Long-Term Travel: Leave and Never Look Back

Disappear (verb): cease to be visible.

“She disappeared into the world.”

synonyms:

vanish, pass from sight, be lost to view/sight, recede from view; fade (away), melt away, clear, dissolve, disperse, evaporate, dematerialize;

literary: evanesce
“by 4 o’clock the mist had disappeared”

 

Have you ever dreamed of disappearing, even for a little while? Ever return home from a dream vacation only to find that nothing has changed except you? Have you ever wished you could just pick up and move somewhere far, far away?

Me too. A few years ago it was the easiest thing in the world for me to imagine disappearing, if only to avoid the sidelong stares, pointed fingers, and pitying whispers of friends and acquaintances in this town of not-quite-21,000 warm and fuzzy folk after I experienced a series of horrible circumstances and events. 

So, when I decided, exactly one year ago, to travel the world, I knew I wouldn’t be going back to the lovely valley of the rogue, my home for so long. Ashland, Oregon, is, for thousands of people, a dream-town come true, a Shakespeare-themed, creative, intelligent, active small town nestled in the hills of the Siskiyou Mountains. There is no denying it is gorgeous. I have loved this little valley for over two decades. I have made many friends here, especially in this last year, oddly. So why wouldn’t I want to return?

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Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon, photo by Steve Gee

I have always lived a colorful life. At eighteen I left home to live in a commune in the Santa Cruz mountains. Even then I wanted to travel the world, so one day I hitchhiked into town and joined the army. I had just seen Private Benjamin, after all, so I knew I could get stationed in Germany (whatever “stationed” meant). It was 1975, the Vietnam War was over, and the military was downsizing its troops. The recruiter promised me, “You will love Germany.” I lasted twenty-nine crazy days in the softly rolling green lawns of Fort Jackson, North Carolina, before being honorably discharged. (Another story for another time, but all good.)

From the moment I returned home to my parents’ house, I was off. I moved to the shiny little town of Laguna Beach in Southern California, got a great job (I was a hairstylist back then, a career that treated me well for twenty-eight years), and immediately started saving my money to travel to Europe—on my own dime this time rather than courtesy of the US government. My first solo travel was later that same year. I was nineteen.

London 1978

London, 1978. I still have this hat I bought at Harrod’s of London.

London bird 1978

Trafalgar Square

Off I went, exploring England (I love this country; been back four times), Holland (I swear I walked every inch of Amsterdam on foot), Germany (omg I did love Germany; I spent three days with a nineteen-year-old German soldier who looked like James Dean), and France (thank goodness for American foreign exchange students) in just sixteen days on the money I had saved. It was over as soon as it started, but I was hooked on travel, and I’ve never stopped.

Here is what I know about coming home after having a great trip: Nothing is different. Nothing. Not the people or the plays, not the parades or the weather, not the restaurants or the music or the bars or the games or the view or the food or the park. Everything. Is. The. Same. Now, lots and lots of people LOVE this about Ashland. But not me. Not any more, anyway. I crave adventure. I yearn for new. I always have; this is not an all-of-a-sudden desire. 

Did you know that there is actually a thing called “post-travel depression”? Perhaps you have experienced it. Long-time travelers, especially, often feel a huge letdown after a great trip. The only thing that makes it better is . . . more travel.

Must . . . travel

Hence my decision to move to another country once I am done with this round of long-term travel. I want a fresh start, a new country, one that isn’t divided so dramatically that it will probably never unite again in my lifetime. I want to have a blank slate, I want to go where no one knows anything about me. I know my family isn’t happy about it, but I can’t live my life for someone else. That may sound harsh (I’m sorry, family), but I’m simply not wired that way, which is probably why I never had kids. I know my friends in Ashland (my true friends, anyway—I have an awful lot of acquaintances) wish I would come back. But here’s how I know it would go: I would land there after one, two, three years of travel and immediately feel like I was back in time: nothing changed, nothing. Nothing but me.

So, have YOU ever wanted to disappear and not come back? Do you know anyone who has? Do YOU dream of traveling the world on a long-term basis? What are you doing about it? Why or why not? I would love to read your comments!