The sea was calm and the sky above blue, the waters inviting. I had been looking forward to my first dive. I had adventure on my mind but no fear because I knew I would love seeing the underwater world – even as a kid I could never concentrate on swimming when my dad took me and my sister to the local pool, but I was always diving, always trying to touch the bottom, always training to hold my breath a little longer. So I knew I would love real diving. I just knew.
But the regulator felt weird in my mouth; the mask leaked, somehow I couldn’t get it to seal right. It took all of my concentration to be able to breathe once we dipped under. The water was maybe up to our waists, perhaps a little higher, but when I couldn’t find the right rhythm, I started to worry.
After the quick initiation to the use of the regulator and diver’s hand signals, we headed for deeper waters. Concerned, trying to put the moment off for a few more seconds, I was the last one of the group to put my head underwater. I can’t remember how long I stayed below the surface. Perhaps it was just a minute, perhaps longer – but when I go back to that moment in my mind, it goes by in a flash. All I remember is the dread that crept up on me. It was the terror of dying; the realisation that if I failed myself, if I failed to breathe, I would sink to the bottom of the ocean and never surface again. There was water in my mask and I couldn’t get it to drain, even when I pressed the mask like the instructor had shown previously. As I was concentrating on getting the water out of my eyes, I started to lose focus on my breathing, and suddenly I realised I didn’t know how to. We were perhaps a metre below the surface, so I quickly guided myself back up. I had fought the feeling of panic for the whole time I was underwater, and now that I could breathe freely again I felt utter and total relief.
Sidling beside my relief, though, was another feeling, a darker one: the sense of shame.
Travel blogs, inspirational quotes and Pinterest boards tell us what travel should be like. At best it can be breaking boundaries, challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone to grow as a person. But what happens when two wires cross? What if your sense of adventure can’t overcome your sense of comfort? Travel is supposed to be all about exploring the world outside your comfort zone but sometimes that proves to be more difficult than expected.
Your comfort zone is there for a reason. For others, there are no boundaries as to where it ends and they are the most comfortable when they’re feeling that rush of adrenaline shoot through their body; for others, that zone is smaller – not necessarily completely restricted, but it might be more well-defined and harder to get out of.There shouldn’t be a feeling of obligation to do everything or to tick off all the same things off your bucket list as everybody else does. If you feel like some activities are way out of your comfort zone, you should be able to pass them without feeling like less of a traveller. After all, travelling the world should be enjoyable for you.
There is not one right way of adventuring or travelling, so it is also impossible to define, what a proper adventure should include. You don’t have to do everything that others are doing – I hope you don’t travel to impress others but to impress and challenge yourself, and only you can say what kind of challenges are hard enough for you. We shouldn’t let the romanticised ideas of adventure travel define our experiences that we make for ourselves. There are no must-do’s in any destination. When we find our absolute limit and find we shouldn’t go any further, we should stop pushing and enjoy the view from as far as we got.
Travelling might be all about conquering your fears and thus becoming a better, stronger person, but you shouldn’t feel compelled to do something just because many others are doing it. Instead you should focus on finding your own style of adventure. I, for one, love heights. I’ve done one bungee jump and as nervous as I am to think of the World’s highest jump in New Zealand, I am pretty sure I would do it if given the opportunity. I would also be scared to skydive, but I know I would love the feeling of flying and falling from the top of the sky. These are the kinds of adventures I am looking forward to. Not the ones that leave me on the verge of a panic attack.
You know when you were fifteen and in sex ed they told you that if you’re more excited than scared to do it, you are probably ready to do it? That principle can be applied to a lot of situations in this life.
I didn’t give up on diving immediately. A few people from my cruise group agreed that our instructor had been rushing us through the orientation and seemed, in general, very short-spanned for mistakes. With this in mind, slightly blaming my failure on the rushed instruction, I gave diving a second chance about a week later. My diving instructor on the day cruise from Cairns was a soft-spoken, amiable man, but the second I tried pushing my face down into the swelling water, I started to panic. I tried it a few times until my body stopped obeying my orders and just stayed frozen on the surface. So I gave away my oxygen tank and exchanged it for a snorkel. My fear of diving came from the fear of losing control in a very uncontrollable environment underwater, so I found a way of exploring the reefs that suited me better.
Will I ever dive again? Never say never, but right now I am happy breathing the surface air. There are many wonders in the world to see – and only a fraction of them lie underwater.
Let me know what you think and if you have ever struggled with getting out of your comfort zone! I reply to every comment and would be interested in hearing your views.