Illustration by Shenuka Corea

The Mature Edge of Traveling

Does one need to be matured to travel, or does traveling make one mature?

Feb 5, 2017

Adulthood is an elusive and mysterious entity. People often wonder what characterizes it. What kind of signals demonstrate that you have crossed over to the supposedly more mature side of life? While there may be many attributes of adulthood, a significant one appears to be freedom — particularly, the freedom to travel. Being able to travel without your parents’ support, financially or otherwise, is a monumental achievement for many. It requires you to support yourself without any safety net.
As travel becomes more accessible, the age at which people are able to hop on a plane on their own decreases. Attractive vacation packages are marketed toward teenagers as young as 13. These companies advertise the travel packages as more than just a two-week itinerary through Thailand or Tanzania — the smiling young faces in seemingly exotic locales promise a taste of independence. While the experiences that one encounters on such trips should nurture maturity, more often than not, it is a privileged vacation that contributes little to growth.
The maturity that is supposed to accompany traveling really depends on the way one travels. The planning stages of the trip, which require a significant level of proactivity and organization, involve that idea of maturity. In planning, many factors need to be considered. Successfully navigating these elements is part of the satisfaction of having traveled somewhere. With the advancement of the tourism service industry, however, the traveler is no longer responsible for their own plan. They can simply pay to have a trip organized; all they have to do is show up at the airport. The safety net still exists, but now it is in the form of a well-paid travel agency.
Purchasing travel packages also gives you unrealistic expectations of traveling. Traveling on a package someone else organizes for you buries the effort required to execute a trip and hides the realities of what could go wrong. Instead of learning from both the good and bad experiences that traveling entails, you receive a biased perspective of what it is like to be an independent traveler. Indeed, this idealistic image of traveling has sucked many people into debt as they spend most of their young adulthood trying to replicate those picturesque trips. Many are left unsatisfied and frustrated when they realize that the kind of traveling they were exposed to is not the reality of autonomous travel adventures.
The first time I ever really traveled alone was as a volunteer for a company called International Volunteers HQ. My only task as an excited 17-year-old was to pick a location that I felt suited my ambitions and then pay for the deal which covered accommodation, a week of activities and three meals a day. When I returned home, I was confident that the horror stories about traveling were myths designed to keep mature individuals like me at home. Little did I know that my travel experience had merely scratched the surface of what it means to travel abroad.
When I came to NYU Abu Dhabi and actually had to plan a trip, I realized that traveling involved much more than just choosing a place. The frustrations of coordinating with others and trying to fit all our dreams into our student budgets was an unwelcome surprise. Additionally, I experienced what it was like for things to go wrong due to misinformation and oversight. These negative experiences not only equipped me with the tools to better plan future trips but also showed me how naïve I had been earlier, even after my previous international trip.
Another reason why travel is supposed to make you grow is because it exposes you to a new culture and, in some sense, forces you to interact with it, no matter how different it may be from your own. When students at NYUAD are asked about their travel experiences abroad, they note that even though the culture was different, they were able to appreciate those differences. However, this is not always the case.
People who have not reached a level of maturity that enables cultural acceptance will not benefit as much from travel as people who already have. This is evident from travelers who return from their trip with questionable complaints and adamant promises to never to return to that country again. An example of this is a traveler who went to Mexico and complained that it was “lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons” as he needed to buy things during siesta time. He went on to suggest that siestas should be banned. This further illustrates the idea that the disasters of a trip can stimulate growth and maturity only if you are willing to grow.
There is no doubt that traveling is an opportunity to mature. Yet a maturing experience during a trip is becoming less of a guarantee due to the boom of the tourism industry that makes travel so easy. Planning and coordinating aspects of a trip require a level head and careful consideration. Adapting to new circumstances or unexpected events teaches one not only how to deal with the struggles of traveling but also how to embrace the challenges of life.
Vongai Mlambo is a contributing writer. Email her at
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