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!

 

 

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Taking Care of Details in Preparation for Departure

OUCH! I rubbed my arm where I had bumped the big bruised swollen area. 

Geez, how long is this going to take to go down?

Two days before, I had received the second of three rounds of vaccines in preparation for my travels. This one was the only shot I’d received that left such a mark, and the nurse had warned me about it. “The Tdap shot will feel like someone punched yIMG_0954ou really hard in the arm,” she had said. She was right.

My first round of vaccines included yellow fever, Hep A, and Hep B. Some countries in South America and Africa require a yellow fever card that verifies you’ve had the vaccine. On that visit I also received my prescription for malaria pills and Cipro. The second round of shots included the Tdap (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis), Hep A and B boosters, and typhoid vaccine, which came in capsules I had to take for a week. I have one more round scheduled for this week, my final Hep A and B. I’ll also be getting prescriptions filled for a Z-pak (heavy-duty antibiotic) and a pain killer of some kind, probably Vicodin. It’s always good to go prepared. Rounding out my meds are Pepto-Bismol, aspirin, neosporin, moleskin, and band aids. I’m sure there’s more, but that what lists are for, right?

Yellow fever is nasty. The statistics are rather frightening: up to 50 percent of unvaccinated people die from it. I hadn’t had a tetanus shot in who knows how long. The reason the injection site swells is because the shot is full of (inactive) tetanus, and you basically get tetanus, also known as lockjaw, at the site. 

I feel very good getting all these vaccines. Besides the swollen arm, the only side effect I had was fatigue for a few days after the yellow fever shot. The good news about that one is that the CDC has just changed the prIMG_0953otection time from ten years to life. 

I’ve taken care of other preparatory details, too. I just got my passport back, filled with 48 more blank pages. Some countries won’t let you in if you have less than six blanks, so I’m covering my butt here. Only problem is, my passport no longer stays closed because it has so many pages!

I’ve researchVietnamed visas for my first several countries, all in Southeast Asia. Most of them allow visitors to pay for one at the border, although some are free. Vietnam is different, however. I have to acquire a visa before I get to the country. There are a few ways to do this. I can mail my passport and payment
to one of the two Vietnam embassies in the States: San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Or I can go in person to the San Francisco office. But it looks like the cheapest and most popular way is to buy a visa at a Vietnam embassy in Thailand or another SEA country. I think I’ll do that, because I’ll have a better idea of the date I’ll be arriving in Vietnam. They won’t let me in prior to the date on the visa, so waiting seems like the best option.

I have mentioned this before, but the Evernote app is fantastic for clipping information from the web to keep all in one place. Every time I read information that I want to refer to later, I click on the Evernote icon on my PC’s browser or use the app on my iPad. Since the two sync, they’re always up to date. I’ve made a notebook within the app for easy sorting. It’s truly fantastic!

I’ve also decided to not spend another dime on any clothing items beforeIMG_0956 I leave. I’m heading to Singapore first, where I’ll outfit my wardrobe with most of what I will need while in SEA. I’ve also tagged some great-looking Air BnB places in Bali and other countries. Some of them are truly gorgeous, and at $12 to $18 a night, fit right into my budget.

I’m almost down to the last of my stuff to get rid of. Tomorrow I make a huge haul to Goodwill, then I’ll post some specific sale items to see if I can get a little more money for my trip fund. I head to California in about nine weeks (!!!) to spend a month with my family before I go. It’s starting to feel real, this amazing adventure that I’ve been preparing for since December. I’m excited, nervous, scared, and thrilled to think that it’s really happening. I am so ready.

 

 

 

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.