When people go to a new country, whether it be on their own or with people they know, it is very easy to stay with the things you know, like food, drinks and also experiences. I find it best to force yourself out of your comfort zone, you experience so much more and gain some hilarious stories from it as well.
One that comes to mind for me is ‘Wolf Creek’, when me and two ex volunteers decided to walk back from a resort to their hotel, not knowing where exactly we were or were going. Thankfully nothing happened but doing something like that is way out of most peoples comfort zones, hence why it felt a little like Wolf Creek. But silly adventures like that, or perhaps less silly ones will provide you with some hilarious memories.
So how can you step out of your own comfort zone?
Go Out On Your Own
If you always travel with people or in an organised group, then the first thing you should do is go out on your own. It might be scary at first but you very quickly learn to adapt to change and enjoy everything around you. Plus you will end up meeting other people who are travelling alone and you make a connection from that, I love meeting new people and travelling alone forces you to meet new people.
Ask Questions Like A Child
We love to celebrate children and their wonderfully refreshing, honest behavior. When we become adults we no longer act honestly as we have so much other stuff to think about. Travel provides an endless stream of unfamiliar things that strike the chord of curiosity. Unfortunately, we adults are often too inhibited to ask questions for fear of exposing what we don’t know. Nobody wants to look stupid after all; but sometimes asking a question will open up a whole world you weren’t aware of.
Kids don’t care if they look stupid, that’s why they eat mud and bugs and junk. It is also why they are always asking, “Why? What? How?”
So next time you come across something you’d like to know more about, resist the urge to bury it or Google it on your iPhone. Instead, ask someone on the street about it. Sure, it helps if you have some foreign language skills, but you may find that either the person you’re asking speaks some of your language or that they are able to decipher some of your charades regarding whether that pepper at the market will send your mouth to the emergency room or whether it’s mild enough for a newborn.
Despite being able to cope on my own in Thailand with my own language skills I sometimes like to completely forget them and try to communicate only with crazy hand movements and facial expressions; and my face makes some very odd facial expressions!!
Walk. Feel The Country You Are In
Walking always brings you closer to the environment; activities, people and most of all smells will draw you in, or even turn you away in some cases!! When you drive past vendors, shops or groups of people you never notice them. I know from my own experience that I will drive a route that I have done hundreds of times before and not pay attention to my surroundings; but when you take a second to do so, you can find the most beautiful things.
Distances too far to walk? Take local transport. Tuk Tuks, SongTeaws or even moped taxis are a great way to explore as well as provide you the opportunity to talk to locals and discover new neighborhoods. Working out the SongTeaw system, how to buy a tickets and having to squeeze in between people just going around their daily business is something that many travelers find to difficult and often shy away from. I implore you don’t do the same though, embrace the difficult situations, learn from them and then teach others, not only will you gain new experiences but you will help someone else to do the same as well.
Don’t Worry About Getting Lost
Travel is all about exploring a new place right? How can you hope to explore if you never stray from a designated or previously organised path?
When I talk about getting lost, I really don’t mean when you are drunk at 3AM, but rather about exploring side streets and taking a few unexpected or wrong turns. You may find that you never get reach your once desired destination, but maybe you’ll find something even more eye-opening along the way.
Thailand is all about being relaxed and enjoying life, as long as you get to your eventual destination, shouldn’t you have had the most exciting journey to get there?
I have gotten lost so many times in Surin, when me and my friends have just gone wandering around. I even found a street which has about 100 dogs living in it. Another that has the most beautiful gardens and waterfalls and even a hidden lake that I didn’t know was even there.
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Not only is this a lesson in life, but it is also a lesson for expanding your own horizons. There are so many times where I have heard volunteers say how they don’t want to go somewhere as it doesn’t ‘look safe’. I obviously don’t recommend you to explore anywhere that is known to be unsafe but just because somewhere isn’t as clean or as beautiful as another doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own hidden gems. These kinds of neighborhoods always have good food in my experience as well!
Not only will you experience a new environment but you will be able to observe the people that live in it, how they don’t care about not having the latest iPhone or watching the latest movies. They just care about being happy, being full on a night time and loving their family. I think everyone could learn from these people.
Be Courageous In Foreign Language Environments
I must admit that I am guilty for often taking over communication for volunteers. I know that they don’t speak Thai, I can see that they are struggling in a situation where I won’t so I will more often than not, step in and help. What you as a volunteer and traveler should do, is to not let me do this hahaha
It’s easy to allow others who speak the language to do the heavy communication lifting for you. The more you place yourself in the foreign language frying pan, the more surprised you will be by your ability to deal with the heat. After all, how else are you going to learn if you don’t just get stuck in? When you do this, one of two things will happen: either you will improve your language skills or you will force yourself to become damn good at charades 😀
At the very least, you will have a story – and probably a funny one at that.
Restaurants are a great place to try out language skills, yes you might not get exactly what you thought you would but you will have tried and learnt something. Plus you never know, the meal you ended up getting might be nicer than the one you had been thinking about in the first place!!
Obviously if you are allergic, vegetarian or vegan, you do need to make sure you know the Thai or have the Thai written down so that you don’t end up in the hospital!
Visit The Fresh Market
This is nothing to do with food. This is all about going into a situation where you have no control, people are hectic and getting on with their lives. Whilst you wander around, maybe try to buy something from a vendor, but don’t just use your fingers for numbers or let them use a calculator to show you the price, get stuck in and try to talk to them, even try haggling if you haven’t ever done it before!
None of the things I have suggested are things that are particularly crazy or challenging, they are just things that will ease you into exploring and experiencing things that you otherwise wouldn’t do. So go out there, get lost, take hundreds of pictures and experience the real country you are in, no matter how smelly, hot, humid or tiring it might become.
If you haven’t already booked your comfort zone free adventure then go over to the Starfish Website and the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page. There you will find LOTS of projects and adventures that will take you to places that you wouldn’t even know existed or would think you would ever go to.
And as always, please take a second to subscribe to Life On The Back Of An Elephant for more advice, stories and tales of my own life in Thailand, to see more, take a look at my own Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram pages where I regularly update with nonsense 😀
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto