They’re funny old things.
Usually when travellers write about breaking out of a comfort zone, we’re talking about leaving behind the 9-5. Throwing our old life in the trash and hitting the world, armed with only a backpack and some hope.
Suddenly everything is new. Strange. Difficult.
Finding somewhere to stay. Asking directions. Living with your life on your back.
Cultures wildly different from your own. Physical hardship. Loneliness.
Hell, in some places even crossing the street can be a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
Like anything, though, when you do it for long enough it starts getting easier. Practice makes perfect, and all of a sudden you’re sleepwalking your way to yet another hostel, eating fried cockroaches for breakfast and vaguely trying to remember the last time that you had a shower.
It takes a lot to phase me when it comes to travel these days. I’ve been lost, sick, bored, broke, hungry, confused and lonely on the road, and dealt with it all, one way or another. The stuff that freaks most people out doesn’t really bother me at all any more.
You could say that this life has become my comfort zone.
Of course, the reverse is also true. The stuff that everybody else seems to take in their stride completely freaks the shit out of me.
This was bought home to me a couple of days ago like a smack between the eyeballs when I had to do something that scared me senseless.
I took my nephew to a five year old’s birthday party. At a bowling arcade.
The questions started in my head before I even left the house. Do I need to take any food? How about a drink? What clothes should he wear?
It didn’t get any better once we walked inside.
The other kids were bringing in presents for the birthday girl. I hadn’t been given one. Why not? Shouldn’t I have one? Are the rest of the parents judging me?
Crap, I’d screwed this up before I even started.
I bumbled my way through a round of bowling, making sure my nephew mostly sent the ball towards the pins and not flying into the nearby crowd. We seemed to get through that ok, high-fiving when he knocked all the pins down and neither of us laughing (much) when one of the other kids nearly dropped a bowling ball on his foot.
Then it was time for lunch.
While the kids quietly ate, I made small talk with the rest of the people more than 4 feet tall. They talked about their jobs, their houses, their kids. Mostly the kids. I started to talk about my last six months in Thailand and plans for the rest of the year, but the conversation didn’t usually last long.
They were lovely people – they genuinely were – but we just didn’t really have much in common. I went back to hanging out with the five year olds. We seemed to have a bit more to talk about.
I did enjoy myself in the end, spending a few hours with both my nephew and a whole bunch of new people. They were all friendly and welcoming to the awkward uncle trying to work out what the hell was going on in an environment that he just didn’t understand. But wow, did I struggle.
On the way home, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. I’ve travelled overland through Africa. I’ve backpacked for months around South East Asia. I’ve sailed in the Med, road-tripped around the USA and scuba-dived in three countries. I’ve slept in hostels barely fit for human habitation, bumped my way through dozens of overnight bus journeys and failed to communicate in more languages than I can possibly remember.
I’ll do those any day of the week.
Take a kid to a birthday party again, however?
You’ve got to be joking.