Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

By Nomadic Matt | Published November 3rd, 2010

I am a backpacker through and through. When I’m on the road, I live cheaply, I stay in hostels, I cook most of my own meals, I search out deals and I try to avoid spending money. But when I settle into one place like I did this summer in New York, I tend to spend. I don’t budget when I’m not on the road.

And when I’m able to spend, I really spend. I like nice, trendy things, I eat at fancy restaurants, I buy overpriced clothes from Banana Republic, I hang out with my friends in trendy bars, and I buy fancy electronics. In some ways, my friends and I are your average 20-something city slickers. There is nothing too extraordinary about my social life. Overall, my social habits are pretty mainstream.

Last year I came across some bohemian art folks on the web. They liked my site, their art was cool and they were very down-to-earth people. We developed a steady online friendship, but their life style is totally different to mine. They go to alternative festivals like Burning Man and Lightning in a Bottle. They are really into erotic art. They have a lot of piercings and tattoos. Some of them live in modern communes. They are vegan. (I can’t live without bacon.) In short, they are the exact opposite of my normal social network.

To me, travel isn’t just about visiting different places. I don’t often care about where I visit. Yes, I love exploring certain parts of the world but what I really want to explore is life on this planet. I want to know how cultures fit together, why people think and act the way they do, and how 6 billion of us fit into this world. Yes, I want to see Paris and lay on beaches in Thailand, but what I really want to know is why the French love to riot, why the Italians put up with corruption, why I will always be giajin in Japan, and why the Thais seem to only express emotion in two forms: happiness or anger. (If you lived in Thailand, you would understand that last point.) To me, travel is about understanding the people of the world.

When the opportunity arose to go and visit these friends in Reno, Nevada, I jumped at the chance to experience something different. So I went to Reno with a lot of curiosity and a very open mind. Whatever they threw at me, I was going to take. Reno was all about taking on new experiences, and I was looking forward to learning a thing or two. We went to a techno concert that was vaguely reminiscent of Burning Man on my first night in Reno. I hung out with people with blue hair and weird get-ups. There were a lot of neon lights, a lot of drugs, and a lot of just way out there stuff.

raving it upI spoke to a guy who talked a lot about his sex shop and about exploring things with his wife.

My hosts run an erotic art site.

I met hippies who grew pot.

I met lots of raw food folks or vegans. (I can’t live without bacon).

There was a lot of talk about energy and love. (And even a woman who claimed to be an alien).

I found it all weird. Very weird. But at the same time very, very interesting, even if I couldn’t always relate.

And you know what? I had a great time. Everyone was very nice and friendly. They were genuinely interested in what I do. They loved the fact I was living my life on my own terms and I really loved the fact they were too. I like people who follow their dreams. They welcomed me into their circle, they made me brownies, they invited me back for Thanksgiving. We shared a love for music, life, and True Blood.

One thing I’ve learned in my four years of traveling around the world is that people are essentially the same. Whether a person is American, Australian, Japanese, Thai, or Uzbek, people want the same thing – they want to be happy, be safe, have friends, do what they want, and enjoy their life.

Walking down the street, we often make snap judgments about others even while exposing a “don’t judge a book by its cover” attitude. We see the Goth going down the street and think weirdo. We see kids skating in parks and think punk. We see white guys in dreads and think hippy.

I admit that I judge people. I even made judgments about the folks in Reno before I went. But I went because I wanted to go to learn not to make judgments, and while I won’t be moving to a commune or going raw anytime soon, what Reno taught me was that the old adage about judging a book couldn’t be a truer statement if it tried.

If I had simply stuck to my world view, I never would have gone to Reno. I never would have met such great people. I never would have exposed myself to new ideas and ways of life. Travel is about breaking out of your comfort zone and testing your boundaries. For some people that might simply be walking on a plane to go somewhere, or doing a bungy jump, or, for me, embracing a way of life outside my own.

comments 27 Comments

yay!

keep falling down the rabbit hole with us, it continues to get deeper and more magical by the moment ;)

it was such a pleasure spending time with you love, hope to cross paths again either in reno or beyond.

thank you for breaking out of your normal to come and hang with our normal lol

xoxo
georgette

Vero

Very good post! Very wise insight about how all people are essentially the same!

NomadicMatt

Thank you!

“Travel is about breaking out of your comfort zone and testing your boundaries. Maybe that is simply walking on a plane for people, or doing a bungy jump, or simply embracing a way of life outside your own.”

I like this part the best…I don’t expect people to challenge themselves in the same way I do…but I do hope that people challenge themselves, whatever that looks like.

The ultimate test, though, is whether or not they can get you to participate in erotic art AT Burning Man…then you know you’ve arrived! (Spoken by the girl who’s personal Hell is to be hot and dusty in a desert for 10 days, surrounded by people high out of their minds!)

NomadicMatt

I would love to go to Burning Man….erotic art? probably not though.

It’s very hard to not be judgemental, but it is nice to have your own judgements squashed by people being nice. I was walking around my local town in Japan the other day and light was falling. These 2 aggressive looking guys were walking up to me eyeing me up and looking rather shifty.

What did they do? They said ‘Hello, nice to meet you’. In a quick attempt to show off their English skills.

But it is so true, whether you’re talking to a small African tribal village or one of the richest guys in the world. Ultimately they are all happy with a roof over their heads, food in their belly and some love.

sounds fun! I’ve been meeting a lot of ‘erotic’ people too, it’s kind of an interesting sub-culture that has popped up with other people i know. At first it does seem a bit weird but hey whatever makes people happy, I guess! It’s also fun and usually really positive to step out of your comfort zone even if it is tough at first.

NomadicMatt

My view on life is different strokes, for different folks

As I have always said the best part of traveling is meeting people. :)

That’s great that despite pre-judging these people you still went with an open mind and had a lovely time! They definitely sound like interesting characters. :)

NomadicMatt

They were very interesting and totally amazing.

Bravo, my friend, bravo. I completely agree :)

Great post Matt :) I love everything about it!

Backpacking Bex

So true. Backpacking is all about getting OUT of the normal way of life. New people. New experiences. New adventures. A single night at the full moon party in Thailand can surely get someone out of the “zone”. Overall great post!

Matt I respect your writing and would love to know what you think about my blog – I’m contributing more to it and maybe we can work something out in terms of a writing relationship? :)

Check it out: http://www.backpackingbex.com .

Jim

Your site is awesome! Way to go Bex!

Jennifer Roche

I love your blogs. I am twice your age but I feel exactly as you do about the world. I plan to travel around Turkey in the year I turn 50. I spent my young years raising my family and being responsible. This is my time now and I plan to use it learing about the world and its inhabitants. I still have to work of course so my travels are short except for Turkey which I plan about 5 weeks. 3 there and 2 to travel back across eastern europe and then home to Ireland. Thanks for all the info you share. Happy travelling

Greetings from China … welcome to the counterculture / bohemian / alternative to the typical Western lifestyle; this is also my world, since teenage days, except that being on the road – since 1988, I have lost touch with this side of the West … But those early Goa-trance parties in India were great, back in 1990 ! Maybe one day, I’ll finally get to the States, to do the underground scene and festivals …

Regards MRP – Psychedelic Travel Artist | the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

Greetings from China … welcome to the counterculture / bohemian / alternative to the typical Western lifestyle; this is also my world, since teenage days, except that being on the road – since 1988, I have lost touch with this side of the West … But those early Goa-trance parties in India were great, back in 1990 ! Maybe one day, I’ll finally get to the States, to do the underground scene and festivals …

Regards MRP – Psychedelic Travel Artist | the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

And yes: People are People, world over …

Not being judgemental is definately something I am learning not to do as much now I am on the road. Back at home I had so many sterotypes, just like you said when walking down the street see someone dressed a bit werid with glasses, think geek etc.
Now we’ve got a shared interest, travelling I am meeting all types of people and realising they are just like us. This is one of the things I love about travelling!

Great post. Though breaking through your closely held prejudices isn’t limited to traveling, or backpacking, or anything else. It can be simply a part of life by living a life that’s considered.

Travel is just the start of that journey. It can end anywhere.

Great post, Matt. Married to a person from different culture, I’m fascinated with how different point of view, our 2 cultures can give about a topic. It makes me curious how about other cultures in the world. Before this, sometimes I regard unusual things as “weird”, but now, I’m more into asking to myself, why are they doing/thinking/behaving differently.

Me and you

I know the folks very well that you stayed with here in Reno (born & raised) and I wish you would have stepped out of their circle.

“Modern communes”? Really? Doesn’t that sound like they’re making everyone drink the Kool-Aid? Roommates, or even house mates, would describe them.

One electronica show is not a rave … especially one held at the showroom in a casino that ended at midnight.

Also, their roller coaster yo-yo dieting on raw food is silly, to say the least.

That specific social circle puts on a facade to appear more “interesting” to others.

There is much more to Reno besides their cheap erotica website they push down everyone’s throat, sex, love and energy (or as they like to call it: “bliss”); vegans, and drugs…

denny

You say you’re a true backpacker, but when you stay in one place, you like to party and spend some big bucks! Well Honey, let me clue you in on a secret, if you were a true packer, you wouldn’t have all that money to spend. You are a phoney, sweetheart!

Who would want to live without bacon…or cheese?

Sorry vegans, I love you but you’re missing out!

NomadicMatt

I don’t know!

NomadicMatt

Thanks! He was pretty interesting lol

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