Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

Two large human statues in Reno, Nevada
Originally Posted: 11/3/2010 | November 3rd, 2010
Last Updated: 3/29/22 | March 29th, 2022

One of the things travel forces you to confront your judgments and perception of people.

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 lifestyle is totally different from mine.

There is nothing too extraordinary about my social life. Overall, my social habits are pretty mainstream. I watch movies, go to the gym, watch Netflix, work, and go to yuppie cocktail bars.

But these folks went 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.

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 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 seven billion of us fit into this world.

Yes, I want to sip wine in Paris and relax 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 gaijin 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.)

On the road, getting along with new people is easy. You’re there to learn, after all, so you’re free to relax and be curious. You can be whoever you want to be, and if some people don’t like it, that’s not a problem because you likely won’t ever see them again..

Contrast that with “the real world,” where you face all kinds of pressures and expectations. You have bills to pay. Responsibilities. Jobs. Commutes. Things to “actually” worry about. You aren’t on the move anymore, rather you are now firmly planted in one place, building a life.

While I love a good routine when I’m home, routines can also be stifling. Without effort, they can stifle growth and curiosity. They are the opposite of life on the road.

So, when the opportunity arose to go and visit these friends in Reno, Nevada, I jumped at the chance to experience something different. I went there with a lot of curiosity and a very open mind — just like I would if I was in a different country.

Whatever they threw at me, I was going to take. Reno was all about 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. 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.

I spoke to a guy who talked a lot about his sex shop and about exploring “things” with his wife.

I met hippies who grew pot.

I met lots of raw-food folks and vegans.

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

My hosts ran an erotic art site.

I found it all weird.

Very weird.

But at the same time, it was very, very interesting (even if I couldn’t always relate).

And you know what? I had a great time.

Everyone was friendly. They were genuinely interested in what I do. They loved the fact that 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 — even if those dreams are the polar opposite of mine. They welcomed me into their circle, they made me brownies, they invited me back for Thanksgiving. We shared a love for music, life, and a passion for 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: to be happy, to be safe, to spend time with friends, and to enjoy life.

At home, we often tend to judge people right away. By their dress, their phone, their style, their posture. 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 become a raw vegan anytime soon, what Reno reminded me was that the old adage about judging a book by its cover couldn’t be truer.

When you are on the road, you hang with all types of people. Your desire to make friends trumps everything. You don’t know people’s history or past. You don’t know what “group” people fall into. That forces you to expand your mind, tear down your barriers, and toss out your judgments.

If I had simply stuck to my “real world” worldview, I never would have gone to Reno. I would never have met such great people. I would never 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 bungy jumping, or, for me, embracing a way of life outside my own.

Breaking out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to learn about the world.

And Reno was a good reminder that learning doesn’t just mean knowing people from foreign lands. It can also mean learning about people with different tastes than you.

Because everything — and everyone — has something to teach you. You just have to be willing to listen.

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