How to smash your comfort zone (by the Flashpackers who know best)

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Top tips on stretching your limits, from the travellers who’ve done exactly that

An average Flash Pack trip might find you doing anything from hiking the Himalayas to waterfall-jumping in Oman or burrowing deep within the jungle caves of Borneo. You could say we’re masters in the art of busting comfort.

However, the greatest challenge of all for people who haven’t travelled with us before is not the activities themselves but the idea of travelling with strangers.

It’s ironic really, because this is exactly the ingredient that will help you push yourself and discover unknown skills. Minus the comfort blanket of people you know, you are far more likely to test yourself and take positive risks.

“Travelling with strangers helps you  push yourself to do things you normally wouldn’t do,” explains Radha Vyas, co-founder and CEO of Flash Pack. “When I abseiled down Table Mountain in South Africa a few years ago, I was scared to death. I’m sure if I’d been with my mates, I would have chickened out. But because I was with a group of people I didn’t really know, I didn’t want to be seen as a wuss. I did it, and it was the most amazing experience.”

Want to join the fun? Below, seasoned Flashpackers share tried-and-tested formulas for leaving their comfort zone far behind – for the ultimate adventure experience:

Go with the flow

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Most of us have a vice-like grip on control – even if we’re not aware of it – but your comfort zone will taper off at the point where you’re willing to loosen this hold.  When you’re travelling with a group of people you don’t know, try to back off your need for certainty and instead simply trust that all will come good.

“It is true to say that it’s daunting to travel with strangers at first,” says James Cunningham, a Manchester-based forensic accountant who joined Flash Pack in the towering peaks of Norway. “But you soon realise everyone is there to enjoy themselves and meet new people. By signing up to the same trip, naturally you will have something in common with everyone in the group.”

The sooner you are able to enter into the natural flow of things, the faster you’ll find yourself pushing that comfort zone and trying things that you’d normally veer away from.

Soon into the trip, we all got into our birthday suits to get scrubbed down at the Hammam spa,” explains Alex Yee, a San Francisco-based UX designer who came on-board for our Morocco adventure. “It’s not something I’d ever do with my friends but maybe because everyone I met was still a stranger, I mustered enough courage to do it.

This process is often helped by an unfamiliar setting and the curveball activities that Flash Pack likes to throw into the mix fairly soon into a trip.

“One of my highlights of the adventure  was white water rafting and cliff-jumping,” says Simon Thompson, a Birmingham-based architect and traveller on our Chile escape. “The Petrohue River sits at the bottom of a volcano and the views are pretty spectacular; that is, when you get the chance to look up from the boat or clear water out of your eyes! It was a great ice-breaker for the group.”

Keep an open mind

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The next step to flexing your boundaries comes from losing any prior expectations you may have. If you’re open to trying new things and meeting new people – and willing to throw yourself right into the heart of that experience – you’ll get a lot more out of it as a result.

“Get to know your group and push yourself to try new things,” advises Sam Mader, a Washington DC-based consultant who joined our Norway escape last year. “The people on this trip will make the trip extra special as long as you are open to it. 

“The biggest push outside of my comfort zone was meeting total strangers and being with them for four days,” she adds. “I am a social person but this was a step further than I’ve taken before […] I loved the idea of joining like-minded adventurous individuals and it really worked out  – it felt great to push myself.”

Bella Stevenson, a London-based bid manager who’s travelled with us in Sri Lanka and India, agrees that this attitude reaps big rewards. 

“One of my favourite parts of the India trip was the early morning cycle ride around Jaipur,” she says. “As someone who had never taken their bike anywhere other than on quiet countryside paths, it offered up an interesting challenge and very much pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

“It turned out to be an exhilarating experience, as we stopped along the way to feed cows, visited the Krishna Temple and participated in a hilarious but life-affirming ‘laughing yoga’ session in the local park,” she recalls.

Be more 'you' than you'd normally be

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Bella makes another important point, which is that – even as you stretch yourself – you can still stay true to who you are. The vibe on Flash Pack trips is easygoing enough that you won’t feel the need to fake confidence, or put on a front.

“You can just be yourself at whatever confidence level you find yourself on at the time of travel,” Bella explains. “All of us Flashpackers had different personalities, expectations and life experiences, but we all bought our own individuality to the tour and, in turn, created a group memory.”

That said, travelling with strangers offers a unique chance to challenge deep-rooted beliefs about yourself (e.g. “I’m not brave” or “I don’t do hiking”). You can explore new facets of your personality, unhampered by those who already know you.

“Being with a new group of people gives the opportunity to practise new ways of being,” says London-based psychotherapist Karin Peeters, founder of Vitalis Coaching and Inner Pilgrim. “Behave as if the opposite of your belief is true. Test new behaviours. Be how you would be if you’d be confident and carefree.

“I don’t mean being fake,” she adds. “I mean being more yourself than you’d ever dare being with those who know you, and have already formed their opinion of you. Feel the new-ness of the situation, and the fresh energy it brings.”

Embrace your community

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Once you’re open and flexible enough to be receptive to your group, you can lean on them as a source of moral support. Having a ready-made group of cheerleaders in place is exactly the thing you need as you tackle the great unknown.

“I’m really afraid of heights and we had to cross a rope bridge to get to the glacier in Norway,” says Erin Jeglinski, a New York City-based executive assistant who joined Flash Pack on our Norway and winter Finland adventures

“It was an unexpected challenge but I didn’t want to let my fear get in the way of climbing the glacier. With a few tears, and words of encouragement from my travel mates (and some hugs at the end) I literally crossed that bridge.

“It was really scary in the moment, but I’m so glad I powered through,” she adds. “Climbing that glacier was totally worth it!” 

Tony Stevens is a New Zealand-based photographer and writer who travelled with Flash Pack in the Himalayas. As he explains, the collective willingness of people in your group to push those limits is precisely what ties you together. You’ll form a natural support network, since you are all in the same boat – facing fears together.

“The kind of people who are brave enough to travel solo and join a group of strangers for an out-of-your-comfort-zone experience are bound to have a lot in common,” Tony says.

“You’re all travellers, you all have that thirst for discovery, you all share that pathological drive to see every square inch of this magical planet. You’ll be able to chat for hours about all the countries people have visited and the adventures that have yet to be planned. It’s invigorating!”

Remember how it makes you feel

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The final piece of the puzzle in learning how to blitz that comfort zone is in recognising how good it makes you feel.

“I felt like a completely different person when travelling than when I was home, in my one-bedroom apartment,” says Teha Kennard, a Washington DC-based  consultant who quit her job to join Flash Pack on over 14 global trips.

“Why was that? When I was travelling, I was living my life outwardly, surrounded by new friends and new experiences and was fully engaged in every moment. I bounced out of bed every morning, excited for whatever the day might bring and looking outwardly for those things.”

Jill Van Sickle, an artist from Minneapolis, felt similarly euphoric on the back of her adventure to Jordan with us. 

“I pushed my comfort zone in so many different ways,” she says. “First of all, I would never think, ‘Oh, a five-hour hike?  That sounds fun!’ when we trekked through desertland and Bedouin villages in the Dana Nature Reserve. But after it was over, I was quite proud of us for making it.” 

Whether it’s pride, excitement or a fresh wave of energy and purpose, bottle up the effect that pushing your comfort zone has on you.

Doing so means you’ll be more likely and eager to rise to the challenge the next time the occasion arises. Before you know it, you’ll be fully habituated into the art of comfort-busting; and your life will open up as a result.

“At first, I was so scared to go on this trip solo, but I am so glad I took the chance,” says Alex. “There is something special about immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture and land. I find I grow the most when I push out of my comfort zone.”

Photos: Flash Pack, James Hall, Tony Stevens, Erin Jeglinski

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