I stand in the freezing cold of a snowy Bulgaria morning in a grey, concrete bus station. A stray dog noses around the tumbledown mansion behind the rows of bus parking spaces. And I stand frozen: not just from the below-freezing temps, but from total bewilderment and a familiar knot of fear in the pit of my stomach.
I can’t read any of the signs around me. The Cyrillic alphabet is so different from ours that I’m all at sea. And there are about 12 different offices that… might be selling tickets? I haven’t the faintest idea, and my innate shyness kicks into overdrive.
Traveling is uncomfortable
Travel is so many wonderful things: eye-opening, awe-inspiring, and of course it makes your social media followers wildly jealous.
But a lot of the time? It’s super uncomfortable.
You’re in a different bed every three nights, in a different language every month, and in the same three pairs of pants all the time. You’re a solo female traveler standing out in a country where women don’t go to coffee shops alone, under intense scrutiny as a result. You’re crammed on a full Ryanair flight, or on a tiny Bulgarian van, or in someone’s armpit in rush hour on the Paris metro.
I’ve always been a creature of comfort and routine. My morning workout routine, my lunch stop at the bakery where they know my name, my bedtime skincare regime with 10 steps. And just sleeping in the same bed with my enormous cat curled up next to me, after our super fun bedtime routine of me chasing him frantically around the living room to wrangle his 16 pound body into my room so he doesn’t spend all night scratching the door.
All that is a distant memory at this point. The only routine I am used to is washing my laundry in some kind of sink, and packing my little backpack, and my morning meditation time.
Leaving comfort behind
It’s so easy to slip into total comfort for life: the same routine, the same people, the same habits. But what a lot of life you can miss that way. It’s like living life with your eyes permanently fixed on the ground in front of you: safe, stable, and totally missing the point.
The memorable, transformative experiences of life don’t happen in your normal, safe daily routine. Think of how many times you have arrived at home from work, with hardly a memory of how you even made the journey.
This is the really challenging part of long-term travel. But it’s also the rewarding part. I remember every bus ride I’ve taken so far, each lovely meal I’ve eaten alone, each walk through a new park, each supermarket visit as I grab a package I can only hope is butter (it was! it’s like I have butter radar).
I tend to be shy, especially when I am faced with the unfamiliar. Some days, I am tempted to just retreat into my AirBnB/hotel/hostel and avoid the stimulation, the stress, the fear.
But traveling for this long has made me determined to get really comfortable being outside of my comfort zone. It’s a skill you can practice like skiing, except without the risk of breaking legs when you fail.
I just have to gather the courage to pipe up to a series of frowning Bulgarian bus ladies in a voice I hope is confident but probably sounds a little shaky.
And as I always have, I found the office, I bought the ticket, I got on the right bus (in the wrong seat as usual), and nestled in as we drove through the snowy ranges of the stunning Bulgaria countryside.
Every day is an effort, sometimes a small one, and sometimes a little bigger.
But so is everything worth doing in life.