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Travel when you’re young provides an invaluable opportunity for growth.

WHEN I FIRST arrived in Tokyo, I was sick, lost, and alone. I was also fifteen years old.

This was my first of many extended trips for work (I’m a model) and the decision to travel solo had been made at the last minute.

That evening, when I got off the bus in the wrong place after a severely delayed 13-hour flight, I had second thoughts, but ultimately traveling alone as a teenager turned out to be a seminal part of my youth.

Life in Tokyo was full of hurdles: navigating the subway, deciphering food labels and getting through the day without committing some grave faux pas. I was working, too, so rather than simply being a tourist, I actively participated in the society.

Working meant that on top of basic self-sufficiency I had to collaborate and communicate with Japanese colleagues. At an age when many can scarcely get to work at the Gap on time, I suddenly had to meet life’s challenges on my own.

Growing Up

Travel quickly showed me just what, and how much, I was capable of doing by myself.

Some travel skills I learned by trial and error, but overall I was surprised by my own competency. Travel quickly showed me just what, and how much, I was capable of doing by myself.

I became emotionally self-sufficient, too. A photographer once asked me if I missed my family, and when I replied that I did, he said “You love your family, but you need to learn to be at peace by yourself.”

At the time the comment bugged me – I didn’t want to be told how to feel. But later I realized that he was right. My homesickness never subsided, but I learned to accept that I missed my home and family, and move beyond that homesickness to become whole as an individual.

Open to Interpretation

At the same time, the vulnerability I felt being away from home for the first time made me hyper-aware of the fascinating new world around me.

I examined everything: objects, clothing, building, customs. The first thing I noticed was difference. Who knew there were so many ways to look at the same things?

I noticed that aesthetics are very important in Japan (everything from manhole covers to warning signs are made to be admired) and that almost no one wears hats.

Then I started to notice more subtle characteristics of the culture, like the avoidance of saying no: my Japanese acquaintances greatly preferred the term “maybe.” They also thanked people effusively for even the slightest favor.

I realized that everything from pace of life to social priorities to job preferences was open to interpretation.

A Global Classroom

I ran across few other Americans, but was surrounded by people from all other parts of the world, exposing me to even more alternative perspectives.

With my new exposure to such a wide variety of outlooks I had a lot to think about.

Conversations were speckled, if not centered on, comparisons of our home countries and native ways of doing things, be it sentence structure or the traditional age of marriage.

Not surprisingly, I learned a lot about the driver’s licenses, school systems, and age related legislation of various countries, and gained a whole new appreciation for the dominance of American entertainment, stores, and fads.

Following the promptings of my guidebook I frequently found myself in museums, and came to realize that I like art, in a way that has never resonated with me before. Away and alone, I strolled through the aisles, talking to no one and paying attention to nothing but the artwork. I settled into a quasi-meditative state of mind in which the artwork seemed to hit a raw nerve.

At the same time I was taking in large amounts of historical data. I absorbed the history of the Shoguns and became quite versed in the Meji Emperorship. I saw Kabuki performances, though I had no idea what the characters were saying, and visited countless shrines and temples.

Question Everything!

Unfamiliarity and solitude are a great incubator for thought. With my new exposure to such a wide variety of outlooks I had to think about and question many things which had previously seemed concrete.

I was struck by differences in public policy; how come some countries have universal health care while others do not? Why is college astronomically expensive in the U.S.? Why are bike riding and letting children walk to school alone considered so dangerous in my native New York, while both are commonplace in Tokyo?

Japanese people seemed, overall, to be high achievers, placing a heavy emphasis on academic and professional success. Life was faster here than in the States, and busier too.

Noticing such difference led me to ask myself important questions:

  • What is important to me?
  • How do I want to live?
  • Where do I belong?

I benefited from my youthfulness in that traveling didn’t just make me think, “Wow, there are so many ways of life out there.” Instead, experiencing foreign cultures while perched at the beginning of adulthood, everything I saw was still possible for me to apply to my own life.

All too often I hear older adults lamenting time spent on dead-end tracks to supposed success; traveling in my adolescence has shown me from the start the full range of what life has to offer.

The exposure to foreign cultures that I gained early on preempted my cultural biases and “us and them” thinking, and liberated me from the notion that there is only one right way of doing things.

Discover The World…And Yourself

Traveling is about discovery and finding oneself, for people of any age. But when you travel as a young person, you’re raw material, constantly being shaped, and all that you see, hear, and do has a profound impact on the rest of your life.

At my age, people like to say, you’re naive, not yet disillusioned about the world, and think that “because it feels right” is a suitable reason for action.

Well, what better attitude to maintain as you explore the world? We teens see the world as a limitless opportunity. When you travel, that’s the way it truly is.

Are the teenage years a good time to travel? Share your experiences and opinions by leaving a comment below!

Celine Joiris writes and works as a fashion model in her native New York City. She has lived and worked in Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, London, Hamburg and Seattle between the ages of fifteen and her current eighteen, and juiced every moment of it.

Education

 

About The Author

Celine Joiris

Celine Joiris writes and works as a fashion model in her native New York City. She has lived and worked in Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, London, Hamburg and Seattle between the ages of fifteen and her current eighteen, and juiced every moment of it. Read her blog here.

  • http://graceface.wordpress.com Grace

    What a thoughtful young lady you are, Celine! I truly enjoyed reading your article – it seemed almost to be written by someone even three times your age. Great job and best of luck to you in all your future endeavors.

  • Dan

    Thank you for this article, a true inspiration.

  • Derrick F

    Oh my gosh, I am in awe of your travels. I have been around North America and I agree with you. I have a friend whose family sends their children off abroad for their 18th birthday as a learning experience.

  • Tim

    I agree entirely, when I went travelling aged 18 it was what prompted me to become self sufficient and how to roll with the punches rather than relying on others to help me up afterwards.

    Great article.

  • Chris

    Your perspective of traveling is a great accomplishment, I’m 22 and only realized what you described after staying in Granada, Spain with a friend who studies all over Europe. You sound exactly like him! Keep up the great work.

  • Scott

    What a beautiful experience. thank you for sharing your wisdom and in sites as you are evolving into a deeply aware human. Never give in to the status quo, always follow your heart felt guidance
    Thank you and bless you

  • eric

    I have to agree with a lot of what you said here. I was an exchange student to Chile when I was 15, and was the youngest outgoing exchange student from the US that the organization I went with had that year. It’s very difficult to navigate your way through a country when the culture is different, let alone the language barriers. It is in many ways a very maturing process. You learn who you are much better. I found that when I returned to the US after a year abroad, my friends seemed a little behind. I don’t mean to say that they were any less my friends, but they hadn’t seen what I saw, they didn’t understand. But how can you expect them to? They were still here in the US doing what they were doing before I left. Now five years later, I still feel the effects of my trip. I realize now that I picked up bad habits, but I also see how much it matured me. All of a sudden I was in charge of what happened in my life. I know I made mistakes. Hell, I could go to bars and clubs at 15! However, no matter what, I always look back at that experience with a smile. It’s been 5 years and I haven’t been able to afford to return, yet every night, before I go to sleep, I think about the people I met and the difference I made in many of their lives. But more importantly, I think of the difference they made in mine.

    Sorry, forgive me for the lack of coherency in my writing. Too many memories and emotions to leave in a simple comment.

  • Leslie

    I really enjoyed reading your article… when I was 15 I was an exchange student in Costa Rica. Even though I had the support of living with a host family… I did experience many of the same changes and insights as you described. Since then, I have travelled to over 30 different countries and counting.
    As a Spanish teacher in an inner-city school, getting my students to even understand, let alone appreciate, cultural differences can be challenging. What an awesome opportunity you have had in your life!

  • ppp

    Nice article,traveling has been the best experience and memories for me.I started when I was 15 going to Mexico.I worked and saved up the money for plane trip and half of the condo for two weeks.I was addicted ever since.Traveling over working all the time.Saving so I could stay in other countries for longer periods,to get the full experience of the different cultures. I’ve notice that people who haven’t traveled aren’t as diverse in culture, as those who have traveled to different countries.

  • http://asnote.blogspot.com/ Taro

    Hello,
    I feel empathy about your writing. It is exiting to know that you find and learn lots of things in the travel. Your personality encourage me.

    Thanks!

  • claire

    Excellent article and I wish all could achieve what you have and will do. Keep you eyes and heart open as you have, Blessings

  • Celine

    Hi everyone,
    I’m so glad that you all enjoyed the piece. This was my first foray into published writing (but hopefully not my last) and I’m encouraged by all the positive responses. I feel strongly that traveling had a huge impact on my outlook on life in many ways I hope to encourage more young people to travel as well.

  • http://www.ohsnail.blogspot.com Ruby!!!

    Travel is more important than traditional school for personal development. I think that my experiences have made me appreciate the opportunities and the qualities that I enjoy in my life. Beautiful writing, Celine. xxx

  • http://www.coroflot.com/vaibhavs vaibhav

    Great article !
    I truly enjoyed reading it…keep writing.

  • http://completeandcreative.com Terry

    I have a friend who had a similar experience, going to Tokyo to model when she was just a teenager. She did work in other parts of Asia too. Unlike you, however, she had some horrible experiences. I’m glad you got something positive out of it.

    And she’s shooting to be a writer right now. :)

  • Jack

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said in this article. I plan on traveling as much as possible, you only live on this world once, so i want to see it.

  • http://www.traveldave.co.uk Dave

    its great to see some one who also started to travel at the same age. im also currently 18 with many adventures and experiances of solo travel and it was very enjoyable to read your writing.

    many futures happy travels and all the best for the future

  • http://sirjorge.com/blogx sir jorge

    I traveled to hawaii and florida as a teenager.

    I hate warm weather, beaches, and sand.

    I live in Seattle now.

    I learned my lesson.

  • http://www.matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    This is still one of my favorite articles ever published on BNT.

  • http://www.mikehedge.com Mike Hedge

    neat post =)

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/oli-rob Oliver Mol

    Hey Celine,

    The amount of times I have tried to explain this very cause to anxious mothers, over-looking dads and concerned friends…well its a comfert to know others appreciate the world and the people and the lessons that can be learned from places we find ourselves in. Good luck.

  • Jess

    Wonderful article, Celine. I had a similar reaction to travelling when I was in high school.

  • http://ridesoflife.blogspot.com/ Aashutosh Yadav

    A very nicely written article.. I like it.. 
    I believe that there is no age to travel.. you should travel all your life.. 
    Your learnings will get finer.. and your thoughts will come out of such rich experiences to make sense to others.. 

    Keep travelling.. you will never ever regret it.. 

  • Katherine Tutschek

    again American, but also good.

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