When age is more than just a number

When we’re young we see our parents book a hotel room or rent a car while on vacation without a second thought. Looking back now, I wish it were that easy.

Like many college students this time of year, I am currently in the process of trying to plan a trip for the upcoming spring break with a friend. This doesn’t sound like something that should be too complicated, right? Wrong.

One of the most under recognized areas in which modern day age discrimination abounds is within the world of travel. Some of you are probably nodding while others have no idea what I could possibly mean by this. Some of these acts of injustice are subtle, like the fact that children 12 and under and seniors 75 and older don’t have to remove their shoes and jackets at security check-points in the airport.

How do TSA agents determine who falls within this range? The very exact science of “visual assessment.” Moving past that minor inconvenience though, there are other restrictions that can cause much larger problems when trying to travel.

I will be 19-years-old by the time spring break rolls around, and my travel companion recently turned 20, so we have access to all the wonderful things that America has to offer our age group: enlisting in the armed forces, being shot at in a war zone, voting, getting a tattoo, digging ourselves into crippling debt via student loans, playing the lottery, buying cigarettes… hell, we can even lease an apartment.

What can’t we do legally, though? Drink, smoke weed, go to a nightclub and book a hotel room. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you try to plan a trip with friends and realize that the only “hotel” that will allow you to check-in while under the age of 21 is pay-by-the-hour and can’t even be  found on Yelp. Frankly, sleeping in the car with the doors locked seems like a safer (and cleaner) option.

I admit this issue varies in different cities and states with some being harder to find reputable lodging in than others. For example, the village of Schaumburg, Ill. has an ordinance requiring anyone checking into a hotel by themselves to be at least 21 years of age. Honestly, in my experience almost all major hotel chains will not allow you to check-in if you are under the age of 21, too.

Wait, you’re over 21, you say? Great! You can book a hotel room and legally get drunk in it, but sadly you can’t rent a vehicle to go sightseeing. The majority of rental car agencies require that the customer be at least 25 years of age. Some exceptions apply that allow renters to be 21, but that convenience is accompanied by an “underage fee.”

Sadly, upon investigation I discovered that these providers are perfectly within their legal right to refuse lodging to people based on age as long as they are private businesses and not receiving federal aid.

While I understand the caution they are taking from a business standpoint, as a supposed adult, I object.