Travel as a Rite of Passage

Arnold Van Gennep, a French folklorist, developed a three-phased rites of passage 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.

Like travel, a rite of passage involves three crucial steps. (1) Separation (2) Liminality, and (3) Incorporation. Let’s go through it and see how you can use travel as your rite of passage


The rite of passage 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 entering a marriage, or something that may be difficult, such as losing a parent. An ending may also be something less dramatic such as  completing a  work project. But endings, even those we seek, often bring about feelings of loss.

This is because endings bring about separation. Similar to when we travel, we have to separate from our familiarity. We leave behind our ‘known’ life, our daily routines, away from what’s familiar to us (our jobs, our town, our friends and family…) There is something we are separating from, something that is either outside of ourselves or something that defines who we are.



After the separation (the end of a chapter), there is a time of transition.

Anthropologist Victor Turner referred to this as the liminal phase. Liminality stems from the Latin word ‘limen,” meaning threshold or doorway. 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.

This is the same door that we cross when we travel. Being out of our familiar lives, we can feel uncertain, unsure, and out of control. Being in this liminal phase often creates a sense of vulnerability. Stories of travel will reveal to you stages of uncertainty– each one being exposed to a place outside of his/her comfort zone. As I’ve observed this  is always a non-negotiable part of a transformative journey. With this comes change. With this comes growth. 

This opening is necessary if we want more fundamental changes to occur. Changes are set in motion as we let go of what is no longer useful to us, our old self /state, and grieve what is lost in the process.

Questions may come up about our sense of belonging, identity, social relationships, vocation, and even our purpose, but as one crosses this threshold, s/he is set to gain  sacred knowledge that is both informative and potentially transformative.

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. That’s why it is always best to bring an open heart and just expect the unexpected. Be open and let life surprise us when we travel. 


The last phase of the rites of passage process is about consolidation of the lessons learned and the changes made, so we can apply these new developments and insights to 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. It may not be as easy as we’d like it to be, but this is one of the most important aspects of this process. It requires conscious and proactive effort, determination and persistence to finally integrate these changes in your life despite how external people may see us as who we were.

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. There are many ways to facilitate the rite of passage, but the way our ancestors used to do it often involved Travel.


Indeed, travel allows you to experience these three phases of a rite of passage making your trip transformational.

If you want some guidance on where and how to start, book a free discovery call through my website visit and let’s start planning  your Transformative Travel Journey. 

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

Share on LinkedInShare on Instagram