I have been in Italy for over a week.
I’m sitting in an airport hotel next to Malpensa airport just outside of Milan.
About 15 minutes ago, we dropped off the rental car after a day of driving from the countryside in the Piedmonte region of northern Italy (where we spent the week) to Milan for a day of sightseeing. And then we navigated our way from the center of Milan to the airport (about an hour away).
I’m traveling with a friend, and we’ve had an amazing trip. The scenery, the cuisine, the people, the lifestyle — everything was simply magical. Italy is one of my favorite destinations in the world. You can read more about my last trip and the region here.
But even the best travel isn’t without some amount of stress and discomfort, especially in a foreign country. We didn’t speak the language. We couldn’t read the road signs or the menus. That landmarks and sites were different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S. So many things were new and unfamiliar that our brains were on overdrive as we processed everything we were experiencing.
However, these challenges — even the most frustrating like getting lost several times or finding a parking ticket on our car because we didn’t know the parking rules — did something unexpected for us. They boosted our self-confidence and stretched us to adapt, to learn new ways, and to step out of the comfort zone of doing things the way we are accustomed to doing them.
If we wanted to really experience and savor Italy, we had to be bold. We had to muster the self-confidence to get behind the wheel of a car in a foreign country and drive on highways and back roads when we didn’t have any idea where we were. We had to embrace that getting lost was part of the adventure.
We had to have the confidence to pull to the side of the road, walk into a gas station store, and ask for directions in English when we knew the likelihood of clear communication was minimal. We had to have the confidence to walk up to a stranger in the street and ask them to point out the way to closest bathroom or bank. In restaurants, we needed help in knowing what to order, how to pay, and how much to tip.
Traveling forces you to be a beginner again. No matter how educated, competent, or confident you might be at home, traveling reduces you to someone who is dependent on his or her wits and the kindness of strangers. And the more you step out of your comfort zone, the more you accept the challenge of adventure and embrace the unfamiliar, the more your confidence will grow — not just in your ability to navigate a new place, but also in yourself and your capacity to grow as a person.
Even when you travel within your own country but outside of your city or home town, you are faced with similar self-confidence challenges. You will encounter different environments, food, people, and ways of doing things. If you want to explore and fully enjoy your travels, you can’t sit in your hotel room, go to the same old restaurants, or avoid interacting with people. Travel is a perfect laboratory for building self-confidence by challenging yourself to try new things, to take out-of-the-way detours, and to intentionally engage with the locals.
If you are shy or not naturally confident, travel can be a great opportunity to stretch yourself and your abilities. If you say something embarrassing, take the wrong turn, or look foolish in some way, the odds are good you won’t encounter the same people ever again. And a smile and easy manner goes a long way in counteracting any unintentional mistakes or offenses.
As you plan your next trip, think of ways you can work on your self-confidence by accepting the challenges of the adventure. Don’t shy away from situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Look for opportunities to meet and speak with new people. Ask questions and take the scenic route. With every trip, you will feel more and more confident about who you are and how much you enjoy the wonder of travel.
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