One idea, uttered casually at a relaxed coffee shop, has been on my mind for months. I was at a bookclub meeting where we were discussing Rolf Pott’s ever-popular book Vagabonding, where the author champions authentic, long-term travel experiences and explains how they change lives. But for one of the readers at the meet up, the book just didn’t sit well. “I like my home, my family, my pets, my neighbourhood. What if you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone and travel the world?”
As anyone who has ventured out of their front door will confirm, life is full of opportunities that require you to step out of your comfort zone. Any change, challenge or opportunity has some discomfort associated it, requiring a little stretch from safety in exchange for the possibility of growth or further fulfillment.
Travel goes even further — it is filled with risks, uncertainties and uncomfortable situations that can leave you overwhelmed, stressed and wishing for home. But it also teaches you so much about yourself and your capacity for adaptation and resilience, exposes you to other cultures and opinions, and shows you different forms of “normal”. It alters your perspective on this big blue planet we call home and your place in it.
Could you gain some of that knowledge without stepping wildly out of your comfort zone? It is possible to acquire some of the benefits of travel without having to sacrifice your love of familiar environments and situations? Can you get the travel “experience” at home?
I’m not sure I can answer those questions (and I don’t think I could tell someone who truly had no interest in travel that they simply have to get out there), but I do think there are options for those who exist somewhere in between. Yes, your comfort zone is a nice squishy place, but if you’re willing to slowly creep outside, is there a way to sample some of the joys of travel without overwhelming yourself?
I think so. If you are like the woman in my bookclub, or you know someone who is, don’t think that travel is only for a certain kind of (crazy / adventurous / brave) person or requires a major drop-everything-and-everyone-and-leave commitment. Try it out for yourself, and find a pace that suits you.
Whether you’re a first time traveller or you had a bad travel experience that has made you wary, here are some ideas on how to slowly step out of your comfort zone and ease into the exciting world of travel. You don’t need to quit your job and book a one-way ticket, you just need an open mind.
I’m sure I don’t have to explain the transporting nature of books to anyone — but they’re often overlooked as a pocket-sized way to step into different cultures, countries and lives far different from our own. If you want to expand your perception of life on Earth, a trip to the library or the bookstore can do it. Seek out books written by authors from far away places, historical stories, autobiographies and novels that depict different cultures and customs.
If you’re more of a movie buff, try exploring a different genre. From Japanese anime to Bollywood hits, Nigerian movies and independent foreign language films, you can see depictions of life in other places through the camera lens. Yes, you’ll have to get past the subtitles and keep in mind that real life isn’t always exactly like the movies, but you can still expand your world view.
You can also seek out blogs or interesting social media accounts from people around the world, and catch a glimpse of the canals of Amsterdam or the mountains of New Zealand on your scroll through Instagram.
If there are people in your community or friendship circles who have lived abroad, ask them about it. Of course, be sensitive to whatever reasons they may have had for leaving, but if they’re willing to share, you can learn a little bit about the places they’ve been through their stories. For example, I have learnt more about countries like Egypt and Morocco from a short conversation with people who lived there than I have through years spent at school or watching documentaries.
If one of your friends or family members has travelled, ask them about it too. Quiz them on the smells and languages they were exposed to, the way people dressed and the foods they ate, how the streets and buildings looked. Even this tiny glimpse into how others live can broaden your perceptions.
Even if you’ve lived there for your whole life, your home town could have some surprises in store from you. Seriously! When I lived in Cape Town, I met so many locals who had never been up Table Mountain, even though thousands of international tourists flock to its hiking trails and cable car every year.
Approach your city like a tourist would. Search online for restaurants, museums, exhibitions, hiking trails, markets, picnic spots, scenic drives, shows, tours, historical buildings or seaside hideaways. Ask around to find out other residents’ favourite breakfast spots, look out points or camping areas. Investigate quirky sites hiding in plain view using services like Atlas Obscura. If your budget allows, book a weekend stay at a local guest house or hotel to really give you the feeling that you’re exploring somewhere new.
Travel doesn’t need to involve grabbing a backpack and absconding to a remote village in some far-flung country. There may be a quirky small town, cute sea-side escape or bustling city just a few hours away from you. Whether you have a weekend or two weeks, you can get leave your normal routine behind and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of a new place.
I’m a fan of long drives with a great playlist, but depending on your budget and where you are in the world, a few stops on the train, a bus trip or a short flight could get you somewhere interesting for a few days. There could be vastly different scenery, weather patterns, accents or ways of life in another part of your country. No passport required.
If you’re willing to really take the jump out of your comfort zone and leave the country, there are ways to make your trip less overwhelming. For example, visiting a country where you speak the official language will be much easier than one where you don’t. If you’re used to functional public transport, air conditioning and shopping malls, a trip to some rural mountain village that doesn’t have a reliable electricity supply will be more of an adjustment. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an incredible experience — but you may want to pick somewhere that has some of the comforts and basic standards you have at home, at least for your first trip.
Generally, all-inclusive resort or holiday packages are an easy step into the world of travel. Yes, some people argue that travelling half way around the world just to sit by a hotel pool doesn’t really count as “experiencing” the local way of life, but there is a reason that these sorts of holidays are popular. You have a safe base to explore from and a softer introduction to the country (along with the guarantee of a fixed place to eat, sleep and decompress after a long day of adventuring). Just make sure you stay somewhere close to other attractions or cities, so you’re not confined to one small area for your entire stay.
Another option is group tours, such as the ones offered by Contiki or TourRadar. These are all organized for you — from the hotel you stay in to the cities you’ll visit — so you don’t have to plan out as much by yourself. You travel with the same group for your entire trip, choose the activities you want for the day, and are pretty much assured you won’t miss any of the major sights along the way. You’ll be able to meet group members from around the world, and have people around to help if you get lost in a strange city or over-stimulated by all the new things you’re seeing.
It can take a bit of practice to find the balance between new-scary-exciting and safe-old-easy, but eventually you will locate a mid-point that works for you. Maybe you’ll love trying new foods and exploring museums, but will need an evening off after too many activities. Maybe you’ll prefer to stroll through town, taking it all in at your own pace and discovering interesting shops or side streets. There is no one-size-fits all guide for travel — as long as you go in with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, you’ll have an experience to remember.
Are you nervous about stepping out of your comfort zone to travel? Or have you successfully made the leap? What worked for you? Let me know in the comments!