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!

 

 

15 Tips for Dealing with Money on Your RTW Journey

You finally spotted it. That familiar sidewalk machine that magically spits out money.

BEWARE.

Keep reading . . .

If you are planning an RTW, at some point you must figure out how you are going deal with your money. Things have changed a lot since the days of travelers’ cheques and no ATMs. The ready availability of ATMS in foreign countries, and thus the ability to utilize your debit card(s),  makes carrying travelers’ cheques and large amounts of cash obsolete.

Yet, for long term travel, having plenty of backups and safety nets in place is crucial. The last thing you want is to lose access to your money because your debit card was lost or stolen!

Here are 7 tips I have compiled for structuring your money situation before your RTW and 8 tips for once you have arrived in a new country:

  1. Have two checking accounts at home, and bring debit cards for both. First, maintain a “home base” bank account at a large bank, such as Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
  2. Second, if you don’t already have one, open a Charles Schwab Platinum checking account. Make this the main debit card you use, because Schwab actually reimburses all ATM fees you ever generate by depositing them straight back into your checking account each month. I’m not kidding. And ATM charges in foreign countries add up fast. It is not at all unusual for ATM fees to be $5 or $6 for each transaction. The reason for the two banks is this: The home base bank is a brick-and-mortar bank you can use for your second person to deposit checks and otherwise easily access. While Schwab has brick-and-mortar buildings, they do not function as walk-in banks. You can’t deposit or withdraw money at these buildings; all the banking with Schwab is online. Also, if one of your cards is lost or stolen, the thief will not have access to your entire money pile if it is divided up between banks and accounts.
  3. There are many reasons to add at least one other person, preferably two, to your two checking accounts (home base account and Schwab account). If you run into any problems, this person can easily deposit cash, write checks for you, deposit checks, and so on. They can even have a backup ATM card in case you lose yours, although you will probably need to change the card number altogether if you lose it. Also, if the worst happens, your backup person will be able to handle this part of your affairs. 
  4. Call both banks to find out how to get a replacement debit card if yours is lost or stolen. Most banks have an international phone number that you will want to keep on a separate piece of paper, preferably in duplicate. Keep this and other important information in a separate place from the cards themselves. In fact, keep the cards separate.
  5. Let your banks know you are leaving the country and will be traveling to multiple foreign countries. This is super-important because most banks will freeze your account (for your protection) if they see unusual activity on your card and they didn’t know you were traveling.
  6. Bring a pre-paid Visa or MasterCard with a few hundred dollars on it as a backup in the event that you can’t access your money any other way.
  7. Bring a couple hundred dollars (or your home currency’s equivalent) as a very last resort. You need all these backups for a variety of reasons. For example, in many countries ATMs can go down for days.
  8. When  you arrive at a country, immediately find an ATM to take out a small amount of cash for transportation and maybe food.
  9. Depending on which country you’re in, take out only $200 or $300 at a time from an ATM. You don’t want to carry a lot of cash with you, ever. (You can see how getting your ATM fees reimbursed every month can make a huge financial difference.)
  10. Never exchange your home currency at exchange stations if you can help it. They charge more and usually have the worst exchange rates. ATMs are the best way to go, with banks a close second.
  11. Get small bills by buying a coffee or some other small item so you can get the change. In many countries, drivers will claim to not have change for your big bill, and you’ll “tip” them the extra, far more than you would otherwise. 
  12. If possible, never use a free-standing ATM machine. Always use one that is attached to a bank. The free-standing ones are much more susceptible to fraud and tampering, such as having a dummy PIN pad that tracks your PIN and a dummy card reader that swallows your card. It happens, and more often than people would like to admit.
  13. If you must use a free-standing ATM, let someone go ahead of you. This way, if there is a problem with the machine, it won’t be your card that gets swallowed. Sounds terrible, I know, but this is reality.
  14. Wear a money belt for most of the cash you do carry. Just keep a small amount in your purse or pocket. Never access your money belt in a public place.
  15. Note that I haven’t mentioned credit cards at all. Partly because I am not going to be carrying one (except for the prepaid one mentioned earlier), but also because credit cards are by far the most expensive way to travel. And if you’re on an RTW, you hopefully aren’t living on credit, anyway. If you do bring one, use it for emergencies only.

The main thing is you never want to completely lose access to your money. Several of these ideas serve as backups and safety precautions so that you are never left without money. Be safe, be smart, and enjoy your RTW!

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The Minimalist’s Ultimate Guide to Travel: What NOT to Pack

You have to take that shirt.

You wear it almost every day. It’s your favorite one. It goes with everything.

And your favorite pair of jeans. How could you NOT take those? You live in them.

Everything is laid out in perfect stacks on the bed, travel bag nearby, its gaping maw wide open, laughing at you.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You do this two, three, four more times. Every time you look at your stuff, there’s more. Every time you look at your bag, it’s smaller. You wonder, how can I possibly pack everything into a carry-on bag? packing graphic

How many times have you traveled with an over-full bag—or, worse yet, multiple bags—because you just didn’t know how you’d feel each day/what the weather would be/which soirees you might be invited to, so you had to take several options?

Remember when you had to step aside at the airport check-in counter and try to get your checked bag under the weight limit? You were frustrated, not to mention embarrassed, at having to pull out your clothes and shampoo and shoes and try to figure out what you could take out and shove into your carry-on bag.

All that careful packing gone to waste, and when you arrived, everything was balled up and wrinkled and nothing was where you put it in all that careful packing you did to make sure everything fit.

You swore you would never over-pack again. Well, didn’t you?

So, how DO you decide what to take and, more importantly, what to leave behind?

Long-term-travel packing is an art. If you have ever packed a carry-on bag for a month in Europe, you know that you can’t be packing the night before you leave. When you’re traveling for an extended period of time, every single thing that makes it into your travel bag must be crucial to your travel needs.IMG_0659-0

The one and only time in the last thirty years I checked a bag was when I bought a giant suitcase to carry home all the beads I got at Mardi Gras. (Don’t ask me how I got all those beads.) I have pounds and pounds of truly awesome Mardi Gras beads that I’ve been giving away by the handfuls for years. Tip: leave your beads at Mardi Gras.

What to Leave Out

Here are some of the obvious things to leave out when you are packing to travel for a month or more:

  • Full-size toiletries
  • Books and magazines
  • Food
  • Valuable jewelry
  • Unnecessary gadgets
  • Three white shirts
  • Jeans

What?! JEANS?!! But I live in my jeans, you say.

Okay, there can be exceptions to bringing your favorite denim, but beware: jeans are heavy, not very comfortable in many situations such as long bus rides and monsoons, take forever to dry, and command a LOT of room in your bag. Only if you truly cannot live without your favorite jeans should you bring them, but I strongly recommend you consider something much more packable, versatile, and just as comfy.

Let’s look at the other things on the list.

Unless you use a prescription shampoo or moisturizer, you can buy toiletries pretty much anywhere you go. This includes shampoos and conditioners, face wash, body lotions, razors, make-up, and just about any other bathroom item you can name. Now, I am a loyal Aveda junkie, and I understand favorite products, but I cannot justify giving up precious packing space to full-size products, nor should you. Start with travel sizes and refill or replace as needed.

Books and magazines are heavy, take up space, and then you’re done with them. While a single travel guide, the best of the best for your needs, is okay, all other reading materials should be borrowed as you go or read on a tablet. I gave up carrying books when I got the first gen Kindle. Look at all that new space now!

What about bringing snack foods for flights or other long-distance travel? I agree with the concept, but I have known people to bring two weeks’ worth of snacks and other foods so they didn’t have to buy them along the way. This is a mistake for so many reasons: 1) space 2) we don’t need to go any further. Just don’t buy snacks at the most convenient (and therefore pricey) places as you travel. Go to a market or a food cart, just like the locals would do.

Valuable jewelry needs no explanation, yet I know people who refuse to leave their favorite pieces behind. While I won’t say this practice courts disaster, I will say it’s just not worth it. ‘Nuff said.

Unnecessary gadgets are items that duplicate what you are already packing, such as a Kindle and a tablet or an iPod and a smart phone. Consolidate your entertainment and other digital needs, and keep it simple. Don’t bring a cord for each device if they can share. And unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need more than one camera. Even then, consider leaving the zoom lens home.

Packing three white shirts, or duplicates of ANY clothing items, is probably the most common no-no I see, even in the seasoned traveler. If you truly want minimalist travel, pare down to one sleeveless tank top, two short-sleeve shirts, and one long-sleeve shirt. If they all layer together well, you can at least create a few different looks. I recently backed an amazing new travel shirt on Kickstarter called Morf. It’s a shirt that morphs to “up to 24 different looks.”

I already addressed the jeans, and I get how hard not bringing them can be. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to reap the greater rewards of a lighter bag and more space. In my opinion, this one is worth it for the reasons I outlined above. But again, the exception is if you just live in your jeans and can’t imagine life without them. I realize this is the case for many world travelers, but I’m not one of them.

What Else?

Leave these at home:

  • A second coat
  • A second pair of sandals
  • Most hair accessories (simplify your hairstyle before you travel)
  • Blow dryer, extra hairbrush
  • Travel clothes iron
  • Any article of clothing that doesn’t go with everything else
  • “Just in case” items such as a beach towel
  • Beach toys and sports equipment
  • An “extra” anything: pair of shoes, sweater, toothbrush, towel
  • Cotton anything

I realize that cotton clothes are comfortable to wear, but they are not the friendliest of travelers. Cotton is a terrible insulator; it doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin, and it stays wet for a long time, whether from your sweat or a sudden downpour. And wet cotton is heavy, not to mention uncomfortable. (Um . . . jeans.)

To refine your list of what not to pack, do some research to see what medical items are easily available where you are going. Even though items such as aspirin, ointments, mosquito repellent, and clothes lines are tiny, they take up space in your bag. Besides, they are generally available in most countries. However, getting Neosporin in Denmark, for example, is impossible by all accounts. Be smart and do a little research on the availability of wound care items (gauze, first aid tape, wound ointment) in the countries on your list.

Oh, and that favorite shirt you wear almost every day? Take it, of course.

I’m Packing My Laptop and Hitting the Road

Working as a vagabond traveling the worldearth

Three and a half years ago, in late 2011, I took the first hard steps toward liberating myself from a job that would tie me down. I deliberately chose a new career that would be portable, knowing that some day I would move from the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, where I have lived for nearly 22 years. Much has changed in those years, myself included. The life I thought I was going to live in Oregon, after living for 17 long years in southern California, didn’t last. I changed careers more than once, reinventing myself each time. I broke hearts, including my own. Once someone broke my heart. (Isn’t that odd, to use the term “broken” for the heart, which must continue to function for us to even exist?)

All of that is in the distant past. I am happy, healthy, and ready to hit the road. I am a freelance editor by trade (my business site is http://www.redletterediting.com/), although, like many entrepreneurs, I also do things like coach public speaking, teach astronomy, and create PowerPoint presentations for clients. The best part of what I do, to my mind, is having the freedom to take my work on the road.

There are many, many ways to make money on the road. Blogging is huge, if you’re ready for a learning curve. And here’s the thing: it is learnable. Some people shell out a bunch of bucks to learn how to monetize a blog. Others put Google to good use and patch together enough free information to figure it out. (That’s my style.) Blogs and other websites can also be monetized by creating relationships with affiliates, whereby your website makes money on any sales that happen as a result of someone clicking on a link from your website. (Expect that to happen on this blog eventually.) It is no longer necessary, or desirable, to have megawatt ads screaming from every corner of every web page. Many working people have jobs that automatically translate to travel, such as that of my friend Bobby, whose company sends him literally all over the world for weeks on end. His girlfriend even gets to go most of the time. That’s different from being a vagabond traveler, of course, but I do think he’s got an amazing setup.

People become travel writers, photographers, day traders, and English teachers. Many freelance careers are already portable, suchas website designers, graphic artists, business consultants, and even administrators. Heck, when I was a young little hippie chick, I made money miming on the streets of Santa Cruz, California. Busking is fun and easy for musicians and other talented folks. I’ve even heard of hairstylists setting up shop in hostels and making enough money in a couple of days to travel for another few weeks. (Something for me to think about, too! I was a hairstylist for 28 years before my first major reinvention to chemist.)

If you are thinking of traveling the world while working, start planning now. Explore opportunities. Consider your current skill set. How could you translate your talents and abilities to a portable career? If it’s just not possible, then what else might you be interested in learning? It took me a IMG_0643year to develop my skills and another year to build a solid editing business. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, knowing what it is going to allow me to do: travel the world for as long as I like, doing what I love to do.

What do you think? Do you have a portable career or job already? Can you make it be so? Your subscription to this blog, your likes, shares, and your comments support my blog’s visibility. Please take a moment to share and to let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment. (Usually the comments link is at the top of this post.) Thanks for reading. Come back soon!

It Could All End Today

As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.

Last week I got the dreadful news that someone I deeply respect and admire, a woman who was a very active member of our community, died while scuba diving off the island of Bonaire, a tiny little island deep in the southern Caribbean near the coast of Venezuela. She was with her wife, the love of her life, doing things she enjoyed most: relaxing, basking in the sunshine, scuba diving, meeting people, enjoying life to the fullest with the one she loved best. I didn’t know Jolie well, but I had spent timeIMG_0559 at a couple of small, intimate parties at their home.

Her death has shaken my little community to its core. Why does this happen? How? While I don’t know the details of her passing, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jolie was living life to its fullest, holding nothing back. And it got me to thinking about my upcoming world travel. What if something happens to me when I’m far, far away from friends, family, and those who love me? Do I really want to risk my life the way I am setting myself up to do?

The short answer is yes. Yes, I am willing to risk my life doing something I have always dreamed of doing. Oh, not by making bad decisions and doing stupid things and getting drunk with strangers. No, I’m way past that. (I just had my 58th birthday, for Pete’s sake.) But I’m willing to risk being in foreign countries where I don’t know the language or my way around or where to go or what food is safe to eat. I’m willing to be comfortable in my discomfort, to remind myself that the world is not the big, bad, scary place we are told it is.

It’s true that my 83-year-old mom tries hard not to panic when she thinks about me “gallivanting around the world.” She won’t even discuss my plans with me. She pretends it’s not really going to happen. It’s also true that my darling great-niece and great-nephews, who are 17, 14, and 11 and who I am very close to (along with their parents), will miss me, especially since we’ve grown much closer as I’ve spent the last several months in California to escape the Oregon winter, staying at my mom’s just two miles up the road from the kids. And while I certainly don’t want to hurt my family, I can’t live my life for them.

It sounds so terribly cliche to say my friend died doing what she loved, but it is true. Since we all will die, wouldn’t we rather die knowing we are doing what we truly want to do, the things we do so we can say, at the end, “I have no regrets”? Planning this trip around the world, making traveling a lifestyle, is hugely scary for me. It’s also thrilling and adventurous and exciting, the very emotions that make me feel alive. Not for me just sitting on my porch, quiet, safe, comfortable, aging gracefully with everyone around me doing the same as we watch each other grow old. No. I’m not done fully experiencing all that life has to offer, not by a long shot.

Bad things can happen anywhere. People can die in uncountable ways at the most unexpected times. It’s part of the deal we get with this thing we call life. We just don’t get the choice of when or how. So this is my reminder to myself: should I die on the road in some far-off land, I will be doing something I want to be doing with every fiber of my being. Should I make it back in one piece, I will be able to say “I have no regrets.”

What dreams do you have? What makes you feel alive? I would really love to hear from you. Please leave a comment by clicking the “Comments” link just below the title of this post. Then go live life to its fullest, whatever that means for you.

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