I’m normally an introverted scaredy-cat. But I recently took a trip that brought me out of my comfort zone which positively impacted myself and my career.
“¿Qué estás haciendo chicas locas? Nos detenemos en Cuzco, no aquí!” the small Peruvian bus driver yelled at me and my friend.
It didn’t matter. We couldn’t understand him anyways. All we knew is that we had to get off the bus after a six-hour ride along rickety mountain cliffs to collect our bags we’d stored in the small town of Ollantaytambo—a town the bus driver was passing right through.
Lest you think I’m some daring, worldly adventurer, know this: I’ve always been a huge travel weenie. I’m about as brave as my skittery cat who’s afraid of plastic bags. Normally, I’ve never had enough money to travel much, and when I did, it was always to “exotic” locations like the campground down the road, my grandparents’ motor home in Florida, or to a family reunion in Ohio.
This time was different. Thanks to some travel hacks, I booked a flight with a friend to Peru for free. After that, we didn’t do much planning beyond finding a hostel on our first night (the first time I’d ever stayed in one) and booking our bus reservations. We decided the trip would be more free-form, more adventurous. The inner obsessive-compulsive person in me was terrified.
It didn’t take long for the experience to challenge my comfort zone. The first morning we woke up and and noticed a woman in our room that hadn’t been there the night before. Local restaurants served whole split-and-fried guinea pigs. Sometimes, we had to pay to use the bathroom. Drivers regularly crossed the center line while zipping around precarious mountain roads, with no safety barriers separating us from the canyon floors hundreds of feet down. Funerary memorials dotted the highways. We suffered from altitude sickness while climbing out of the Colca Canyon, the second-deepest canyon in the world.
We tried walking to Machu Picchu along a set of railroad tracks, and were turned back by a small herd of overzealous train guards, who had to motion to us because my friend and I didn’t fully understand what they were saying. Then, we had to scramble to find a ride to the other side of Machu Picchu, where we could walk in. We made it there just in time for our scheduled hike up Huayna Picchu—the mountain next to the famous ruins—something we’d booked months in advance. I even tried surfing for the first time on a whim.
These are things I never in my life thought I’d be doing. I thought the idea of a vacation was to sit on a beach or a cruise ship, sip mai tais, and take excessive naps.
But, now that I’m back, I can’t deny it—getting outside of my comfort zone was an amazing experience.
Why? Getting outside of your comfort zone trains you to a new “normal.” And what better way to get outside your comfort zone than to put yourself in a totally foreign environment—i.e., to travel?
It’s almost like desensitization therapy. You’re afraid of something, and so then you increase your exposure to it, and pretty soon you’re not scared anymore.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge wimp in my everyday life, and it’s cost me big time over the years. I’m too afraid to dispute erroneous bills over the phone (*cough* cable bills *cough*). I’m too afraid to ask for more money in my freelance business. And I’ve lost out on a ton of networking opportunities because I’m too afraid to go to conferences and actually talk to people face-to-face.
Since coming back from my Peru trip, I’ve noticed that I’ve become a lot braver, and it’s helping my financial situation. I called Vanguard and opened a retirement account for myself today—something I didn’t know how to do, which had scared me in the past. I started asking for more money from clients to ensure I was being paid fairly…and they agreed!
I even flew to Chicago and took the subway to a hostel for a writing conference. Along the way to my hostel, I met a nice well-dressed DJ named Wall Street who shared his umbrella on a rainy night. And, I even scored a new writing client at the conference!
None of these things would have been possible if I hadn’t stretched my limits on what I thought was possible by traveling. Now, I’m super excited to see what other adventures I can go on to get outside of my comfort zone. Driving the Ring Road around Iceland? Hiking to the Trolltunga in Norway? Going on a Nepalese mountain trek? The sky’s the limit, and I couldn’t be more excited for my future travel adventures. Now, where will you go?
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