I want to respond in detail to this point, because I can definitely see how the article comes across as patronizing to the people who actually live in these countries. It only talks about one aspect of traveling the world — the experience of “waking up” and becoming present to the reality of the place you’re in. I think that’s an important component of maturity, but it’s certainly not the totality of the experience.
What this article doesn’t talk about — and maybe it should — are the deep friendships I’ve formed in these countries. It also doesn’t talk about the time, money and energy I’ve put into helping those friends, or the frustrations we’ve felt together when we tried and failed to change the system, or the sickening sense of guilty privilege I feel every time I leave those friends behind and move on.
It also doesn’t talk about the times — in my early days of traveling — when I gave cab drivers whatever amount they asked for, and got laughed at for days by the locals, my friends included, for being such a sucker. I don’t talk about all the times I tried to help someone on the street who dropped a bag, and got knocked over as that person made a grab for my wallet, and I got laughed at again by the locals, my friends included, for being such a sucker. I got laughed at a lot in those days.
I don’t talk about those things because I actually want people to travel to these places, to see these problems for themselves, and to wake up to the seriousness of the world outside their comfort zone. Maybe people who travel there will be able to help with the problems in ways I couldn’t, or bring back explanations for others who can help, or at least sit and listen and do their best to understand.
And yes, in between those moments, you can have a lot of fun. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as long as you’re learning and helping people along the way.