Comfort zone is defined as a “situation or position in which a person feels secure, comfortable, or in control” by Collins English Dictionary. The example is very relevant: encouraging people to work outside their comfort zone.
When you’re young, being forced outside of your comfort zone is a common occurrence. Then, once you’re grown and escape your parent’s grasp, it is easy to become lost as you redefine what your own comfort zone actually is.
Some people find their comfort in performing a skill or talent that they’ve learned. Others are complacent living on their own and maintaining their own domain. People create their own comfort boundaries. Something as simple as wrapping one’s self in their favorite down comforter or grasping their wine bottle tightly as they bring it down to their glass can bring immense peace to some people.
For someone like myself, who has battled depression for as long as I can remember, I was a creature of habit. My comfort zone was within my routine, hanging out at familiar places after I got out of school or work. It’s these simple, sometimes mundane, routines that can creep up on you and quickly become a trap. Without noticing, I find myself becoming more of a shut-in and closing as many doors as possible, avoiding going out, interacting with other people, and experiencing new things.
The thing that drives me most crazy about all of this is that I was never that way. Withdrawn is not my stock personality. I grew up as an adventurous kid; by the time I was 9, I had easily visited more attractions up and down the eastern seaboard than many people have seen in all their lives.
My mother was always more excited to share an adventure than buy me a toy. Granted, we were a working class family and did not always have the extra money for the latest GI JOE or Lego set. Nevertheless, I remember times when I would miss school because my mother had whisked me up to Bear Mountain or to the Delaware Water Gap for hiking out in the woods and enjoying the sights. While this might not have been the best for my attendance (or arithmetic: 3+6=15, right?), it instilled in me an innate sense of travel and exploration.
When I found myself becoming more and more shut-in, I hated myself for it. It’s certainly not who I am in my soul; hell, I’m an Aquarius! I have a restless spirit that desires to be creative and freewheeling, not a goddamned hermit!
In 2016 (and again in 2018), for the first time ever, I said enough is enough and took a life-altering solo trip to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Prior to this trip, in 2015, I had visited the beautiful city of Ottawa with a friend for the Women’s World Cup to kick off my international travels (yes, I went to the Women’s World Cup. It was awesome & cheap). Granted, this trip was just over the northern border to Canada, so it was comparable to a trip to New Hampshire and Hoboken (NJ) if I had traveled in the opposite direction, and I cannot, in good conscience, really count this as a true international trip.
Fast forward to when I turned 30: I decided that I was going to do something that would scare me and rattle me right out of my familiar comfort zone. I decided I was going to travel to Scotland, by myself, and that I would rely almost entirely on the kindness of others to help me get on.
It seems like nowadays, there is such a great divide between the world’s population. Whether it be religion, politics, culture, or race, people have no shortage of reasons to be
divided. Yet, I have always felt like there are still a lot of good people left in this world, even if they’re not in the spotlight.
I believe we all need to accept that everyone is different; that you don't have to be best friends, like each other, or even agree, but you should always show respect. In the end, we are all just trying to survive and live happily in this world together as we go through our daily lives.
To provide a brief backstory, I ride motorcycles. My latest motorcycle (a Suzuki Bandit 1200S) was turning out to be a pain in the ass to find parts for. After looking everywhere for what I needed, to no avail, I wound up searching on social media sites in a last-ditch effort and came across a Facebook group known as the Bandit Riders of Scotland.
You might think these “bandits” wouldn’t be the best people to get involved with, but I thought, “fuck it, I’ll ask if these guys will let me in.” I figured, at least, I would get some worthwhile motorcycle advice! At that very moment, I never would have thought that this initial interaction would lead me to meeting these total strangers in person, in Scotland and Northern Ireland no less!
Before I knew it, I was booking my ticket. I’d been chatting with members of the Bandits online for about a year. The group had a trip to Northern Ireland planned to meet with an Irish Bandit Riders affiliate group and they decided to invite me - the lone American. I understandably asked myself, “which episode of Sons of Anarchy is this?”
In all seriousness, I certainly wondered what I was getting myself into. Was I going to be running guns? Trafficking drugs? Was I going to be sold into the ugly sex trade? Dark thoughts galore; yet, fuck it, you only live once, right? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that everybody join the ranks of the first international Facebook group they come across and book a trip overseas immediately. Even though, that's exactly what I did! Just be sure to be smart and do your research.
“Brave.” As I was gearing up for Scotland, the people I told about my impending trip kept throwing the word “brave” at me. I still don’t quite see how that trip was brave. Why? Because I was relying on complete strangers who I wouldn’t be able to pick out of a line-up if my life depended on it?
Well, maybe so, but throughout all my communication with these people, they showed me nothing but kindness and respect and I gladly reciprocated. I felt like it was a good situation and I decided to get on a plane with all my faith placed in the strangers across the ocean.
Fortunately, a few Bandits were more than willing to help out the only American in the group find his way. I was welcomed at the airport, put up for a few nights, and even given
a motorcycle to ride for the duration of my trip.
I drafted a will prior to riding the bike, not only because I needed to quickly grow accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road, but I imagined what type of punishment the Bandits would dish out if I crashed one of their prized motorcycles. Thankfully, it turned out that will was unnecessary. They assured my safe travel to and from Northern Ireland to meet the group’s Irish chapter.
Yes, English is the first language in this part of the world, but let me tell you, the Scottish and Irish have dialects that are extremely hard to understand. At times there were language hurdles, but I could hop over most of them. When I could not, I just nodded along while listening for the context clues. However, throughout it all, there was a universal common respect for each other and acceptance of where we were all from.
Clearly, aside from a few conversations over the internet, these people had no obligation to open their homes to a random American on holiday, but they were kind enough, simply human enough, to help me out. When I first arrived, none of my credit or debit cards work due to a lack of security chips in them. I had not thought to bring cash as I was hoping to use my cards or ATMs . I felt helpless and embarrassed beyond belief, lesson learned. Without hesitation, my Scottish brethren saw another person in need and helped in every way they could.
My first host gave up his very own bed so I had a comfortable place to sleep, all while he crashed on the couch until I moved along. My second hosts threw their own daughter out of her bedroom so I had a place to lay my head. Both hosts treated me like I was long lost family as opposed to some 30-something that they just met.
While everyone says I was brave, these kind people were truly the brave ones. Only through a strong, mutual trust, curiosity, and humanity was this possible and both parties came out on the other end with a better understanding and comfortability with somebody from somewhere else.
Everybody involved, including myself, had a unique background. Some of us could have been considered to have harder upbringings and lives than the others. But, most of the people I met were genuine, working-class people who knew what it was like to help others because they themselves knew what it was like to need help at one point or another. Just as these great people blindly accepted me into their homes and lives, it is best to travel with your initial, rush judgments blindfolded.
Don’t embrace stereotypes or your worst instincts. Everywhere and everyone is different. It is refreshing to open your eyes to how others live and respect it for what it is. Instead, embrace the differences while you’re there and never raise your nose to things just because they’re not done that way at home. Remember, those who you meet on your travels are home!
We had a real blast discovering the differences (and many, many similarities) between our daily lives. I ask that you open your heart and your mind to those who are different than you, break out of your comfort zone, and explore the unknown. We are all in this together and it is never more apparent than when you need (and selflessly receive) a little help from strangers.