Independence: Flight or Fight?

I accomplished a rather significant personal milestone in the past week. Over the weekend, I took a post-exam trip to Amsterdam with two friends, my first time travelling without the watchful eye of adults. It was liberating, to say the least, but also incredibly daunting. There is something to be said about the rush of exhilaration one feels at the prospect of three glorious days without any adult intervention, free to traverse the unchartered terrains of a foreign place. I think part of the thrill was the sheer invigorating sense of independence that is equal parts empowering and unnerving. It was not so much about stepping foot into a different land; it felt more like a step into that formidable land called Adulthood.

Adulthood, that arcane place we aspire towards as we straddle the precipices of our teenage years at university. As someone who has led a relatively sheltered adolescent life, this was a significant leap over this age chasm, one that inspired the thrill of novelty. Yet, a steep learning curve was to hit us, as with every new experience. Adulthood and independence come at a price, as my travelling companions and I were soon to discover. Beyond our rose-tinted idealisations of ourselves as independent, grown-up travellers, lurked hiccups and road bumps galore. Our foray into this revered adulthood was not about to be easy, and would stretch us to a tipping point.

It began with being thrown off an overbooked morning flight to Amsterdam, and forced to wait in the airport indefinitely while the airline frantically searched for alternative travel routes. The uncertainty, fear and lethargy dampened our initial euphoria. The endless negotiations with the airport staff and demands for compensation tarnished our pristine bubble of anticipation, but we were undeterred. We pushed ourselves onto the earliest possible flight out with some mighty will and verbal threats. Our little bubble of joy rebounded, and we eagerly anticipated the next leg of our journey.

We soon hit another roadblock with some unpleasant altercations with the host of our bed and breakfast accommodation. We felt too immature and insignificant to contend with our middle-aged host, who appeared more worldly and assertive than we were. The balance was upset, and we plodded through our stay with her for the sake of endurance, rather than enjoyment.

Thinking we had put our bad luck behind us, we channelled our energy and zeal into maximising every waking moment. We spent glorious afternoons by the sun-kissed canals, having the most scrumptious speciality cheese baguettes in the open air. We took a river cruise around the charming city centre and wandered through Vondelpark, the city’s most prominent park attraction. We discovered hidden gems in the local farmers’ market, and tried warm, fluffy Dutch pancakes when the weather took a turn for the worse. We strived to optimise our trip, notwithstanding the glitches blighting our path.

Monday, our day of departure, dawned upon us all too quickly. I heaved a small sigh of relief that we had made it through the trip, despite the turbulent start with airplane woes (no pun intended). But the trip home was not to be smooth sailing. We had under-estimated the time it would take us to get to the airport, and as novice travellers, were completely unaware about the infrequent train schedule. We boarded a train to the airport, half an hour away, just an hour shy of our flight departure time. That half an hour in the train was perhaps the longest bout of time we had experienced, on our nerves’ edge with trepidation and fear. Trapped in the train with no reprieve and nothing to do but wait, my mind reverberated with silent, self-directed reproaches. All I could consider was my parents’ disappointment at my irresponsible, poor planning.

There was a greater sense of personal dismay that supplanted that. I felt like I had let myself and my aspirations of responsible adulthood down, by failing to plan well. We raced through customs and made it to the departure gates as they were closing. Funnily enough, my biggest point of self-discovery during that frantic race was just how physically unfit I am, as I huffed and puffed down Schiphol Airport. We took the walk of shame down the aircraft to our seats as the last passengers to board, subject to the curious, slightly annoyed gazes of other passengers who had been held up by our delay. That sheer mortification and fear I never want to experience again.

Huddled in our seats at long last, we heaved a collective sigh of relief. As much as we had enjoyed the holiday itself, the dizzying twists of fate had left us rather weary and we were relieved to have touched down on familiar soil. But alas, that relief was short-lived. As luck would have it, my friends’ luggage had gone missing, bringing the turbulent airline woes that had inducted us into our trip a full circle.

While the strokes of bad luck gave us much to moan about over the next few days, I feel like we did emerge from the trip stronger and more resilient than before. Adulthood is not about perfection; it is certainly not a static position one inhabits where everything falls into perfect equilibrium. Rather, it signals a transition into assuming personal responsibility for one’s choices, and facing the challenges that come with independence, headfirst. There were no parents to call and cry to on the trip- we had to be self-sufficient and navigate through the meandering, thorny path of obstacles that beset us. Our trip itself was less than perfect, our fun was tempered by unforeseen circumstances, and our idealised vision of ourselves as carefree travellers was shattered all too soon. Yet, what we learnt about ourselves offered valuable personal growth, and I think that is compensation enough for the hiccups along the way.

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