03/17/2011 02:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do You Get Travelers Out of Their Comfort Zone?

"A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are for."
John A. Shedd

In theory one of the great benefits of travel is that it stretches your comfort zone. Sometimes there is a great breach between theory and practice.

One of our lodges, Tortuga Lodge, has no road access. Guests usually arrive by boat and leave in light charter aircraft.

When we first started 26 years ago, we did not adequately communicate what we meant by "light charter aircraft." It quickly became apparent that what our guests imagined as light charter aircraft was perhaps a 39-passenger plane that looked something like this:


Photo Wikimedia Commons

While the biggest aircraft in Costa Rica small enough for the short grass strip at Tortuguero back then was a five-passenger Cessna 206 that looks like this:


I came to this realization while standing on the airstrip with outgoing guests who were demanding a bigger plane. I explained patiently (at least I hope it was patiently) that the strip was too small for bigger planes. They demanded to go out by boat. No amount of reasoning, patient or otherwise, would convince them to get in that plane.

All my boats were in use doing tours, so I ended up having to rent a boat to take them out to the road and find a bus to get them from the road to wherever they were going next.
Clearly we needed to do everything possible to make sure that our guests who elected to fly literally knew what they were getting into.

It was 1985. Communication was a lot more cumbersome than it is now. Despite our best efforts some guests took one look at the plane and said, "No way!" Some of them even inserted an expletive between the "no" and the "way."

Not once did I convince guests who refused to fly to change their minds.

For several months I looked for a solution to no avail. At home when they were planning their vacations, guests were willing to fly in a five passenger aircraft, but when they actually saw the plane they were not.

It got so that I could look at their faces and tell whether they were building up their courage to get in the plane or building up their courage to tell me they were not flying.

Finally, on the strip, staring into the eyes of a guest who was about to tell me that he and his family would swim back to San Jose before they boarded that airplane, it hit that me the answer was a question.

From that moment on I never had anyone refused to board. As soon as they saw the plane, before they had a chance to react, I asked a question that everyone who flies is used to answering, "Window or aisle?"

Our guests responded in many different ways. Some automatically told me their preference. Some laughed. Some frankly expressed how scared they were. But they invariably climbed into a passenger cabin that looked like this.


An added reward was that some of the people who were most scared of flying took the trouble to get back to me and tell me how glad they were they had.

Do you have stories about getting out of your comfort zone or helping other people to do so? Please share.