my kid – especially my daughter Harper – traveling as far and wide as I have, scares me a little.  I’m not proud of thinking the “especially my daughter” thoughts.  It seems wrong thinking that Harper would be any less capable of handling traveling solo than my yet-to-be born son, but I feel like there are just more challenges out there for girls.  I sent a note to Rachel Friedman, author of The Good Girls Guide to Getting Lost, asking her to set me straight. She does so in this guest post.

Ladies and gentlemen, moms and dads, and girls, I present to you Rachel Friedman.

An Open Letter to the Parents of Daughters Who Wish to Travel the World

Dear Parents:

It’s me, Rachel. We haven’t formally met. I am not a licensed medical or psychological professional. I’m only a writer – a profession that requires little in the way of legitimate qualifications. Still, I hope you’ll hear me out. I’ve heard that your daughters – young women in their late teens and early twenties – have of late been considering the idea that they might be of the constitution and comportment to have some adventures. Maybe your daughter is a new high school graduate or in the middle of her college years or just graduated from some ivy-covered university where she spent hours poring over literature and philosophy and debating gender performance. Your daughter is educated and free-spirited and full of wonder, thanks in large part to the opportunities you have provided her.

Now, I know, parents, you wish for your daughters’ happiness. And what better way, you might be thinking, to secure her happiness than to secure her, well, her security. A good, steady job. A nice boyfriend or girlfriend. Early entry into a 401K plan. You might want these things for her. We are nearing graduation time after all and after graduation comes “real life.”

But your daughter has different ideas. She has developed a mind of her own during her studies, has gotten ideas from books that lead her to believe that perhaps another kind of education awaits her after graduation – the kind that involves leaping into the great unknown, of setting out on a journey. She has heard talk of cheap student fares and raucous hostels, whispered rumors of Incan ruins at dawn and dingoes at dusk. And she is intrigued. More than intrigued. Dear parents: brace yourselves: your daughter wants to travel the world.

I know you want to encourage her in this endeavor. You do. But you’re worried. Fair enough. It’s a daunting prospect to watch your daughter strap on a backpack and strut off to Europe or Australia or maybe even South America. First off, you’re worried she might get hurt. You’re good feminist parents who have raised an independent young woman who believes she can do anything. And she can. So maybe you’re feeling a little guilty for fretting more about her than you do would a son, who might get hurt, but who does not typically have the additional prospects of bodily violation. It would be naïve not to acknowledge that men and women move differently through the world. When I was with a man in South America, no local looked twice at me. When I was alone or with my female friend, my every move was catalogued with a series of whistles and whispered comments. Only once in my travels did this talk extend into anything physical, when I was groped on a street in Bolivia. I won’t lie: this was scary. Did it traumatize me? No. Did it upset me? Yes. Did it ultimately make me stronger? Absolutely. Your daughters are smart and they are capable. They will be cautious when necessary, just like they would in the U.S., and they will be okay.

You might be worried that if you let your daughter go abroad, she will never return home. Well, statistically speaking, most of us do come back to our home countries. It’s true that once your daughter is a well-seasoned traveler, the idea of residing in other countries might become more appealing to her. She might, as I did, meet a partner from another country and decide to navigate a life between two places, which is a rich and complicated life. But even if she decides to stay abroad, this will be her choice. It will be what makes her happy.

You might fear your globe-trotting daughter is “lost.” Your daughters’ friends who are staying in the U.S. already have great jobs in finance or as assistant teachers or they are entering graduate programs. But your daughter has chosen the life of a nomad. She is wandering aimlessly (at least, this is your impression) instead of settling into a career and utilizing her very expensive education. She’s falling behind her peers! No, she’s not. She’s getting a valuable second education whose importance cannot be overstated. If she comes home and gets a job at 25 instead of 22, she will only be better equipped with a diverse set of experiences and the marketable ability to interact with diverse sets of peoples. It is also less likely that she will wake up at 30 or 40 and realize she has spent decades at a job she hates. This is because in her early twenties she will have taken the necessary time to explore the world and herself, so her decisions about the direction of her life will be more thoughtful – less about what she should do than what she desires to do.

You want to keep your daughter close, to protect here. If she’s abroad and something goes wrong, you worry that you won’t be there to rescue her. You’re right. Travel in general, and the gap year(s) in particular, are about independence and self-reliance. You have done all you can to nurture and prepare your daughter. Now you have to let her go, out into the wide, wild world – out into her own glorious life.


A Daughter Who Has Traveled the World


Thanks Rachel!  I’m sure I’ll re-read this over and over in the years to come. To all the traveling girls out there, I salute you.

If you liked what you read here, definitely check out Rachel’s new book The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.

colleen says:

I dunno about that Kelsey – as the parent of a son with Asperger’s syndrome, who was determined to travel the world with or without my blessing, parents of young people will find all kinds of reasons to worry. Believe me, the desire to rescue our kids from the world’s dangers knows no gender, race, creed or color. Worry warting is a parental universal and yet our kids still need to be prepared to live with strength, principles, faith, courage, and confidence in a world that does not include us. When the time comes, you will know how to let go in a way that does not undermine your daughter’s confidence, and yes, letting go of one’s babies sucks.

Kelsey says:

Colleen, Once I didn’t check in after arriving in Nepal for a few days and my mom had credit card companies looking for me and (perhaps) the state department. I’m surprised she didn’t end up on Nancy Grace!

Rhonda Palmer says:

I’m all about having the girls (and the boys) travel and do it before college, but I want to see evidence of ability before they go. Did they make some plans? Did they save their own moola? What will they do if they get sick? Are they planning to make a difference in the world or just suck up experience for the glam factor? Dangers abound everywhere, abroad, at home, at school. I’m less worried about the danger than I am about the child’s critical thinking skills. And BTW, I loved your book!! Bought it for my own daughter before she left for her bicycle trip through Europe.

Kelsey says:

Rhonda, I agree. If I would have taken a gap year after high school I wouldn’t have been ready to get the most out of the experience. Every kid is different.

Sandra says:

One afternoon after work my daughter of 22 told me she made plan to go to Nepal .I thought I was going to have a heart attack my husband was very upset. These are very different times and more so for a young girl traveling from Texas alone for 2 weeks with a pen pal she had been writing to for a year from the UK. We are very protected of our girls and although we have 2 older sons its much different had it been one of them going simply because they are males. Well long story short she went it was the longest 2 week of our lives. She did keep in touch with her ipod threw emails every few days she had a wonderful time and the experenice of a life time .Thank you for sharing your story

LAILA says:

Hello im laila,I wrote this letter for my parents wish, my father is 72 years old, he is diabetic and a hard working farmer .He keeps on telling anyone that His only wish is to ride on an airplane and go for vacation before he dies. My heart aches every time I heard him telling those wishes but I couldn’t do anything because we are financially unstable..My mother is also hypertensive and was diagnose with pneumonia ,i have job but my salary is just enough to buy my parents medicines and their needs.
I feel very helpless, useless daughter that a simple wish of my parents I couldn’t grant. after sending this letter I’m hoping that anyone who has a wonderful heart and a helping hand could help me fulfill my parents wish.
Please contact me ; 09753099710 or 09182798515 or Davao,philippines

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Sandra says:

Rachel, what a beautiful article. I’m a mother of a 21 year old who loves her travel. She’s been to Hawaii and is preparing for a summer trip to Costa Rica with a friend. I trust her but need to let go of my controlling nature as you are right, travel is a great thing. I haven’t travelled much in my life so I think that’s a big part of it.

Thanks for the great advice. I will save this article during my panic attacks closer to when she leaves…lol

Eileen and Issie burbela says:

Very well said but hard to swallow,

Chrissy says:

Beautiful – my daughter if 21 is about to go to France I have encouraged this and tell her she only has one life and if she does not do it now she will regret it later in life. I am encouraging her but god I will miss her

Sharron Rudnik says:

There are so many things that you have said I have felt. My daughter is graduating from college and again is going to another country to live. I have been blessed by this girl of mine in many ways. Her hard work and determination has gotten her where she is today and I am so proud. I will miss her deeply but know that she can achieve anything ahead of her with a smart mind and talent. She is 24 and has been to more than 30 countries which has given her an education beyond anything in a book. My advise to others, trust your child. You have raised him or her to be the best they can be, now let them bloom.

Let your voice be heard!