Man tossing insects in a frying pan
Lens-Artists,  People,  Travel in general

Breaking boundaries while travelling

If adventures do not befall a lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.

Jane Austen

Jane is one of my very favourite authors and I couldn’t agree more with this remark. But I would go further. Even if adventures DO sometimes befall you at home, that’s no reason not to seek them abroad too!

This week for the Lens-Artists challenge guest host Dan asks us to ‘to capture moments that break the boundaries of your routine’. There could hardly be a better theme for me, with my love of travelling and desire to share my travel experiences here in my blog. But haven’t I covered this ground before? How can I best respond without repeating myself?

Well OK, I’ve used this quote before but it bears repeating:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

Stepping out of your comfort zone

Sometimes when we travel we find ourselves in places that are, if not familiar, at least not too far from the familiar. Countries where plans run smoothly, and you feel relaxed and safe. Such travels can be wonderful. I enjoy the sense of familiarity I feel on our regular visits to Paris. It’s almost like coming home even though it’s a foreign country. And a road trip in the US is a journey through the landscapes of our TV and film favourites.

But often the travels that linger longest in the mind, the ones that trigger the ‘Do you remember when …’ conversations, are the ones where we stepped out of our comfort zones.

I start however with a disclaimer. I don’t do ‘roughing it’ and thankfully we are able to afford not to have to. And as an obsessive planner, one who enjoys the planning almost as much as the adventure itself, I don’t just set off and see where the road takes me. Our trips are for the most part pre-planned and pre-booked. And outside Europe and the US we usually work with a tour company to make the arrangements for us (although rarely travel with groups).

So when I talk about stepping out of my comfort zone I’m not referring to risky adventures or even stepping into the complete unknown. But you don’t need to do that in order to experience new things and break the boundaries of your own normal life. Instead you can travel with an open mind and curious spirit, interested in the culture of the people you meet.

Shared lives

So I want to use this post to acknowledge all those people I’ve encountered around the world who lead very different lives from mine, and speak a different language. Yet I’ve nevertheless been able to make some sort of connection with them, if only, briefly, a smile.

Let’s explore some of the ways we can connect with each other if we’re willing to break our own boundaries, leave our preconceptions at home and engage.

Music and dance
Group of people dancing, the women in bright traditional dress

Music and dancing bring people together arguably more than any other activity. In Pyongyang I joined locals dancing on the streets on North Korea’s National Holiday. Spot the tourist doing the same in this photo!

On the last night of our Galápagos cruise the friendly crew of the Angelito treated us to an impromptu ‘concert’. It prompted some of our group to join in and others to get up and dance. A lovely way to bond with people who had looked after us so well.

Three men on a boat playing musical instruments

Taking photos

The act of taking a photo is today an almost universal one, thanks to the advent of the mobile phone. In some countries, notably India, I’ve found that I am the chosen subject for photos! And while generally I’m not that keen on posing, and we rarely take shots of each other while travelling, in these circumstances it’s fun to embrace their culture and join in with the impromptu photo shoot!

Group of women, mostly in long robes, and one man

In Khiva, Uzbekistan, a group of local tourists were keen to pose with some of us on the fortifications of the Ark. Here they are with me and fellow tourist Sue.

At a roadside restaurant near Jaipur a woman spotted me taking photos of the view from the car park and motioned her whole family to climb out of their minibus to pose with me! The sole man in the group was in the middle of a phone call, as you can see, but didn’t want to be left out!

Group of people in a car park
Group of people with most of the women in saris

Something similar happened recently in Nepal, on a visit to the Bindabasini Temple in Pokhara.

Make sure on these occasions that you get a photo of the group too. It will always remind you of that brief moment of connection.


Sharing food

We all need to eat. And sharing food can, for all of us able to afford to do so, bring people together like little else. To cook for someone is a welcoming act, a sign of warmth and friendship.

We have been fortunate to share family meals in Oman and Cambodia, among other places. Here is our Bedouin hostess in her home in the Wahiba Sands, Oman

Room made of bamboo sticks decorated with rugs and cushions
Woman holding a small piece of paper and bundle of banknotes

And in a restaurant in Samarkand a group of ladies at the next table to ours, clearly on a ‘girls’ night out’, took an interest in us and our friends. One, who spoke some English, came over to our table for a shy chat. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of her. So here instead is one of the friends I made on that trip, Georgina, with our bill for six. It’s on a ridiculously small scrap of paper but requiring a large bundle of very low value Uzbek som! You can just make out the group of friendly women at the table behind her.

Another way to connect is to show a willingness to try local delicacies, even if they definitely break the boundaries of what you might choose to eat at home. In Phnom Penh we sampled crickets and other insects from the street food stall in my feature photo. I’m sure it helped cement our relationship with our guide Van in a way that refusing the treats would not have done, even though she would surely have understood our wariness.

Large pan of insects frying in oil

I still remember my horror on a very early trip abroad, to Prague back in 1980. Another English couple refused to eat the food offered on a day trip out of the city and told the guide that the only things worth eating in the country were the salads, and even on them there was too much beetroot! Also the woman on our tour in China who declared she couldn’t possibly eat Chinese food, so subsisted on boiled rice for two weeks. Our guides said nothing but what must they have been thinking privately? So break those boundaries of home comforts and try the local food. Not only will it please your hosts, you will probably enjoy it!

Plate with a dish of meat and green vegetable

From octopus balls in Osaka (not what they sound like!) to camel meat in Tunisia and puffin in Iceland (which I confess made me ill!), from delicious morning glory and thien ly flower in Vietnam (in the photo) to sashimi in Japan and momos in Nepal. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful, and a few not so wonderful, treats all over the world!

And drink too of course. I’ve sampled chicha in Chile, raki in Albania, sake in Japan and soju in North Korea. All fantastic, if in some cases rather strong! Sharing one of these drinks with a local guide is a great way to get to know them better.

Here we are with a local chicha producer and our guide Sergio in Chile.

Four people posing in a covered outdoor area

Sharing some fun and a laugh
Man grinding corn on a stone with a smiling woman watching

If you’re invited to join in with a task or activity, go for it. You may prove not very good at it, but your incompetence at something that comes naturally to your hosts will give you all a laugh. I’m sure our hosts in Lamanai village in Belize were amused at our efforts to grind corn and make tamales!

In inland Goa we stayed at a self-styled ‘Wilderness Camp’. It was Diwali and the camp’s owner invited a musician from a local village to visit in the evening to play some traditional music associated with that festival, which he did while prancing around our camp fire to the sound of his drum. Afterwards we were invited to contribute some traditional songs from our own countries. There was another Geordie (native of Newcastle upon Tyne, like my husband) in the group so he and Chris decided a rendering of the Blaydon Races was in order. While traditional to that area, these days it’s better known as a popular anthem for Newcastle United supporters. It was decidedly surreal to be singing it there in an Indian jungle!

Man in a robe and mask playing a drum at night with onlookers in plastic chairs
Four people in a brightly painted room with a TV showing song lyrics

Music again: in Kyoto we spent a fun evening in a karaoke bar with fellow travellers (Australian and British) and our guide. Quite a few drinks were consumed, which probably added to the fun and laughter. A great way to bond, and definitely outside my comfort zone as I’m a truly lousy singer!


Shared interests

However far from home you are, it’s often possible to find common ground with a local. In our case that often means talking about football (soccer). Once we get over the misconception that all English people are fans of Manchester United or Chelsea or …, we often find we can engage through a discussion of a player from that country who has played for our team. In Peru it was Nolberto Solano, in Colombia Tino Asprilla and in Senegal Papiss Cissé and Demba Ba.

In Gambia we met Habib, a super friendly local driver/guide, who took us on a couple of excellent outings. When he learned we were Newcastle fans he mentioned having been given a Newcastle shirt by a previous customer and promised to wear it on our next day out with him, which he duly did. He claimed to also be a fan although I suspected he had a small collection of such shirts from different teams!

Two men, one wearing a football strip
Man holding a stuffed toy with three young women in military style dress

Sometimes it’s worth joining in with your hosts’ interests even if you don’t share them. You’ll have some fun, perhaps learn a new skill and maybe even pick up a new hobby. OK, I can’t say that I took to shooting after our evening at a range in Pyongyang! But it’s a popular activity there and it was a nice way to engage with our local guides. I suspect they enjoyed the hour we spent there even more than any of us. I’m not allowed to share photos of them, even though I have a great one of our senior guide with the soft toy prize she won! So here’s our fellow traveller Michael with his prize and some of the staff.


Respecting customs

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.

Robert Louis Stevenson

When you visit another country you are doing exactly as that implies, visiting. And you’ll find it much easier to engage with those you meet if as a visitor you respect their customs. Some may even go against what you would do at home, maybe even against your personal religious or political beliefs. But this is their home, not yours. By choosing to break your boundaries you must accept theirs. Besides, it’s the quickest way to start to understand a country, and the best way to connect with its people.

In North Korea we laid flowers and paid our respects to their Supreme Leaders. We weren’t expected to share the devotion to them that they demonstrate (and I believe in many cases genuinely feel). Simply to be there sharing the act of respect was enough. For me this was all about respecting our guides and hosts, not their leaders.

Two huge statues and a man laying flowers
Feet of several people showing beneath robes, wearing paper slippers

It’s important to dress respectfully if you want to avoid insulting your hosts of course. Forget what is normal wear for you at home. You are here to break those bounds, remember!

At the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi I of course removed my shoes, as I have done in countless other places of worship around the world. And I donned the long robe deemed necessary to cover my Western attire. These tourists have done likewise.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this small sample of travel experiences. Some I have mentioned in previous posts, others I hope are new to you. What they have in common is the experience of making connections; of stepping outside your own boundaries and into the lives of others, however briefly.

68 Comments

  • Smitha V

    I’m so glad I read this post. I love Jane Austen and this quote. Your travel memories are rich and diverse and your writing about them is beautiful. I had no idea that people visited N.Korea. The picture of the Jaipur family made me giggle. It’s lovely that you took a picture of the memory.
    Our travels are very much like yours- planned and we don’t rough it up either. Although, like you, we’re open to trying out different food and drink. I agree with you about the best way to understand a place and its culture is to speak to the locals.
    So much to love about this post. Hugs.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Smitha, I’m really glad you enjoyed this so much 😊 Oh yes, people do visit North Korea (or rather did – at present the borders are still closed following Covid). We spent a fascinating almost three weeks touring there, much documented in other posts here if you are interested! It seems our travel styles are very similar which is nice, but I always say it doesn’t matter HOW you travel as long as you do, and with an open mind! Hugs in return 🤗

  • wetanddustyroads

    I just love that quote from Mark Twain. And your group photos are such a wonderful memory of all your travels. I agree, eating and drinking that is unique to a country is a good way to get out of your comfort zone … and absolutely, a way to show respect. Wonderful post and photos 🌟.

  • leightontravels

    Incredible travel memories, Sarah! We learn about and connect with others when we eat their food, dance to their music and try to speak some of their language. I love your approach to travel and experiencing new places, we are very similar.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Leighton 😊 Yes, I think we share a curiosity about the lives of the people we encounter on our travels and the culture of the countries we visit, though our travel styles aren’t so similar!

  • Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Sarah, you have beautifully captured the true essence of what travel is about. Remembering that we are guests is one of the best pieces of advice any traveler could receive. I may not be willing to try a snack of crickets, but I don’t have to be a jerk about it either. Respect and kindness make all the difference in the experience. Thanks for continuing to share your insights.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Suzanne 😊 The crickets weren’t too bad – a bit dry and papery but tasting of little more than the chilli they were fried with. And I only had to eat a couple to feel I was being polite!

  • Wind Kisses

    Sarah, I loved this! I love the way you so eloquently shared the value in becoming a part of the places you visit. And to keep an open mind. We have so many ‘do you remember when…’ moments that only my husband and I can appreciate. I chuckled at your “we don’t rough it” lol. To think we do it because we love it, is another story.

    Anyway, you have experienced so many special places together in your life. We actually do prefer to travel with each other because of our adventurous spirit. I have experienced family members who refuse to try new foods, and friends who begin searching for a McDonalds when we arrive in a foreign country. Me? ‘I remember when we kicked up clams for dinner in Portugal. I remember when my daughter’s danced with the locals at a Feria in Spain and the locals thought they were locals. I remember when we had our own private wine cellar and chef at Zell Am See, Austria. The best part was people wandered in to see what we were doing. We, of course, had the sommelier pour them a glass and send them along. And we became ‘those friendly americans’. Thank you, not just for your lovely post, but a chance to remember a few special moments we experienced because we took the chance it would be fun.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      ‘we took the chance it would be fun’ – yes that’s it, 100% 😀 If you don’t try something, how do you know if you’ll like it? Chances are, you’ll love it! I never understand people who say, ‘I don’t like …’ and then you find out they’ve never tried it! I’m so pleased I triggered your own special travel memories too with this post 😘

  • Tina Schell

    Terrific examples Sarah! I agree wholeheartedly that the memorable experiences are those where we step out of our comfort zone. After all, isn’t that what travel should be about? I’ll admit thought that I’ve not eaten in any of the homes of the local peoples when we’ve been out of the country. I am the least adventurous foodie you’ll ever meet. Loved your post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Tina, I’m glad you enjoyed these 😊 I’m not sure though that I could square being an unadventurous eater with travelling! I’m careful to avoid street food unless I know from a local that it’s safe (we were with a guide when we ate the crickets and she recommended that particular stall, advising us to avoid a couple of others in the area) nor would I eat in someone’s home at random. But if taken there as part of an organised visit, then yes, I’m happy to give it a go!

  • grandmisadventures

    Wise words from Jane Austen and beautiful pictures that represent how important it is to get out of our own place and meet others, eat different food, experience different cultures, and gain a much greater sense of how small our piece of this world really is. 🙂

  • Tanja

    Great points. yes, we get to see how other people live briefly and we should respect customs and culture of the place we are travelling.

  • HeyJude

    I think the is probably your best post so far. What amazing journeys you have been on. I’m afraid I am not much of a joiner, but I haven’t always played it safe. I’m afraid that I would rather starve then eat crickets and other insects – claiming being a vegetarian can be useful!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, thanks so much Jude 😊 You wouldn’t have starved by turning down the insects as they were just a pre-dinner snack! But then, you wouldn’t have booked a street food tour either!! We like to get stuck in and see how the locals live, to some extent at least 😀

  • Image Earth Travel

    I’m not sure where my first comment went – WP! Here goes again and hope this one gets through to you.
    Love the way you’ve teamed up your photos and words. The photo of your covered shoes and clothes is so apt.
    Respecting local customs and trying new foods is very important to me when travelling but too often I see other travellers doing the complete opposite. Very sad.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I don’t think I saw an earlier comment from you but this one arrived safely – thank you 😊 Yes, it’s always a shame to see other travellers not respecting local customs, and if they’re from my own country I’m always a bit embarrassed too!

  • Leya

    A beautiful post on what traveling is about. Respect and curiosity to learn. Love your photos and your text – love your take on and it all. I must admit there are some meals I just could not eat it all, but some of it is always possible!

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Such a great post, Sarah! I loved hearing about your experiences, but not so much the part about eating crickets. I also cannot imagine eating a puffin, but when in Rome… I know that in parts of South America they eat guinea pigs, and I wouldn’t be able to because I have a grand-guinea pig named Henry and he is one of the most precious animals I’ve ever known. Hope you’re having a wonderful Wednesday.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Kellye 😊 I know what you mean about guinea pigs, but is it so different from eating rabbit? I’ve done that quite a few times in Italy! I did plan on trying the cuy, as they call guinea pig, in Peru, but the evening we were in a restaurant serving it I’d been ill the day before (tends to happen quite a bit when we travel!) so I decided to play it safe, thinking I’d try it later in the trip, but never saw it on the menu again!

  • restlessjo

    All of which has led to a rich and colourful life for you, Sarah. The only bit I would disagree with is eating bugs. I really don’t think I could make myself do that, out of respect or anything else. Well done to you.

  • Denzil

    You have many wonderful experiences Sarah during your boundary-crossing times! Although I would imagine that “abroad” for Jane Austen meant Bath or Southampton!

  • Rose

    Absolutely love this! It’s so encouraging to read how you respect, and join in, and enjoy a vast array of cultures around the world!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose 😊 I would hope most of us would do the same, but I’ve encountered quite a few tourists who sadly don’t, like the couple I mentioned in Prague. I’ve never understood why anyone would travel at all if they want things to be as they are at home!

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Wow, great post. Where shall I start? Well, Costa Rica and Paulo Wanchope. All I had to do was mention his name and people wanted to talk. Wanchope is to me as Asprilla was to you! But generally, yes, this is what travel is all about. For us, pushing the barriers of the comfort zone is wonderful – yes of course it goes wrong sometimes but more often than not it gives us the best of memories. Sleeping on the floor in a shed in a floating village where toads share our floor space? Yeah!….because without it we wouldn’t have helped prepare meals in the community kitchen. Mud hut in the mangrove swamps? Yeah! Maybe where we do differ is that we love the joy of travelling with only a loose plan…we never leave home with everything sorted, we love the feeling of planning each next bit as we move on. But overall, however you choose to travel, people are the key. Experiences with people are what we remember as much as anything.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Phil 😊 Yes, our travel style is somewhat different. I think in our case it’s partly as Annie says below, we don’t want to ‘waste’ time while away with making arrangements – but then we tend to travel for much shorter periods than you do. I think if we were to be away as long as you often are we would want to leave the later stages of the trip to be sorted as we go, as it would be hard to pin down so much so far in advance! And I don’t think I’m up for sleeping on the floor these days, although I’ve done it in the past 😆 But those details matter less then our approach to engaging with the people and cultures we encounter, and on that we are definitely in tune! As for Wanchope, a great player but like Tino quite a character I gather?

      • thehungrytravellers.blog

        Wanchope is adored in Costa Rica, he is absolutely everyone’s football hero. Yes, you couldn’t plan everything three or four months ahead, these longer trips need to unfold as you go. Plus, like this trip, it keeps evolving and we keep changing plans, which is great… and I really love the logistics bit, working out public transport, timings, best route etc, I positively enjoy all that bit so it’s never a chore or a bore.

  • Yvonne Dumsday

    I think, of all your posts I have read Sarah, that this was the most enjoyable (though surprised you did not mention your recent meal of reindeer!). I love and share your philosophy of our being “visitors” as it is one we espouse when diving also.

  • Amy

    Your post says so much about travel is all about – connecting with people and know their culture. Great stories and photos!
    Thanks for sharing, Sarah. 🙂

  • Anne Sandler

    This is a beautiful post on traveling. Being respectful is the most important thing to remember. When we’ve traveled to a foreign land, we wanted to learn about the people and how they lived.

  • starship VT

    Love this post, Sarah!! The breadth of your travels and experiences is something to aspire to for many of us. If this is only a “small sample” of your travel experiences, which I know that to be true, I hope you will cover more in a similar post. Each of your photos and its accompanying experiences is unique, and fascinating. Each makes me try to think of similar circumstances which occurred in my own travels and it brings a smile to my face! One in particular was what I would call extreme zip lining we did in Costa Rica — I think I later suffered from PTSD just thinking about it! Planning and researching a trip still are some of my greatest joys. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy tours just as much!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Sylvia 😊 I doubt I would cover my other travels in exactly the same way, partly because I feel I already have to some extent, and partly because I need to save some for different types of post! Wow, I didn’t know you’d been zip-lining at all, never mind ‘extreme’! I bet you;re proud you did it, despite the PTSD? As for planning, even when we take tours, these days they’re always private tailor-made ones and I spend a lot of time looking at options and discussing them with the company so it still feels like I’ve had the fun of planning!

  • JohnRH

    Great great post and photos. I figured with your travels you could dump your entire photo archive, if it were possible. I have found that despite different cultures around the world, ‘regular’ folks have a lot in common. We CAN get along! (P.S. Three men in a boat photo won’t display. Also, I can’t ‘like’ your post. I get the rlogin.wordpress window but it doesn’t go away. 🤷‍♂️ )

    • JohnRH

      (I rebooted my MacBook and it still won’t let me ‘like’. Another site is doing that too, but not a third. I’ll check some Safari settings.)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      You’re right, at bottom we’re all pretty similar in some ways, I agree 🙂 Odd that photo won’t load as it looks fine from my end and is no different to the others. And I’m not sure what you mean by the rlogin.wordpress window but Marie and Annie managed to like the post. Maybe there’s a problem at your end?

  • Annie Berger

    I enjoy reading all your posts but this one particularly resonated with me. Our reasons for travel are the same: the opportunity to explore new lands far off the grid especially, to experience in every aspect the customs in each place, and to learn what makes each place truly special.

    We are kindred spirits, Sarah, in that I especially like to have our itinerary planned and booked. We don’t like to ‘waste’ our time on a trip trying to figure out where to go and what to do in the days ahead. I acknowledge it doesn’t allow for serendipity but it ensures we will be able to see museums, or markets, for example that are only open on a specific day.

    Thanks for the compendium of photos to match your travel style as they were a perfect pairing, Sarah!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Annie 😊 I’m glad this post resonated with you so much although I would have guessed that it might! Yes, that desire not to waste time making plans and arrangements while away is one reason I prefer to sort things before we go, although I’m not above leaving the odd night to chance in some of the less touristy towns in the US perhaps.

  • Marie

    What a lot of thought you put in to this, Sarah – For me, travel is also what springs to mind as a change in routine. All your headings resonate with me – in particular the respecting of local customs and trying new foods ( you don’t have to like everything – but it’s important to at least taste isn’t it) The one bringing a smile is the ‘stepping out of one’s comfort zone’ – I’m no daredevil but have on so many occasions over the years signed up for local activities such as tubing, zip lining etc, – because I feel I should. I either partake in absolute terror or bottle it at the last minute and chicken out… I never learn!!! There are so many places above that we haven’t visited but there are a few overlaps – and yes – I’ve the same photo of himself making tamales in Lamanai!!!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, this post did take me a while, mainly because I was conscious I’d covered similar ground not too long ago! You’re clearly more adventurous than I am when it comes to the active stuff. I did contemplate zip lining in Costa Rica but was advised not to because of back problems – apparently the jarring of the landing can be an issue. Funny we should have the same image from Lamanai 😀 I loved it there!

      • margaret21

        This is a particularly lovely.post Sarah. The theme that seems to underpin all your travels is ‘respect’, and it is the most important. By observing what’s important to your hosts and just plain ‘mucking in’, I’m sure brings out the best of the country you’re in, as well as showcasing our own in a positive light. Your photos illustrate so we’ll the bonds – albeit fleeting – that you’ve made.

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you!

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