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Tips for Traveling Outside Your Comfort Zone

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/11/2015 Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist
HAMMAM © Getty Images/Flickr RF HAMMAM

Vacations are wonderful opportunities to stretch out of your comfort zone with new experiences.

Family vacations allow us to:

  • throw caution to the wind;
  • become a temporary local;
  • make the most of opportunities;
  • bond with family over shared experiences.

Sure, you can, but should you?

The scientists in all the Jurassic Park movies learned a valuable lesson when they brought to life extinct dinosaurs, put them in a theme park -- only to have them escape and eat people. Lesson learned? Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.

Tips for traveling outside your comfort zone:

Everyone has their own need for adrenaline and tolerance for panic. Some people happily jump out of perfectly functional airplanes on purpose while others, like me, can barely manage the little kids' version of a roller coaster at the local carnival.

Safety first!

Use the same rules for safety that you would at home. Injuries can happen anywhere -- in your own backyard and on a fun vacation.

  • Zip-line with all the safety gear? You bet!
  • Hire an ATV without a roll bar or helmets? NO way!
  • Ride a camel in Morocco? YES!
  • Rent a scooter or motorcycle to tour the city -- though you have no experience, training, or safety gear? OMG, NO!
  • Snorkel with guides and safety equipment? YES!
  • Renting bicycles or Segways with helmets? YES
  • Hiking? YES

Don't fib or stretch the truth in order to participate. If a kiddo isn't quite old enough or tall enough, the answer should be no. Safety guidelines and rules are made for a reason.

Case in point: I once had a very, very long ride on a parasail that was pulled behind a boat while vacationing as a teenager. (In those days safety wasn't really king, perhaps just a duke or earl) It wasn't until I was on the ground that I learned from my panicky parents that they were having trouble getting me back down because I wasn't quite heavy enough for the ride. Yikes!

Stop and think:

Can you and those in your party really handle this experience? Could you get hurt? Do the potential benefits outweigh the potential problems?

For example, and if you are under 30 this might not apply to you, but those of us who only pretend to be 29, but haven't seen 29 in 20 years, need to consider getting hurt. I'm not talking about major hurt like broken bones or stuff, but even "minor" hurts can ruin or put a serious damper on a vacation.

Take bungee jumping: The numbers indicate that this is a safe sport -- which means very few people die from bungee jumping. But think for a minute about what happens when the rope becomes taut after you jump -- I think you end up taller after everything is stretched out so quickly! I'm pretty sure I would hurt for a month of Sundays after that, so even if I was brave enough to jump off a bridge (or crazy enough) it is not a good idea for me!

Know your family and travel companions:

Just like you would choose one sight or country over another based on the interests of your party, you should also choose experiences the same way. If you have an adrenaline junkie in the party -- cliff diving or scuba diving in a shark cave might be great choices! If you have relaxed foodies in your group, a wine and cheese tasting river cruise would be enjoyed.

In the lovely area of Cappadocia, early morning balloon rides area are a "must do" in all the travel guides. On a recent trip we decided against this experience. We are all of the right age to go, so why did we say no? We have a wiggly 9-year-old boy who fears little, including running up to the edge of anything tall and peering over.

He is not afraid, but we are! Without straps of any kind in the balloons we decided against it -- for this trip, at this time. Our worry about him getting too close to the edge would have ruined the experience for us and if you are only going to worry, why bother? Cappadocia will always have lovely balloon rides and this give us a reason to go back. Though if you have visited you will know there are LOTS of reasons to go back because it is an amazing place!

What about "touristy" stuff?

I don't know why the word "touristy" currently has a bad rap. According to the dictionary, tourist means "a person traveling, especially for pleasure." So, if you are visiting another country with the sole purpose of looking around for fun then you are technically a tourist. Touristy stuff is there just for you as a way to experience a safe (though usually watered down) version of a local custom. It is true that the experience isn't 100 percent the authentic real deal, but that can be OK.

In Turkey we visited a hammam. Visiting the bathhouse is a centuries-old tradition. In early times before social media and indoor plumbing it was an important part of life - a place for people to visit with friends, relax, and get clean. At one point in history the law actually required a husband to pay for his wife to visit the hammam at several times a week or she could divorce him!

Now an authentic 100 percent real deal Turkish hammam visit includes what the locals call a "bone crushing" massage. We asked a local guide if they basically "beat on you" and he shrugged and said, "Yes, of course." Now I don't know about you, but a bone crushing beating isn't on my bucket list -- even as a part of a fantastic Turkish adventure. So, in this case my daughter and I were very happy with what the hammam staff called a soft massage, which was clearly a tourist version of the real deal.

How was it? In a word, AWESOME! In spite of experiencing "only" the tourist version of the massage we:

  • visited a 300-year-old hammam
  • had a facial with the same local clay used for those 300 years
  • experienced a bubble massage (just watching them quickly create a mountain of bubbles was worth the visit alone!)
  • bonded over a really interesting, fun, and clean experience (not unlike our own mani/pedi bonding times) like generations of Turkish moms and daughters before us

When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do!

BUT if that is painful, scary, or uncomfortable then embrace the tourist experience for a taste of the local culture. It's all good!

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