Travelling alone can feel like the first true step towards independence when you’re a teenager. For a lot of deaf young people and their parents, it can feel like an exciting yet daunting transition. There may be added challenges to overcome and practical considerations to think about, but there are lots of ways to help your teen travel by themselves.
Rhodri (14), who is mildly deaf, explains his worries before travelling independently.
“I panicked a little bit when I was first on the train without my dad. I thought, ‘Oh dear, what have I done? What if the train stops? What if I can’t hear what’s going on?’ But around an hour into the journey, I settled in.”
Parents and young people have shared their tips to help you and your child feel more confident when they’re travelling independently.
Going on practise runs and letting your teen navigate your route can help them build-up the confidence to travel solo.
Mark is dad to George and Patrick (both 14), who both have moderate to severe hearing loss.
“The first thing we do is get one of the boys to take the lead in working out the route, buying tickets and following signs while travelling.”
If your teenager has a smartphone, they can use travel apps to help them navigate when they’re alone. There are a variety of apps that can help them while travelling alone, such as Google Maps and CityMapper. If your teenager is using public transport, they can check for times and service updates on UK Bus Checker, Trainline and National Rail too.
Mark uses the app HERE WeGo with his sons.
“Get them to download and learn how to use a SatNav app on their phone. The best free one we’ve found is called HERE WeGo – it works without needing a data connection when out and about. You can download other countries to use it abroad too.”
Rhodri (14) uses the Trainline app when on the train.
“I follow the Trainline app so I know which line I’m going to. It tells me which platform I need. I used it on previous journeys with my dad so I’m familiar with it.”
It’s a good idea for your teen to take short trips to begin with. This can ease them into travelling by themselves and ensure they’re comfortable without feeling overwhelmed.
Sharon is mum to Florence (17), who is profoundly deaf.
“The main challenges for Florence with travelling independently are not being able to hear announcements, not feeling confident to ask for help and being worried she may not hear the response.
To start with, don't make a deaf young person do anything they’re uncomfortable with and start with short journeys. We initially encouraged Florence to travel to her grandma’s on the train. I saw her on to the train and granny met her directly off the train at the other end. The station staff are very happy to allow you on to the platform if you ask. We also encouraged Florence to do trips with friends to build her confidence.
We did lots of journeys together when she was younger and I used to let her take charge of the journey, such as navigating the tube in London. We now give Florence an itinerary of every stage of her journey: what time the train leaves, when it arrives, any changes, etc. She also uses train apps so she can check if trains are on time.
Journeys can take unexpected turns, with cancelled trains for example, so encourage young people to problem-solve scenarios. What might they do if a train is cancelled? In case there are problems, make sure they have contact numbers of friends or family that can help.
The confidence will come in time – children mature at different ages, so don't push them too soon. Start small and praise success, as even the shortest journey is an achievement. Let them have a go!”
Keeping the route your teen takes simple means there is less to think about when travelling and they can focus on getting to their destination safely.
Elizabeth is mum to Francesca (17), who is profoundly deaf.
“This has always been a dilemma for us too, being deaf ourselves! The best options for us, and we can recommend this, is to try to ensure a direct route on the train or as few changes as possible. Otherwise travel by coach, but this can be time-consuming.
The only thing you can’t predict is if train times change or a train is cancelled. On one occasion Francesca had to change trains at Birmingham, but not at New Street, the station she was used to. Instead it was a completely different station and she had to ask about it. Fortunately, a member of staff showed her where it was.
I suggest that they have a pre-printed card to say where they want to go to show to station staff. Obviously, a deaf young person could also text their parents to say they’re on the train and ask what time the train is expected to arrive.”
Before your teen goes somewhere on their own, it’s a good idea to think about how they’ll get there. Check their route with them and help them think about safe place they can go if something goes wrong, such as shops or garages, a friend’s house or a police station.
Encourage them to walk the way they know well, in well-lit and busy streets and avoid through streets or subways where they can’t see very well, even if it’s a short cut.
Amy (17), who has moderate to severe hearing loss, gives her advice on independent travel.
“My advice for a deaf young person travelling independently is to first check your route. For example if you’re catching a bus, check which number it is and where it will be stopping. This will make you feel more comfortable as you’ll know where you’ll be travelling to. It’s also useful to check bus times.
To find out if you’re eligible for a free bus pass. I have one and find it very useful because it gives me so much independence. I can catch a bus to the seaside or to go shopping. You eventually get to know the bus drivers who are always ready to help.
If you’re catching a train, make sure you arrive at the station at least 20 minutes before it leaves to be safe. Double-check what time the train will be coming and on which platform. Before each train journey I check the stations it will be stopping at so I can keep track of where I am.
If I’m unsure about anything I always ask the station staff questions such as ‘Is this train going to London Euston?’ It increases my confidence and gives me peace of mind for the journey.
Make sure you have a mobile phone with enough credit to call someone if you don’t know what to do or don’t feel well, for example. I add people's numbers to my phone so I can call them if I’m stuck.
It can be helpful to take a notepad to write things down and to take some hearing aid/cochlear implant batteries just in case. Also make sure you have some money on you to buy something to eat or drink if necessary.
If you’d like to start travelling independently, I’d only take small steps at first. For example, catch a bus to a nearby village/city to go for a walk. It might be easier if you take a friend with you!”
If flying domestically or internationally, you or your teen can let the airline know in advance about their deafness. Some airlines will give you a guide or a buggy ride to the gate, which can relieve the stress over hearing announcements. Some airlines will also give you a free priority boarding pass, choice of seat and an extra hand luggage bag for medical equipment (this can be used for processor accessories, batteries, chargers, radio aids etc.).
Zain (16), who is profoundly deaf, explains that it’s all about confidence.
“Whenever we went on holiday my parents would talk to security for me about my implants if ever I had to go through a scanner. But while on the Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB) I went through security on my own and then felt confident to go to Paris with my friends from school.”
You can help your teen feel more confident when travelling alone by ensuring they know how to get help in an emergency.
It’s helpful for your teen to know what to expect when they contact 999. The operator will ask for their name, address and what the emergency is. If your teen is a British Sign Language (BSL) user, they can use the 999 BSL UK Emergency Video Relay Service (also available as an app).
They can also use emergencySMS. This is a service which lets you contact 999 by text. They’ll give your message to the police, ambulance, fire service or coastguard. Your teen will need to register their mobile phone before they can use it. To register:
- Text ‘REGISTER’ to 999.
- You will get a text message back.
- Read the message and make sure you understand it.
- Reply ‘YES’ to 999.
- You will get a text to confirm you’re registered.
If your teen is in an emergency, they can text 999 to tell them what service they need, what the emergency is and their address. For example:
‘Ambulance. Man having a heart attack. Outside post office. Valley road Watford.’
Visit emergencySMS to find out more.
If your teen is travelling on a bus or train, they can press the alarm. Train platforms have telephones at the Help Points. The phone automatically connects to the British Transport Police or station staff. If your teen can’t hear the phone, they can explain they’re deaf, and repeat their message until someone comes to help.