Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone Through Travel

Growing up, my family didn’t travel much. We didn’t have a lot of money, and adventure wasn’t a part of our DNA.

Sure, we went to some regional soccer tournaments, visited Disney World, and set off on a cruise in the Bahamas—all of which I loved. But, that was about the extent of it.

Still, I was always curious about travel. So, as soon as I was able to start exploring the world, I did. From Europe to Asia, and beyond, finding ways to combine my love of global adventure with building a career became my main priority.

My travels have helped give me skills I might have struggled to learn any other way. Running a disaster relief program in Nepal and a conversation-based tourism destination in Laos taught me how to do a lot with a little, solve problems I’ve never encountered before, and become scrappy. It was really the only way to survive and succeed through those experiences.

When I look back now, I can see that my travels have taught me that leaning into the unknown with empathy and openness often leads to rich experiences and valuable lessons. And that knowledge, as well as my love of foreign places, have now become an integral part of who I am.

My travels have helped give me skills I might have struggled to learn any other way.

Let me explain how I got here.

I grew up in a family of Italian immigrants living in a small, Portuguese-dominated town in Ludlow, Massachusetts. Walking through the streets, I was surrounded by the markings of another world—an almost-always active soccer stadium, the smells of fresh Portuguese bifanas in the air, and fish restaurants everywhere. As a kid, this was all pretty normal. It was only after I left that I began to understand the impact that environment, and my family’s immigrant mentality, had on me. Both tuned me into a way of being in the world that included an inherent openness to possibility, an optimistic outlook, and an eagerness to explore different cultures, communities, and places around the world.

And then there was my Uncle Dave, a business executive who lived all over the world for work, who would regale us with stories from his adventures. One in particular really struck a chord. It took place when Uncle Dave was living in Japan. He had to get on a train and travel for three hours to attend a soccer game. Trouble was, he didn’t really know how to get there and didn’t have a good grasp of the language. So, he asked an elderly man he saw at the station for directions. The man offered to show my uncle the way, which he did by getting on the train to accompany him. But when they arrived, and my uncle got off the train, the man stayed on. “I just wanted to make sure you got here safely,” he told Uncle Dave. “Have a good time!”

So, this man rode a train six hours out of his way, just to make sure a complete stranger didn’t get lost? This level of generosity and kindness made me realize two important things: One, we should approach people around the world with more curiosity than fear. And, two, I would like to have human experiences with more of those people.

Once in college, I headed off to Dublin for a semester. While I loved it, it was a pretty easy way to dip my toes into international waters. And yet, every day I would see things that made me stop and think, “Huh, that’s different from what I know.” I started to appreciate how that exposure became a source of energy, curiosity, and creativity. As soon as I returned Stateside, I knew I had to get back out there. Ireland was just scratching the surface—a stepping stone, not a final destination. I felt a deep desire to do something next that was way out of my comfort zone.

So, I called Uncle Dave, of course. He suggested I head to Thailand, a country he told me he’d found to be among the most culturally rich and authentic he’d ever visited; a place where the people were as friendly and welcoming as any he’d ever met. I didn’t need much more motivation than that.

In Dublin, I’d mostly stuck closely by the friends I already knew. But in Thailand, during my last semester of college, I was on my own and I started to lean into the fear and discomfort of what I didn’t know. I began to hang out with Thai students as well as other foreign students from Cambodia, Japan, and Zambia. To this day, I still periodically talk to my Thai roommate, Patong. I tasted as many unfamiliar foods as I could and I soaked in as much as possible during my home stays, helping to clean local temples, participating in traditional ceremonies, and living as my host families lived. I often slept on the floor.

In Thailand, during my last semester of college, I was on my own and I started to lean into the fear and discomfort of what I didn’t know.

After that, I was hooked on chasing new experiences. Over the years, I’ve lived and worked in Nepal, Korea, Laos, and beyond. Each place has taught me something different, and I’ve developed a set of skills that I rely on every day.Nepal was particularly challenging. When I arrived, I was supposed to run an energy business, but one month in, a massive earthquake hit the country.

Suddenly, I was thrown into disaster relief work, something in which I had no experience. But, I learned quickly that the key to success is showing up, no matter how hard or uncomfortable the situation might be. It's a lesson that has served me well in every aspect of my life.

All of my travels have reinforced the importance of showing up, trying new things, and leading with empathy. Everywhere I go, I'm reminded that most people have good intentions and an interesting story to share. When I engage with them, I discover a powerful opportunity for exchange, learning, and connection.

But here’s the best part of all: You don’t have to travel like me to learn these same lessons. This is my story. All you have to do is go somewhere different and new, because I believe that any exposure to difference is healthy, and usually deeply meaningful too (especially when you have a human experience with someone who shares little of your background, culture or history). Just like the elderly man on the train in Japan whose kindness to my Uncle Dave made any difference of language or custom disappear.

Those types of exchanges make our lives richer, fuller, and more fruitful. You just have to put yourself in unfamiliar situations, lean in, show up, and let empathy be your guide. I am confident anyone who does that will come out just as energized and invigorated by the experience as I have always been.

About the author

Dave discovered a deep level of compassion and curiosity while living in some of the world’s most off-the-beaten-path places. Whether it’s commutes by longboat in Luang Prabang, BBQs with Korean elders in Ulsan, motorcycle rides in Kathmandu, failed attempts at learning the Thai language in Chiang Mai, or homestays with local families in Ha Giang and Rome—he lives for experiences that are immersive, challenging, and unique.

His passions for building meaningful relationships, travel, and making an impact motivate him to drive growth at companies, helping people make the most of their life outside of work.

Dave D’Angelo currently works for Dónde as the Head of Growth.

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