One of the many wonderful things about travel is how it allows you to become more confident in stepping out of your comfort zone. Even more, eventually, you’ll be able to grow your comfort zone’s limits to include things you never thought possible.
This is a topic I thought a lot about when I was asked to do an interview about leaving your comfort zone as an introvert for the Introvert Library last year. I always knew travel had made me more independent and self-confident, but until then I never thought about it in terms of comfort zones.
However, I soon realized that there are a lot of connections between the two topics of travel and comfort zones. Some of them are obvious, others not so much. Throw being an introvert into the mix, and those connections become both more fascinating and more challenging.
The meaning of comfort zone
The first thing I think of when I hear that expression is home. A physical place that feels familiar and safe, where I can be myself and don’t have to worry about anyone else.
However, once I move past that first idea, I quickly realise that comfort zone is so much more than an actual, physical location. Rather, it’s that feeling of safety and familiarity, and yes, of homeliness. That can be connected to a specific place, or to certain people. If you spent time with those closest to you, chances are you feel safe and at ease, even if you’re not at home. (I’m talking in general here. No denying that as an introvert, there might be times when even the presence of your loved ones is too much and you need some alone-time, but that’s not the point here).
Your comfort zone could also be connected to certain activities. If you have hobbies, things you enjoy and do regularly, you probably feel safe and comfortable doing those as well. No matter whether they take place at home or in some other environment.
All these things, everything you do in your daily life and that feel familiar, are within your comfort zone. They don’t scare you, or challenge you, or demand you to evolve and learn new skills. They are everything that is comfy and safe and relaxing.
Being forced to leave your comfort zone
The most obvious connection between travel and comfort zones, at least for many people, is that they don’t go well together. Travel forces you out of your comfort zone. That can be in a literal sense, in that you go to unfamiliar places and environments, without the comforts of home, family and friends.
But it can also be meant in the way that you might partake in activities you wouldn’t usually do. I’m not just talking adventure sports or challenging yourself physically, though that might be the case too. I’m thinking of things like having to rely on strangers, having to ask for help or otherwise having to navigate unfamiliar situations.
Why would introverts do that to themselves?
At first glance, this all sounds very scary. Especially for introverts, who tend to crave the familiarity of a safe place they can call home. And yet, countless introverts voluntarily put up with this all the time, in order to explore the world and live their travel dreams.
So, what makes it worth stepping out of your comfort zone in such a major way? And are there ways to make this just a little bit less scary?
The advantages of stepping out of your comfort zone
First of all, travelling teaches you that even if you do step out of your comfort zone, it’s not the end of your life. You can and you will, in fact, survive it. And what’s more, afterwards you will not only feel proud of your achievement but also more ready to tackle the next challenge.
By constantly taking small steps out of your comfort zone, you are slowly expanding it. You will feel more secure in more and more situations, experiences and places. This expands your world immensely, turning you into a more confident and fulfilled human being.
So, how exactly do you manage to step out of our comfort zone?
By now you may be able to see how leaving your comfort one will eventually benefit you. You really wish to go out and grab that dream of yours. However, when the moment comes to actually take action, it can still feel pretty scary. My best advice is: take a step back and make the next one smaller.
You don’t have to go all-in right away. To stick with travel, if you don’t feel ready for a year-long round-the-world solo trip, do something a bit more manageable. It can be as small as a weekend away with a friend. Or a few days on your own in the nearest city. Think about whatever feels least scary, and do that. Once you have managed this, you can take it a step further. Go for a bit longer, or somewhere a bit further away. Maybe a different country. Or maybe go solo for the first time.
Small steps will take you there eventually
I vividly remember being in school, probably about 16 years old, and dreaming about doing some long-term travel after finishing school. Which was still some away by then, but it’s never too early to plan, right? So anyway, I was looking at the different options for long-term travel: working holiday, study abroad, au-pair. At the time, doing a working holiday seemed by far the scariest of these options. It was the one with the smallest safety net. No family to stay in or university to give you structure, just you alone in a foreign country.
Back then, I didn’t think I would ever be able to do that kind of travelling. A few years later, I arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa, and I have never looked back. I followed up with backpacking around South America for a year. Recently, I did the same in New Zealand, without even giving it a second thought.
There will come a time when doing things that seem impossible now will not only be manageable, but easy. However, it takes time. For me, it took several years from thinking I couldn’t do it and proving myself wrong. So have patience, and don’t worry if you’re not ready yet. Your time will come.
Creating a comfort zone abroad
No matter how seasoned a traveller you eventually become, there will be moments when it all gets too much. When there are too many unfamiliar sights, faces and places for your introverted self to take in. And no home to turn back to, where you can feel unconditionally safe.
For those times, it’s important to find or create some ways of finding comfort even in unfamiliar environments. As an introvert, this may be predominantly things you can do alone and that allows you to recharge. They should be able to take you away from people and anything else in your environment that might be too stimulating. If not physically, which may not always be possible, then at the very least mentally. In theory, this could really be anything that relaxes you and makes you feel safe.
Find what gives you comfort
For me, my number one comfort-tool is books. When I read, I can get completely lost in the story and forget there is anyone else existing around me. It allows me to mentally escape and recharge. If I want it to be particularly comforting, it’s great to read some old childhood favourites. They give that familiar feeling of spending time with well-known and beloved characters.
Other methods I sometimes use are music, watching Netflix (if you’re carrying the appropriate device), or journaling. If you’re more actively inclined, try going for a walk in nature or do some yoga. Even just sitting down with a nice cup of coffee.
I guess you already have some activity like this anyway, which you do if you want to relax at home. If there’s a chance of doing that on your travels as well, then you need to look no further.
Creating comfort in unfamiliar situations is, by the way, a great ability to have in general. Pretty much anywhere in life will you encounter uncomfortable situations, in both professional and personal life. Being able to create your own little comfort zone pocket around you can safe you a lot of stress and worry.
When travel allows you to stay inside your comfort zone
Once you have realised that travel may not be as scary as you thought, you can take the next step: the realization that travel can, in fact, help you stay inside your comfort zone as well as forcing you out of it. That is especially true for solo travel.
When you’re travelling on your own, it’s entirely up to you when, with whom and how often you want to socialize. Which also means, it’s up to you when and how far you want to leave your comfort zone. Provided, of course, you adhere to the tips above and are able to create one while abroad.
What’s your take on comfort zones while travelling? Is it good to leave them? Would you rather not? Have you ever thought about the two in this way? Share in the comments.