Stepping Beyond the Familiar in Travel

Text by Noreen Kompanik

An unknown author once wrote “I won’t stop traveling until I’ve seen the sun set from every coast.” This author definitely sounds like a bold adventurer. Our family has always loved to travel. And we’ve been fortunate to do that quite a bit. My spouse is a retired Naval officer and as a result, we moved around–a lot.

But when it came to true family vacations, we had the tendency to frequent the same places, like Disney World, Kiawah Island and the Florida Keys. All amazing destinations for sure, and definitely within our comfort zones. But always gravitating to the comfortable kept us from venturing out to other places.

Our move to Italy changed everything. Not only did we get to 22 countries in the 3 years we were there, but those three years ended up being the grand adventure of a lifetime. All because we abandoned the familiar and embraced the unknown, despite the lack of cell phones, GPS, or ATM machines at the time.

We learned a lot from those adventurous travels and found that stepping out of the familiar brings a myriad of rewards.

Vacations Becomes Adventures

I recall our first visit to Riviera Maya in Mexico’s Yucatan. We rented a car giving us the freedom to visit such sites as the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza. We snorkeled inside caverns formed from freshwater geological sinkholes called “cenotes” and explored a maze of hauntingly beautiful labyrinths in Rio Secreto (Secret River).

We dined in a 10,000-year-old stalagmite and stalactite-filled cave in Playa del Carmen. This was much more than a vacation. It was an adventure and memory-filled holiday.

Expanded Cultural Horizons

Even those who travel within their own country can learn

much from other regions and experience the locale’s specialty cuisines. I live in California so when I travel to other areas of the country like New Orleans, I get to experience fascinating and incredible traditional dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo, Crawfish Étouffée and yes, even alligator.

And of course, there’s nothing like tossing a coin in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, standing in the gladiatorial arena surrounded by the magnificent ruins of the Colosseum, or walking in the footsteps of emperors like Caesar Augustus in the Roman Forum.

More Tolerance and Understanding

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness…”

said Mark Twain. Truer words were never spoken.

I have to admit that one of the things I love most about traveling to places like the Mediterranean, Mexico and the Caribbean is that things move at a much slower pace. At first it can take some getting used to, but then we realize that the “it has to happen now” mentality carries with it the stressors of daily living. It gives us the permission to slow it down and soak in all the amazing cultural experiences of a destination. Truth be told, they’ve got it right.

Our daughter and son-in-law plan at least one trip a year to expose our grandchildren to a new international culture. Their reasoning is that when children are introduced to different cultures and experiences at a young age, they form their own personal impressions and develop a much better understanding of the world outside their own. Their most recent travels have taken them to Columbia, South America, Oaxaca, Mexico and Ireland. Learning about these new cultures, trying new foods and getting to know the local people are some of the best learning experiences in the universe.

Learning More about Yourself

As travelers expand their horizons, they find things about themselves they never knew. A classic example is my new love for history.

Though my spouse is a huge history buff, history wasn’t really my thing. I’m sure it comes from some boring history teachers who focused largely on rote memorization of dates. But as I moved further from my comfort zone in my travels, I discovered much to my surprise that I loved visiting places and learning details of their historical significance.

Just this past year, we explored the archaeological ruins of ancient Hawaiian villages and sacred sites on the Big Island. We learneds so much about the ancient Hawaiian historical traditions like using petroglyphs to record the story of their lives by carving figures into lava rocks in lieu of a written language.

History surrounded us in Venice, once a major maritime power and trading empire during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Our local tour guide, a historian who grew up in Venice regaled us with stories about the city’s fascinating Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, and more. Even a gondola ride through the enchanting web of sleepy canals was a history lesson as these boats are unique to Venice and were constructed centuries ago as a way to navigate the water-filled city.

When all is said and done, stepping into the unfamiliar rewards travelers with an unending bounty of amazing experiences. And with it, memories to last a lifetime.

Noreen Kompanik

Noreen Kompanik is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in San Diego, California and a retired nurse. Traveling with her husband, children and grandchildren is her favorite pastime. Her articles include inspirational writing, sustainable healthy living, family travel, history, wine and food. Her favorite place to be is on a beach somewhere. Noreen is a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer’s Association, International Food and Wine Travel Writers Association, and San Diego Press Club. Her published articles can be found on her website

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