Open TicketDo You Push Your Personal Limits When You Travel?Stephanie Spitler

Last week we talked about how your perception of a place can influence your decision whether to travel there or not. There was some lively discussion in the comments, and it was interesting to read everyone’s thoughts. Like so much else in life, there were widely varying opinions. How you feel in a city (whether it’s safe-enough-to-stroll-down-a-dark-alley-at-midnight or terrified-to-leave-your-hotel-room-at-noon), is totally subjective and will differ greatly from person to person, for lots of reasons. Your personality has a lot to do with it, as well as your prior (travel) experiences.

As a traveler, I try to make myself get out of my comfort zone. In travel, like in life in general, I know that it’s the scary things, the things we think we can’t do, that ultimately lead to growth. But the word to remember is “try.” I don’t always succeed. And the things that scare me would probably seem tame to another traveler. The problem I’ve found I have is striking that balance between embracing adventure and accepting my own limits.

For example, I love hiking. Now, I don’t claim to be an experienced, full-on, hike-for-days-in-the-wilderness-eating-native-plants type of hiker (yet). But I love wandering in the woods and getting my heart rate moving in the open air, all the better if there is beautiful scenery involved. So when I read about a hiking path in the Alps, outside of Mittenwald, Germany, I was 100% gung ho. My first flutter of fear came when I saw the path. It was narrow, with no shoulder on either side, and literally just wide enough for one person at a time to walk single-file. On one side you had a wall of mountain, while on the other there was a sheer drop. But I took a deep breath and kept walking. Maybe it will widen up, I told myself. Kids and elderly people walk this all the time, according to the website, so I have no excuses. But it didn’t widen, and as I climbed higher my stomach started to churn and my hands got shaky. I’m not good with heights anyway, but combine that with my naturally clumsy reflexes (I trip on hardwood floors. Wearing flats.) and you have a recipe for terror.

The final straw was the suspension bridge spanning two peaks. I carefully stepped down the metal stairs that were bolted into one side of one of the mountains, but sat down before I got to the bridge. I couldn’t go on. I was crying and shaking and angry with myself for not being able to make my feet walk across what was, I’m sure, a perfectly safe bridge. And if it had been a matter of life and death, I could have made it to the other side. But it wasn’t; it was a scary bridge on a scary (for me) hike, and I decided to turn back. I felt like I had reached my limit that day. I still think about that hike, that day. I wish I’d gone on and proven to myself that I could do it. But I decided that a day full of anxiety and tears wasn’t worth it. I don’t know if I’d make that same decision now, but I accept that I did then.

So whatever your particular fear; whether it’s the reputation of the place itself, or bungee jumping or traveling alone or trying to figure out a foreign bus system, know that you’re the only one who can decide what is worth a try and, on the other hand, when you’ve reached the point where continuing on would spoil your trip more than expand your horizons.

How do you push your limits when you travel?

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  1. I had an experience very emotionally similar to the bridge-across-the-peaks described above. I was in Paris with a friend, at the end of an Euro – trip gone sour. I realized too late that I had picked someone manipulative and inconsiderate as my travel partner. My friend was bailing on me in Paris, 4 days early. I remember calling my mother from a payphone on the Champs Elysees, crying and asking her what I should do. She was understanding, but encouraged me to stay the 4 days by myself and try and enjoy the rest of my time there. I agonized over the decision all night, but by the morning, I was too haggard and too upset; I changed my flight to come home early. When I finally got home, I was so mad at myself; I felt stupid, shortsighted, and I really regretted not sticking it out in Paris. I felt weak. That was 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve been to a few other European countries, some by myself, plus Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, with a trip to Qatar coming up soon. I’ve walked through refugee camps in south Beirut and ridden a horse through Cairo traffic. And I’ve since been back to Paris and fallen in love with it. I think a lot about my decision to come home early from that first trip, and in hindsight, I think it made me a better traveler. I’ve pushed myself so far since then, precisely because I was able to recognize my limits early on. If I had stayed, I might have had a wonderful, relaxing time. But I might have kept on feeling upset and hurt, but I would have been alone in a strange city. All I know is that trip made me want to get back on the horse, and travel again and again, and do it better every time.

  2. When traveling around the world by myself in 2009, I set a goal for each continent. In Europe, I challenged myself to be more outgoing, walking up to groups of people to meet new people. In Asia the goal was to try scuba diving (something that terrifies me to this day), and while I didn’t like it, I can say I tried. In Australia, it was all about taking advantage of the beautiful scenery, skydiving and learning to surf. All-in-all, each experience pushed me mentally to go outside my comfort box, something which has served me well since returning to Canada and starting my career.