As the Chaco tan-lines begin to fade from my feet, I begin to reflect on my unforgettable summer of three months in Europe: gelato in Italy, tapas in Spain, the whole nine-yards. Many people have been telling me how brave I am for traveling alone, asking me how I did it and cringing when I tell them stories of how I met up with people I had only met online. I enjoy seeing their eyebrows raise when I talk about the concept of Airbnb. I laugh at how the corners of their mouth drop when I recall nights in Hostels sharing rooms with 6 complete strangers, including boys. These things are not normal for people with demographics like mine.
For example, growing up in a town of less than 10,000 people, there is sometimes a lack of what city-folk would consider part of a modern lifestyle. For example, transportation has always been foreign to me. There aren’t any subways or taxis in Middlesboro, Ky.
I’m here to tell you that it’s o.k. for things to be unfamiliar, it’s part of traveling.
Back to the reactions of my friends and family who created deer-in-the-headlights looks about my various forms of accommodations, it’s because they try to picture themselves doing it and they can’t. It sounds uncomfortable. I’m here to tell you that traveling is not always comfortable, it’s why some people don’t like it. They’d prefer to stay at home watching TV or surfing the internet reading about all of these places that look amazing, but when they actually picture themselves doing it, it scares them. If you want to travel, you must first picture yourself outside of your comfort zone and be ok with it. It’s how we learn.
When you’re a kid in school, you’re forced to try new things. When you’re an adult, you get used to routine and change becomes more difficult. No one is making you get out of your comfort zone, like in college when you were forced to do volunteer hours or service learning projects for a grade. You have to want to do these things because you know in the end you will have learned or gained something. Even if all you gain are memories.
As my student from Brazil always says, “All new things are difficult at first.”
So here is my first tip for you if you want to travel:
1. Practice gettin’ out of your comfort zone.
Try something new each week. If it’s finding a You-Tube video on how to do yoga, or to build model airplanes. It doesn’t matter because you’re doing something outside of your routine, which is what travel is all about.
Better yet, try something new that will be useful for your trip like useful phrases in another language, or how to take better photos (like I wish I had done).
Useful link: For tips on how to get started learning a new language you can check out http://www.fluentin3months.com/home/
I admit that my style of travel isn’t for everyone. The truth is, I’m a cheap sandwich-eating, subway-riding, back-pack-wearing, pinny-pinching, millennial who doesn’t have a clue about the “real-world” yet.
So I’ll take a minute to introduce you to my mom. The perfect example of someone who took the leap and got out of her comfort zone to spend a week in Costa Rica. I hope as I paint the tale of a 50-something-year-old woman who had never left the country, you will start to believe in yourself and think, “by golly, that sounds kinda fun.”
My mother is married, has a full-time job, and very limited vacation days. My sister’s high school organized a trip to Costa Rica (this planning took place over the span of almost the entire school year, so as you consider how you will pay for your trip, my advice is to think long term, start saving now).
Talk about a deer-in-the-headlights look when my mom told me that she was thinking about going. If you’re from a small town like me, then we might have some similarities in our family dynamics.
Rather than calling it “routine,” I’ll politely call them “family traditions.” Traditionally, we go to the same beach every year (Myrtle Beach, SC), we have our Christmas party in the same cabin (Sevierville, TN), and even my dad, who has always loved to travel, visits the same national parks and mining towns every year on his road trip to Colorado. Long story short, this was a milestone for my mother.
For a full-grown adult who had never left the country, she had plenty of questions, and so will you. It’s o.k. to have questions, but it’s not o.k. to have questions and be too shy or afraid to ask them (a personal challenge that I’ve had to overcome and will talk about later). So I helped her pick out a suitcase, pack, and told her not to forget the Dramamine.
When she returned I asked her what her favorite part was, she said that she really liked touring the pineapple farm. “The pineapple farm?” I repeated. “You went zip-lining (yeah, my 50-something year-old mom of average health went zip-lining in the rain forest), rafting, and to the beach, but the pineapple farm was your favorite?!” It was the interaction with their guide, learning about the people who worked there, and their lives that made it unforgettable.
It’s the people you will meet when traveling that will make your experiences, not just the things you see and do.
So my point is this. My mother (born and raised in the same town of less than 10,000), who had never left the country before, went zip-lining in the rain forest. If she can do it, so can you.
So stay tuned for more tips on how to plan your dream vacation including tips on; choosing a destination, traveling in groups vs. traveling alone, how to manage your time, where to eat, using public transportation, and much more! (I’ll also be recalling my own personal experiences from this summer of my time in Italy, Austria, and Spain.)