Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015: A Year to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

So many people I know see 2015 as a year to do something different. A year to step outside their comfort zone. 

2015, it seems, is set to be an uncomfortable year. And that's a good thing.

In November and December I travelled through 10 countries in 3 weeks. Some of it was for work; some of it was some much-needed time away with my partner. While the work trip to Europe—which was to do further research for a future project and also photograph places for a London travel guide—was wonderful, the Asian Christmas trip (which I departed for only a few days after arriving home!) was by far the more memorable. And I think it was because we stepped out of our comfort zone and into places far off the tourist radar. 

Flying deep into the jungles of Java in a tiny plane to a tinier airport, where signs were written wonkily on cardboard and luggage rolled off an abbreviated conveyor belt that stopped abruptly after a few feet, so that bags fell over each other over in the two-foot-long airport, we tried not to laugh. We tried not to laugh, and we failed. Because there, in this strange, exotic, far-flung, jungle-y place, we realised this was what travel was all about. We had clearly left familiarity far behind. And it felt good. 

Like a decluttering of the soul.

The mist rising over the valley of Borobodur, deep in the heart of Java.

Rice paddies in East Java, with a single moped the only traffic in sight

Our beautiful hotel, Plataran Borobodur, built so that's its gardens seamlessly integrate into a local village.

Quiet afternoons at the Plataran Borobodur.

The trip had been part of a larger life-long plan to visit the world's more remote UNESCO sites, but we came home feeling profoundly touched by everything we'd seen. Getting out of your familiarity zone does that to a person. It seems to reignite that dormant sense of adventure that's often lost in the endless Immigration Halls of the world. 

The ancient temple of Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Built 300 years before Ankor Wat it was lost to the jungle for centuries until Sir Stanford Raffles heard about its existence and funded its discovery and restoration.

During those two weeks we visited places so utterly untouched by the modern world that in one part of Java, on top of the ancient Borobodur temple, we and another couple were the only foreigners in sight. The local kids gazed with awe at our iPads, and touched my partner's strawberry blonde hair with undisguised fascination.

Now my partner, who is a taciturn sort of person, was so captivated by this off-the-beaten-track adventure, he started chatting and didn't stop. Not for 10 days! The man changed so much I could barely recognise him!

For exercise, we hired bikes and rode long, spectacular loops along the palm tree-lined backroads and rice paddies of Java, through clusters of Indonesian villages and around the ancient temples of Borobodur, waving at all the locals. We took a tuk-tuk to the legendary Amanjiwo Hotel (above) for lunch, where Richard Gere and David and Victoria Beckham have stayed, but its glamour and grandeur seemed incongruous amidst the poverty. (And we couldn't afford it either!) So we tuk-tukked away again.

At every corner, the local villages waved and smiled at us, wanting us to stop and chat. These villagers were so poor they could barely afford floors (a tiled verandah was the sign of wealth; good teeth were the sign of undisputed affluence), but still they offered us their water, their fruit, a handshake, a wave goodbye. By the end of the week, we felt very, very humble. We had also changed—almost imperceptibly, but it was there nonetheless. A distinct shift in attitude.

All through the next week, visiting the ancient UNESCO temples of Ankor Wat in Sieam Reap, Cambodia, a country further north (and admittedly a little more crowded than Java's Borobodur region), our adventure left us feeling like new people. 

The magnificent tree roots enveloping the ruins of Ta Prohm, in Siem Reap, a temple made famous by Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie.

All throughout our trip, we happily donated money to people who desperately needed it, but the philanthropy seemed to go the other way: we felt as though we were the fortunate ones. In recent months, I've become fiercely driven in business: no-nonsense, pragmatic and perhaps also hard-nosed, but here we both melted before the gracious, constantly grinning locals. Seeing the civility and kindness of these poor-but-dignified people, well, it reassured me that there is still decency within us all. And that gave me hope for the future. That's what getting out of a comfort zone did for me. 

We each have the power to do so much; affect others in so many ways. All it takes is a smile, a laugh, a kind word or gesture; a conversation; perhaps a few dollars, and a curiosity about people, and about the strange world on the other side of your familiar city. 

My favourite person on the trip: our gorgeous tuk-tuk driver.
 I loved this man. So professional, so dignified, so happy.

And so I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zones this year. Be brave. Embrace the adventure. Whether it's for travel, for a new business venture or to research opportunities, find new inspiration, or just motivate your mind and revive your stagnated old soul, do something different in 2015.

You will be glad you did, I promise you. 

You will be glad you got uncomfortable. 

"Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes. Open your mind, get off the couch. Move."
— Anthony Bourdain.

Feel free to follow me on Instagram here – LINK


Where we stayed: Plataran Borobodur, Java.
A reasonably priced colonial-style hideaway high in the hills above Borobodur. Its gardens are magnificent – gardenia hedges, grand palms, winding paths between frangiapani.

And in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at the newly restored Park Hyatt. 
(Formerly the Hotel de la Paix.) 

The Paix was legendary in its time and thankfully the Park Hyatt hasn't ruined its soul. The library / reception area is a paen to pink, with Art Deco sofas and polished chocolate floors, but it's the only shot of colour in the hotel: the rest is all cool glamour and classic colonial elegance.

Note: We loved the Park Hyatt (and there are specials on at the moment for this year: $1300 for 6 days), but probably wouldn't spend so much on a hotel next time. I felt uncomfortable doing so when the locals were so poor, and would probably stay in a guesthouse to try and get to know the locals a little better. But that's just me. You are welcome to stay wherever you want! I hope you go to either Java or Cambodia, or indeed anywhere off the beaten track this year. Write and tell me if you do: I'd love to hear all about it!


  1. Maybe your partner received a healing (laying on of hands?) that opened his throat chakra :) Amazing things happen when you're open, receptive and out of your comfort zone. You have given us some good advice and inspiration, thanks!

    1. Maybe Donna? We met all kinds of people, and everyone moved us in so many ways. They have so little, yet are so full of joy and humour and happiness. Even meeting them was a lesson in how to live your life with grace and gratitude.

  2. This is one of your best posts Janelle...really lovely. It really says something about connecting with the land.....which is just so essential for our humanity. We need these connections....connections to the land, to our selves, to our family and our ensure we live fulfilling lives. I'm pleased your partner relaxed and enjoyed his conversations too....politics doesn't do a lot for the soul does it?

    I'd love to visit this beautiful place one day.....but this year it'll MONA in our beautiful Tassie. Can't wait. Lots of beautiful gardens in Tasmania I'll be enjoying them also.

    Always enjoy your posts Janelle. Would love you to visit my blog one day if you have time.



    1. So pleased you like it Robyn. I'm a big believer in connecting with the land, although I think that comes from gardening. And yes, my partner returned and decided to quit his political party after 10 years and is now, even more shocking, considering changing parties!

      Tasmania is another place that everyone seems to be going to, and the gardens and homes are one of the main reasons. I'd love to see the peony farm there one day, but I'm sure the gardens you're visiting are going to be magnificent. Do visit the Drill Hall Emporium and Karen Wagner's garden store if you're in their neighbourhoods – have heard great things about both. MONA also sounds like a highlight. Have a wonderful time! (And yes, would love to visit your beautiful blog!)

  3. Janelle what a lovely post. Stepping outside ones comfort zone while travelling is indeed quite liberating. I once rode The Man from Snowy River horse back ride for 6 days, camping. Didn't really know the other participants and hadn't been on a horse for 20 years..... I learnt a lot about myself that week.
    Thank you for sharing your amazing holiday... I'll have to think beyond Europe! Andrina

    1. That sounds like it was a fabulous holiday Andrina. (I would have been humming The Man From Snowy River soundtrack the whole time though...) I'm sure the others would have been lovely and looked after you.

      Yes, we've started trying to get away from 'The Milk Run' of London-Paris-New York too, either by targeting somewhere far off the beaten track or at least doing stopovers en route to those places. Funnily enough, it's the places I've never been to before that I have the strongest memories of. I can't remember what I did on my last 6 trips to New York!

      Wherever you go this year, I hope you have a wonderful time.

  4. What a lovely experience, and a fantastic post. Travel is one of the best ways I know to open one's mind, even if one never gets as far off the beaten path as you did. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I agree Kathy. I love Anthony Bourdai's quote above. It's so true. You can often tell when people don't travel much; they tend to be a little narrow-minded. I know my partner has changed remarkably in the 6 years we've been together: his attitude is much better; his tolerance levels are greater; he's more curious about people, and places. I know this trip changed me too. We really hope to be able to do more of these destinations: it was so lovely seeing a different side of the world!

  5. I love visiting your blog and this post is so calm and relaxing. The thought of getting away from it all sounds like bliss. However I am excited about my upcoming trip to Japan, five amazing days in Tokyo and then heading to the countryside for a few days before heading down to Fukuoka to visit friends and some small islands off the coast. Too early for cherry blossoms season but looking forward to a hopefully clear view of Mt Fuji.

    1. Thank you Nanette, that's so kind of you to say. Japan sounds amazing, especially the islands. You've no doubt left by now so I hope you're having a wonderful time! I'm sure your friends will be pleased to see you!

  6. I want to see the 2 foot long airport, it all looks gorgeous. The Georgian style hotel at Borobudur could be in NSW,. Great style does travel.

    Re your partner and politics am up to my ears in politics myself, we'll see what happens

    1. The tiny airport was a great introduction to where we were going Stephanie! The hotel is was designed to look like an old French Governor's mansion. Hard to believe it's only a few years old, isn't it?

      Yes, the man has finally given up his beloved political party! Hope you're having a great year so far.


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...