Life Lessons from the Youngest Person to Travel to Every Country | Lexie Alford | TEDxKlagenfurt

Translator: Vân Thùy
Reviewer: Yu Xie We are having the wrong conversation
about our comfort zone. The phrase “getting out
of your comfort zone” is thrown around so much today
online and in motivational quotes that it’s begun to lose its meaning. And this is because
we don’t clearly understand what our comfort zone is, and it seems counterintuitive to leave it because it’s where we feel the most safe. It also sounds like
we’re sugar-coating something that we don’t want to talk about, which is fear. Let me tell you a bit more about my story
and how fear has played a role in it. I come from a family of travelers. My mom started a travel agency
when she was younger than I am now, and growing up they never left me behind
when they went on their adventures. I graduated early and got a degree
from community college by the time I turned 18. And at that time I had traveled
to around 70 countries. This was the point in my life where people began to ask me the most intimidating question
that you can ask a young person: “What are you going to do next?” And in attempt to answer that question, I began by asking myself
what I was most passionate about, which has always been travelling, and how to make the most
out of the cards that I was dealt, which was how much
travel experience I’ve had at my age. That’s when it dawned on me. I had over six years
to break the world record for the youngest person
to travel to every country. And this was the perfect opportunity
that I was looking for to get out of the books
and into the real world. In retrospect, I had no idea
what I was getting myself into. Flash-forward two and a half years later,
and I spent countless hours crammed on planes, trains,
chicken buses, tuk-tuks and junk boats travelling with nothing but a backpack. I have encountered health issues,
spanning from malaria in West Africa to hospital-worthy
food poisoning in Pakistan. I learned how to cope with
public anxiety attacks by myself in foreign countries, and I endured the brain-sizzling
frustration of dealing with bureaucrats from every country that requires a visa. Believe it or not, these have been
some of my most treasured memories because they were the most
defining moments of my life, spent far, far away from my comfort zone. Proving to Guiness World Records
that I have traveled to every country was a completely different story. According to a very strict
pack of guidelines, I’m required to submit
everything from plane tickets to accommodation and taxi receipts, to multiple witness statements
from each country. I struggled to find
two people in each country that spoke, read and wrote in English that would be willing
to help me with my witness statements. I had to plead with immigration
officers at every border to please stamp my passport
with enough ink, to be able to read the name and the date
on the passport stamp. I am now in the process of submitting
nearly 10,000 pieces of evidence in chronological order, documenting how I entered
and exited each country, along with a detailed itinerary
of what I did in each place. Beyond this very overwhelming
amount of paperwork, somewhere along this journey, I discovered that there was
more than one element of my comfort zone that I was going to have to get out of
to get to where I wanted to go. I now believe that there is a correlation
between our comfort zone and our mind, body and soul. If you know that
you have fears in general, knowing exactly where
those fears are stemming from is the first step towards overcoming them. I personally have a few
very distinct fears. I am afraid of heights, which stems
from my physical comfort zone. I have – I had a fear of being alone, which was completely
controlled by my mind. And I also am terrified of regret,
which comes straight from my soul. The reason why so many people are unsuccessful at getting
out of their comfort zone is because our comfort zone
is not just one thing. It’s three. The first is obvious,
our physical comfort zone. Naturally, what we fear most is death. We’re evolutionarily wired to avoid
situations where we could get hurt. And that’s why every cell
in my body was screaming when I was standing on the edge
of a 750-foot drop in Switzerland. The opportunity came up to bungee jump off of the third highest
platform in the world, and being someone that was
always too afraid to jump off of rocks into the water at the river, this was by far my greatest fear, and the idea of facing it head-on excited me just as much
as it terrified me. When they strapped in my ankles
and perched me on the edge, I was shaking. Three … Two … One … I plunged into seven and a half seconds of the most intense sensory overload
I had ever experienced. Complete terror turned into utter euphoria and resulted in one of the most
significant moments of my life. In that moment, I realized that I was
capable of pushing my body’s limits and that it’s something
that’s actually worth doing. I realized what was possible and became instantly hooked
on the rush of having new experiences. Little did I know at the time
that facing my biggest fear was what would ultimately lead me to
travelling to every country in the world, and out of 196 countries, I have only found myself
in real, physical danger one time. I traveled to Yemen as a photographer
for a Norwegian author who was writing a book about
the least visited countries in the world. On our last night in the country, I woke up to the sound of gunshots
outside of my hotel. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see that there were 50 or so men
congregated in the parking lot, yelling and pushing each other around, with six cars with flashing headlights blocking the only exit. With no security in sight, I grabbed my phone
to call my contact in the country, who didn’t answer because this was happening
around 2:00 in the morning. I could hear voices
outside of my hotel room even though I knew that we were
the only people staying in the hotel. That was the first time I had ever heard
a fully automatic weapon discharged. I literally ducked
and looked around the room realistically looking
for the best place to hide. In that moment,
there was nothing I could do but sit with my fear
of potentially being kidnapped, until eventually, all the men disappeared, and I could cry myself to sleep
after the adrenaline wore off. The next morning, I called –
I talked to my contact in the country and asked him what had happened
the night before. He responded with, “Oh, that? That was just a wedding party.” (Laughter) Since Yemen is an Islamic country, they do not drink alcohol, and one of the ways
that they celebrate is by shooting guns. Basically, what this means is the this scariest thing that
has ever happened to me while travelling was only scary because
I didn’t fully understand the culture. The fun didn’t stop there. Getting out of the comfort zone
that I had created around myself mentally would prove to be
an even greater challenge and would require me to develop an entirely different aspect
of my character. We are creatures of habit. We are most comfortable with things
we can easily understand and predict. We fill our lives with routines. We wake up, go to class or work, eat our meals, maybe work out and go to sleep
at basically the same times every day. We surround ourselves with the same
stable relationships for years. We try so hard to live up
to other people’s expectations of us that sometimes we let our passions
take the back seat because ultimately we don’t want
to become isolated from our society. After I traveled to the first
hundred or so countries, the destinations became
more and more obscure, and I stopped being able to talk
my friends and family into coming with me. If you’ve never traveled for an extended
period of time by yourself before, it might be hard to imagine
what it’s like to spend days in transit on airplanes, in airports, just to end up in an empty hotel room
by yourself at the end of the night. After months of this for me, it resulted in intense loneliness, which was something
I didn’t even realize I feared because I had been sheltered
from it my whole life. At the peak of my time spent alone, I found myself in the tiny
island nation of Tuvalu, in the south Pacific with a population
of only 11,000 people. I spent four days
in the capital, Funafuti, because that’s how often
flights go in and out of the country. There was no Wi-Fi, no cell reception, no connection to the outside world
whatsoever other than a small post office, which happened to also be the country’s
number one tourist attraction. When I thought that I would be spending
my time in Tuvalu completely alone and without any distraction, I noticed the only
other foreigner on the island. She was a kindergarten teacher
from the South Side of Chicago who also happened to be travelling
to every country. We bonded so quickly and deeply
over all of our shared experiences that we ended up going
from complete strangers to travelling to Fiji, Tonga, Chad,
Central African Republic and Saudi Arabia together. From the seven and a half months I spent travelling alone
to 50 or so countries, I learned how to be alone
without being lonely, and this did wonders
for my self-confidence, but it also completely changed the way
that I think about the people in my life. Now I have an appreciation
for the time that I get to spend with the people that I care about the most
in a way that I used to take for granted, before I knew what it was
truly like to be alone. I also discovered that we have
so much more in common with people around the world
than you may think, because ultimately
we all want the same things, which is why at the root of our spiritual comfort zone, the layer closest to our souls, we are all looking for fulfillment. We are afraid to leave
the safety of our routine to pursue something greater because of our fear of failure. I set myself up for a goal with
a very realistic potential for failure, not because my family wanted me to or because it was easy but because I knew that I would regret it
for the rest of my life if I didn’t try. And now, I make the majority
of decisions in my life based on the answer
to a very simple question: “Will I regret not doing this?” If the answer is “Yes,” I know
that I have a moral obligation to myself and the people around me to do it, even if that means jumping
off of a 750-foot dam or spending seven months alone or giving a talk in front of strangers. Being in a state of comfort itself
is freedom from pain, but when we subject ourselves
to genuine discomfort, and plunge into the unknown, that’s when we learn to transcend
the layers of our comfort zone, manage our fears,
and become empowered by them. Ask yourselves: How uncomfortable
are you willing to become in order to reach your fullest potential? Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)


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