I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel to many different places around the globe. From the mountains of Austria for a wrestling tournament, to the fjords of Norway to coach a team of female athletes or the beaches of the Philippines just to get away. Besides the breathtaking scenery, tropical climate and ancient architecture, travel can have a profound and lasting impact on a person. The biggest is the effect culture shock has on a traveller, and the growth and adaptation one can experience from being uncomfortable in a new place.
Now I’m not talking about the travellers perched at an all-inclusive in Cancun. I’m referring to the trips where you are the only English speaking athlete in a small town in France, trying to find the tournament venue. Or the trips where you are on such a tight budget, you have to weigh the options of hitch-hiking back to Auckland and purchasing a bus ticket so you don’t miss your flight home. One particular trip that I struggled with the most was travelling from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Philippines. An excerpt from my journal was:
“Holy uncomfortable batman! Last night we took a 6-hour van ride to El Nido without knowing if we had any accommodations when we arrived. The whole town was booked up, our cell phones didn’t work and the topsy turvy highway left us a little too queezy to think straight. The only place we could find in the dark, had one room left, just for us. This room was something special. There were no windows. When the air conditioning was on, it was so cold that our paper-thin blanket could not stop us from shivering. When the air conditioning was off, the room produced a smell so unique and offensive that it kept us awake. As I lay there, unable to sleep for a single second, I plotted. I plotted ways to get back to Canada by first light. I plotted all of the money we should have wasted on an ultra-luxury hotel room. I plotted. My sleep is sacred to me and the lack of it made me so incredible uncomfortable.”
The next day we packed up our stuff and took a long walk along the beach to try and figure out a solution. After going door-to-door along the beach front hotels, we happened upon a room that had become available moments before we had showed up. We were 10-meters from the water and had quickly forgotten our sleepless night. We had arrived in paradise. We had used our feelings of discomfort to fuel our problem solving, and were rewarded for our efforts.
I believe that there is power from embracing discomfort. Not relishing in it. But acknowledging it, and using it to adapt or better our situation. Getting comfortable with discomfort also puts a few things into perspective; 1. It helps decipher the scale of the problem that is making us uncomfortable. Having one sleepless night is nothing compared to a major injury, or never having sufficient shelter like so many homeless people experience. 2. Working through these states of discomfort, teaches us that we can survive quite a bit. Once we’ve ‘survived’ something once, the subsequent times are easier and easier.
Next time you go to book a trip to a place where you do not speak the language, you do not have easy access to Google, or you are travelling solo, look for those moments that you can work through an uncomfortable situation. Celebrate staying fairly calm and trouble-shooting your way to a solution. Recognize the knowledge that has been gained. Culture shock can be fun guys (well maybe not fun, but definitely exciting).