Travel as a Rite of Passage

The three-phased rites of passage framework represents an archetypal pattern of change.

Arnold Van Gennep (1909/1960), a French folklorist, first develop this framework to capture how traditional people experienced change. He asserted that every change of place, state (social structures, seasonal changes), social position and age is a rite of passage.

He came to believe that the energy found in any social system needs to be renewed at crucial intervals and that this renewal is accomplished in different social settings through rites of passages. These rites protect and free a social system from undue duress and disturbance in order to foster change at both an individual and collective level.


The rite of passages process usually begins with something that has come to an end in our lives.

This end may be a positive change, such as accepting a new job or marriage, or something that may be difficult, such as losing a parent.

An ending may also be something less dramatic such as a completed work project. But endings, even those we seek, often bring about feelings of loss.

The term separation indicates that there is something we are separating from, something that is either outside of ourselves or something that defines who we are.


After the separation there is a time of transition.

Anthropologist Victor Turner (1969, 1977, 1987) referred to this phase as the liminal phase. Liminality stems from the Latin word ‘limen,” meaning threshold or doorway. It can also mean margin.

Liminality is the place of in-betweenness, of no longer belonging to the old and not yet of the new. Liminality is also the place of ambiguity and uncertainty, of anxiety and hope, as we are suspended in the betwixt and between.

Questions may come up about our sense of belonging, identity, social relationships, vocation, and even our purpose. Depending on the nature of change, this transitional phase may be short lived or can extend over time.

According to Turner, the person (liminal being) crossing the threshold comes in contact with divine elements and gains sacred knowledge that is both informative and potentially transformative.

Being in the liminal phase often creates a sense of vulnerability; however, it is this opening that is necessary if more fundamental change is to occur. Changes are set in motion as we let go of what no longer is useful to us, and our old self /state, and grieve what is lost in the process.

It is helpful at such a time to affirm what will stay the same in the other areas of our lives. Letting go is essential if something new is to emerge along with the resulting sense of creativity, possibility, renewal and vitality. In the end, what is gained from the rite of passage process may be quite different than what was initially expected.


The last phase of the rites of passage process is about consolidation of the lessons learned and the changes made. We begin to apply these new developments and insights to how we will now live our lives.

This process of integration often is marked by challenges such as the past catching up with us to reassert its old patterns and the seduction of the status quo. For example, those around us may continue to see us as who we were and may not want us to change.

Fortunately, there is an inherent motivation within us to grow and to move toward our potential. The rites of passage model provides clues on the resources we, individually and collectively, can line up to enhance our motivation and support this movement.

Wendling, G. (2008) "Understanding Change Through the Rites Of Passages Framework" (1-2)