Not everyone travels to get outside their comfort zone. Not everyone wants to challenge themselves by doing something new and intimidating every time they go on holidays, to travel to strange places and to do strange things. Some people just want to relax. And that's fine.
For the rest of us, however, travel is the never-ending pursuit of people and places and customs and activities that make us feel uncomfortable; it's education through experience; it's thrills from the unknown. It almost feels like a wasted opportunity if you don't do something a little daring when you're on the road, something a little strange, something you've never done before.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, then you've come to the right place. The following countries are custom-built to take you out of the cushie, easy life you know, and into something far more exciting. If you're constantly chasing the adrenalin buzz that comes from not really knowing where you are and what you're doing and how you're going to get yourself out of it, then these countries are for you.
View over the Death Road in the Yungas of Bolivia. Photo: Adobe Stock
Just landing at El Alto International Airport in La Paz will take you out of your comfort zone: the runway is perched on the lip of the altiplano, a 4000-metre-high plain that drops away steeply into the Andean valley that holds this amazing city. And then you're in Bolivia, where witch doctors buy dried llama fetuses at the local markets, where the Amazon jungle meets the Andes, where you can camp out in the middle of the world's largest salt lake, where indigenous culture thrives, and where nothing is the way you've ever seen it before.
Mount Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock
You don't have to step out of your comfort zone in New Zealand. You can spend your holiday soaking in hot springs or hanging out in luxury lodges and you'll be the most comfortable you've ever felt. However, if you do want to push things, this is the place to do it. Go mountain-biking on hardcore terrain; jump out of a plane; climb a mountain; hike on a glacier; go skiing or snowboarding or quad-biking or kayaking or whitewater-rafting or jet-boating or zorbing or… anything, really.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Australia's closest neighbour is a place of serious adventure, whether it's physical or cultural. Nothing is recognisable from back home in this amazing country, where you can stay in a village on a remote island in East New Britain, or tour a town destroyed by a nearby volcano, or scuba-dive in absolute paradise, or go to a festival in the highlands, or simple exist in Port Moresby. None of this is comfortable or easy – but it is rewarding.
Rush hour traffic in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock
Given the number of Western tourists who visit Vietnam, you might not think of it as being particularly challenging. But it can be. All you need to do is hire a scooter or a motorbike, and trust me, you'll be out of your comfort zone. All you have to do is point that two-wheeler away from the tourist trail, away from the coastal route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and you'll find a whole new, more adventurous Vietnam. No one speaks English. Nothing is recognisable. It's great.
See also: Twenty reasons to visit Ho Chi Minh City
Rajasthani folk dancers perform in Pushkar, India. Photo: Shutterstock
You can't visit India and stay within your comfort zone. If you do, you're lying and you never even went there. Just the smallest, most menial task in India can be a challenge, can be a risk. Catching a rickshaw or riding the train. Eating dinner or wandering the streets. India is an all-out assault, sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating, and always different to anything you've experienced before.
Elephant walks in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock
There are loads of African countries that offer the safari experience; however, few offer an experience as wild as Botswana, where you can stay in campsites within national parks such as Moremi, Chobe and Nxai Pan completely unfenced and unsupervised. Nothing takes you outside your comfort zone quite like sitting around a campfire and shining a torch into the darkness and see dozens of pairs of eyes reflected back at you from the gloom. What's out there?
Oulanka National Park in winter, Ruka, Finland. Photo: Shutterstock
You probably won't feel culturally uncomfortable in Finland, unless you have a real problem with nudity and are hoping to take a sauna. The discomfort will come from other areas: for example, the experience of leaving that warm sauna and diving into an icy lake. Or heading out into the true wilds to experience winter at its harshest, to hang out with reindeer herders or go snow-mobiling or drop a fishing line into an ice-covered lake. Those aren't things Australians are comfortable with.
The Great Wall of China. Photo: Shutterstock
It doesn't take much effort to get off the beaten track in China, to get to a place where no one speaks your language or makes any attempt to conform to your culture. China is different – proudly, unapologetically different – and travel through this huge country will always put you into situations and positions you're not entirely happy with. The good news is that it's also a safe country, which means your discomfort comes with the knowledge that things will probably end up OK.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Photo: Shutterstock
If trekking through dense jungle with gun-toting guides in the hunt for wild silverback gorillas doesn't make you feel comfortable, then you're a braver traveller than I. And Uganda has more to offer thrill seekers than gorilla treks in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest: there's also white-water rafting on grade-five rapids on the Nile, trekking through Rwenzori Mountains, plus the simple experience of existing in cities like Kampala.
The Wulanbutong grassland in summer. Photo: Shutterstock
Mongolia is an amazing and beautiful country that has a culture like no other, and it's a culture that you as a visitor can very easily access. From staying in a traditional ger, or yurt, to eating traditional food – mutton dumplings, fermented horse milk – to cheering at Nadaam, the annual festival of archery, wrestling and horse-riding (the "three manly skills"), to attending the Golden Eagle Festival to: this is a country in which nothing is recognisable.
Canoeing on Emerald Lake, Canada. Photo: Shutterstock
Canada, for the most part, is comfortable. About the most frightening thing you'll do in your day-to-day in this fine country is drink the coffee from Tim Horton's. However, it is also possible to challenge yourself, to do something you've never done before. Whether that's ice-climbing on frozen waterfalls, piloting a dog sled, fly-fishing in remote wilderness, camping out in an area known for bears, or just going to an ice hockey match – there's always something to do.
Which countries have taken you outside your comfort zone? Did you enjoy the experience?
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