There’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels: the more I travel, the more I want to step out of my comfort zone. As a beginning traveler, I followed the tourists, stayed at the all-inclusive resorts, went on the guided tours, and ate the foods most similar to home. As I throw myself into other countries and cultures, I find myself seeking out the “local experience,” from renting a house from a local to eating street food with ingredients I don’t understand. If you agree to become a world traveler, you agree to step out of your comfort zone.
What Does “Out of Your Comfort Zone” Mean?
Everyone’s comfort levels when traveling are different. Some people are very conservative, so leaving a resort is a big step in traveling of their comfort zone. Others are pretty adventurous from day one, so it will take a lot more for them to travel out of their comfort zone.
Traveling out of your comfort zone can be any number of things:
• Talking to strangers, like asking for directions or approaching a non-English speaker in a bar to chat
• Trying a new food, like street food or local, home-cooked meals from an Airbnb host ($40 off Airbnb here)
• Venturing off the beaten path, like hiking a trail hours away from the nearest civilization or going to a town where no one speaks English
• Traveling to an unusual destination unaccustomed to tourists, like Cuba or Uzbekistan
• Extreme sports, like bungee jumping or skydiving
Tackling a new adventure and succeeding helps you grow as a person, shed your fears, and be generally happier. Being successful when stepping out of your comfort zone is all in your head; if you think you can do it, you can do it.
Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone
I’ve always traveled to places where I knew and understood the culture and landscape. I know how to navigate beaches and mountains, I’m familiar with crepes and paella, and I respect the sacred holiness of places like Vatican City. I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and do something completely new, and I knew Morocco was a place that scared me in an exciting way.
Marrakech is a devout Islamic city where people follow ancient traditions. Clothes are particularly important because most parts of the body are considered private. The roles of men and women are very different. The Arabic signs don’t use the classic Roman alphabet. Not knowing how to dress, how to read signs, how to communicate with non-English speakers, and how to talk to Moroccan men was definitely out of my comfort zone.
Turning a “Discomfort Zone” Into a Comfort Zone
Marrakech was one of the most culturally different and intimidating places I’d been to. I worried about offending the locals, unintentionally disrespecting the culture and religion, and overall doing the wrong thing. I researched for weeks what clothes to buy for the trip, prepped my boyfriend to take the lead on this trip when it came to talking to the locals, and traded alcohol for some amazing Moroccan mint tea. My boyfriend and I even bought fake wedding rings so we weren’t considered promiscuous for staying together unmarried!
The Marrakech locals are used to tourists from Western cultures, so they understand and respect our differences. They appreciated that I tried to understand and respect their differences as well. As a compromise between the two cultures, my boyfriend would start conversations and act as the decision-maker, but I would join in conversations to better understand the city and the people.
We stayed in a typical riad and met a Moroccan man who spoke perfect English. He had even studied and worked in New York for many years! We ate street food – I’m still not even sure what it was (besides delicious). We tried tajine-style food and drank tea, avoiding alcohol. We even inadvertently observed the call to prayer during a camel ride.
I was nervous to even tell my mom I was in Morocco because she’s always had reservations about traveling off the beaten path. So I decided to tell her weeks later, when I could recount the pros and cons of the trip. I found that the only cons came from myself: not being able to speak French or Arabic and not booking a long enough trip in Marrakech. After visiting Marrakech and overcoming my doubts about stepping outside my comfort zone while traveling, I urge others to visit this amazing city. Or just do something that scares or intimidates you.
Now, the circle of my comfort area has expanded. Now that I accomplished stepping outside of my comfort zone as far as a country and culture, I feel that I need to push myself further and step outside my new comfort zone circle. I don’t know what this is yet, but I know when I do it, I won’t regret it.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve down outside your comfort zone? Tell me in the comments below!
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