Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Outside the Comfort Zone

10 October 2013

I’ve been asked a number of times why I travel the way I do, and why I make a point of going to so many different places.
Do I have favorite places to go back to? Of course. Hawaii, Ireland, London (and the UK generally), Venice, Istanbul — those are among my favorite places.
In general, though, I’d rather go somewhere new. By new, I mean a country I haven’t been to. I have a list of countries sorted by minimum time it’d take to get there.
Because I discovered that I was sticking to countries that felt too safe, too secure.
At some point, I found out about the Traveler’s Century Club: to join, you have to visit 100, but their list is quite liberal. For the last 10 years, I’ve kept track of my progress, and I discovered that I really needed to get outside of my comfort zone if I wanted to visit 100 countries.
What I’ve discovered is that the world is not as intimidating a place as I’d thought. Somewhere between 50 and 75 countries (I’m now at 88), I lost a lot of fear about travel. I’m no longer quite as uncomfortable walking around in a country where I can’t read the script system and I only know a few phrases in the local language.
Some countries I’ve visited completely cold: I didn’t research El Salvador before visiting, except for the obligatory bits (checking to see what the safe kinds of local foods are and booking a place to stay). Imagine my surprise when I realized that the country’s currency was the US Dollar.
Some I’ve overprepared for: I actually planned a trip to Australia over a period of months. When it fell through, it took me years to actually want to go to Australia again because I felt like I’d already been there.
Every new place brings its challenges, but what I really love are the unexpected moments that challenge your assumptions about the world: making the faux-pas in another English-speaking country because the language usage is different; having a broken conversation because neither of you understand each other very well, leading to some great comedy; seeing some amazing treasures of art and architecture that you can’t see where you’re from; seeing how other people’s cultures differ.
Everyone has their own way of getting outside their comfort zone. Some people like it, some don’t. I think it’s an essential practice. Otherwise, over time, your comfort zone tends to get smaller and smaller.
Outside my comfort zone is dining underwater. I love the ocean, but there’s always a fear because large bodies of water can also be lethal. The photo above was taken at Ithaa restaurant (the world’s first underwater restaurant) in the Maldives.
A few of the things I’ve done in the last two years:

  • Visited Þingvellir and seen the divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates
  • Walked some of the broad promenade in Douglas, Isle of Man
  • Visited the ruins of Nan Madol, one of the more fascinating prehistoric sites
  • Landed on Kwajalein, where tourism is pretty tightly controlled because of the US military
  • Been quizzed by a suspicious Bermudian immigration officer about the purpose of my short trip. He let me in when I showed him my Steve Jobs autographed iPad
  • Suspicious Canadian immigration officer wondered why I was having dinner in Vancouver and not staying longer. I pointed out that I’d had lunch in Indonesia the month before (it’s a ferry ride from Singapore), and showed him my passport entry. He rolled his eyes and let me in
  • Ski Dubai!
  • Trip with friends up the tallest building in the world
  • Weekend trips to four Central American countries, so I’ve now had at least a cursory visit to all seven
  • Spent Christmas Day in the exclusion zone of an active volcano
  • Flew on the last departure ever for Continental Airlines with friends
  • Nearly missed a flight out of Tokyo’s Narita airport
  • Had green tangerines in Kosrae. Apparently, oranges and tangerines never develop their eponymous colors in that part of the world
  • Got the deal of a lifetime on a ticket home from Myanmar (fka Burma). Side effect: took trip to Myanmar.
  • Visited a friend I hadn’t seen in far too long in her home town of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Being delayed getting out of Russia because the bureaucrats wanted more bribes from the cruise line (and they’d already had quite enough…)
  • Saw an octopus while I was snorkeling
  • Fell for Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, South African Airways (and, to a lesser extent, Cape Town), Micronesia, and New Zealand (again)
  • Flew around the world. Twice

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