Why you should travel outside your comfort zone
There was once a time where I never have traveled alone. Staying within my travel comfort zone, I’d usually go with family, friends or with a boyfriend.
As the years rolled on, I discovered a few things. Family holidays were too stressful; friends’ holidays could sometimes be hard work; and couples’ holidays were not always applicable. In the end, I found myself with limited travelling companions. While I was more than happy on my own at home, the thought of travelling alone terrified me.
Not the first time
My first experience in solo travel was a detour to San Francisco during a month-long trip to the US. It was an enriching time, and one that opened my eyes to my capacity to do things solo, and do it well.
I met some amazing new people, and also had the freedom to come and do as I pleased. What’s more, I returned home feeling more confident, less scared and ready to step out even further from my comfort zone.
Not long after the US trip, I told a friend about my travels, and she sent me the following quote. To this day it remains something powerful and true to me.
‘A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.’
The more places I travel to, and the more trips I plan, I no longer think about who I’ll go with. Having companionship is great, but flying solo offers more opportunity for growth. When you step out of all that’s familiar, you’re forced to do things you’ve never done before, ie get off your smartphone and actually talk to people.
In some instances however, life simply forces you out of your comfort zone. My ‘Frisco’ trip was really rewarding, but I’d planned to be on my own. The true test of how far I’d come presented itself a year later.
A few years earlier
Let me take you back a few years ago. My cousin had been living in Seville, Spain for a few months, when he suggested I visit him and his girlfriend.
With Seville a 2-hour plane ride away, I decided to visit during feria (a spring fair after Easter). The trip was a few months away, so I told him my dates and thought nothing more about it.
April arrived and I couldn’t be more excited. My cousin’s parents would also be in Seville visiting, and I was eager to see them too. After a short flight, my plane landed at night – a perfect time to arrive for the start of feria. I’d booked the same hotel as my family – everything so far was going as planned.
The main blip in the plan came when we were devouring ham and cheese croquetas and churros con chocolate. While talking about our plans for the weekend, it quickly dawned on me that I’d be exploring Seville alone.
Aunt: So Lise, what are your plans for this weekend?
Me: Not sure, probably whatever they [cousin and girlfriend] have in mind (bites into a churro)
Uncle: But you know they’re leaving tomorrow morning for Barcelona right?
Me: (chokes on churro) What?!
Aunt: You didn’t know? They’re leaving tomorrow with us to go to the airport.
From the surprised look on my face it was pretty obvious I was the only one unaware of the plans. Everyone put down their churro and began to exchange a series of awkward glances around the table. I looked at my cousin waiting for a response.
Cousin (sheepish): Sorry Lise, I just thought you’d be coming with someone, so we decided to go to Barcelona for the weekend.
I responded with a half-okay, half-annoyed laugh before answering ‘no’. In hindsight, I should’ve let him know I was coming alone. But as someone who prefers to laugh things off, I reassured everyone that it was fine.
The truth was, I was totally crapping my pants at the prospect of being alone in Seville. Unlike San Francisco, I hadn’t mentally prepared to be alone.
Things always happen for a good reason
I awoke the next morning with a hangover, though not of the alcoholic kind. It was of pure fear and trepidation being alone in a strange city. I lay in bed momentarily contemplating my options:
1. Stay in my room all weekend like a loser, order room service and watch dull Spanish TV; or
2. Go out, explore, and if all else fails, stuff overload on tapas and a good glass of Jerez.
It was a no-brainer. What happened next can only be described as one of those weekends where things got better and better. With endless spring sunshine, I managed to see most of the places my cousin had suggested.
I explored the city, took a horse-drawn carriage ride through Seville and met and spoke with the locals. On top of that, I also tasted different regional dishes, and even squeezed in a date with a local guy.
By the time it came to go home, I didn’t want to leave. I’d started off terrified but had transformed my experience into something positively eye-opening. I learned so many things about my character and resilience, and returned home with a renewed sense of self.
Being out of my comfort zone taught me a lot about my character, and it turns out, I’m stronger than I realize.
Why I always recommend stepping out of your comfort zone
My experience in Seville is why I encourage others to try solo travel at least once in their lives. It’s scary being alone in a strange place, but However, the reward far outweighs any initial fear.
Traveling solo also gave me the courage to be fearless in other areas of my life. Whereas before I wouldn’t have attended events (professional or social) alone, I now simply take a deep breath and go for it.
So if you’re thinking about taking a trip alone, stop thinking and just do it. It’ll give you the chance to explore, reflect, and engage, all the while widening your perspective and lessening your fears. And that can only be a beautiful thing.
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