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.

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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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A Lingering Goodbye

I have loved living in this gorgeous little green valley I’ve called home for 22 life-packed years. However, each day now feels so routine, so predictable, so . . . expected. I am keeping my eye on my next adventure, one that is sure to wake me up from my daily stupor—leaping into the vagabonding lifestyle for which I am taking a full year to prepare.

If you know me, you know I always reach my goals. I see the vision, sharpen it to crystal clarity. I burn it into my brain, then lower my eyes to the next small footsteps I must take to get there. This enormous, exciting leap into the vast unknown of living on the road is the biggest life change that I have ever set for myself. (Maybe aside from earning my chemistry degree at age 44. That was pretty big.)

As the cooling autumn season turns the leaves of the maples, liquidambers, aspens, and ashes to brilliant yellows, golds, oranges, reds, and burgundies, my eyes lift once again to the goal—a beginning, actually—looming ever closer. Two months from today I say goodbye, farewell, adieu, adios to my little town, my home, my life here. I ride the waves of sadness, elation, fear, happiness, concern, and anticipation. And yet, I focus on being present each day. After all, I’m not gone today.

autumn leaves

Autumn in Lithia Park

An offer on my house is in the process of being approved, and my home of ten years is nearly empty. In a corner of my bedroom sits a carry-on-size backpack, the bag that will become my turtle shell home. A small pile of must-haves—tweezers, flashlight, mini-clamps, earplugs, moleskin—grows in a large zip-lock bag next to the bag. They’re not really must-haves at this point but items for consideration. As I see a small item or think of a possible-need, it just goes into the plastic bag for later processing. I recently filled my prescriptions for travel: Cipro, Z-pak, malaria pills, chill pills for potential road anxiety. Into the zip-lock they went. (Here’s a travel tip: you can actually request your prescriptions to be packaged in small zip-lock bags with the pharmacy labels taped to them. Perfect for condensing space!)IMG_1186

My head lifts now from my writing. I gaze across the valley to the view of Grizzly Peak outside my window. The burnt yellow grasses from a long, hot summer stand in contrast to the dark, dull green-brown of the trees running toward the top of the mountain. I love this view. I love the views around the entire Rogue Valley. I love the intense brilliance of the autumn leaves, the snow-tinged mountaintops of winter, the early push of crocuses and daffodils and tulips in spring. I love the magnificent and colorful skies, the clouds, the hawks and vultures. I have loved this little valley for decades, and I am ready to say goodbye to it all.

Clouds

A stunning cloud formation just east of Grizzly Peak.

Like everyone, I have had friends come and go. I have friends with whom I have grown closer and friends from whom I’ve grown apart. I have dear friends who will always be in my life. Interestingly, I’ve recently made new friends in this long, lingering goodbye before I leave on my travels, friends I wish I had years to spend time with. I have been elated in my friendships, and I have been deeply disappointed. Just the normal range of human experience, I suppose.

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The Firecracker Queens! I am just to the left of our winner’s banner.

But the hardest goodbye will be to my furry orange companion of the last five years, my big boy, my Apples. He was my main comfort during a difficult time, my cuddle bug in the cold winter nights, my too-big-for-my-lap lap cat. I can’t go there yet.

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Waking up with my boy, Apples

I feel myself becoming softer, more tender, more gentle with myself and others as I prepare for this massive transition. Live has become more precious. I’ve slowed down, the better to slow the time. While I am excited
to depart, I want to savor these last remaining weeks. I do not need to be in a hurry. There is time. There is nothing but time.

My big boy.

My big boy.

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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How To Sell Everything and Travel around the World

Empty.

It’s just . . . empty.

After my two-day liquidation sale, the house is emptier than it has ever been.

Empty closet

The result of my first liquidation sale.

One of the ways I am funding my trip around the world is by liquidating my possessions. People ask me all the time, “How does it feel?” That question is usually followed up by, “I don’t think I could do that.” (Continue reading to find a list of tips on how to have a successful sale.)

I am surprised, pleasantly so, at how easy it is to see my stuff get distributed to others, particularly friends. There hasn’t been even a moment of regret or sadness or longing or second thoughts, although I did get emotional describing what my dad’s books have meant to me.

When I was a little girl of six or seven, I used to squeeze into the small space behind my dad’s creaky old brown leather lounge chair that nestled into a corner of our living room. Built into the wall behind the chair, just above floor level, were a set of shelves that contained all the wonders of the world. As Dad relaxed after work and watched TV, I would eagerly pull a random volume from the Britannica Encyclopedia set off the shelf, open it, and be transported to another place, another time. I didn’t care what the topic was; even then, my eager young mind devoured statistics on foreign lands far, far away or a detailed description of how dolphins and whales work.

Also tucked away in this secret kid-sized space behind my dad, who sometimes drifted off into a nap with a loud snore, were a set of books titled The Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf of Books. This treasure really did take up five feet of shelf space, and contained a large sampling of some of the greatest literature ever written. While volumes like The Odyssey and passages from the Bhagavad Gita were way over my little-girl head, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed feeling the soft, worn pages and smooth leather covers as I tried to comprehend what I was reading.

A friend was buying these and other special books at my sale. She listened attentively as I described how meaningful the books were to me, which made parting with them very sweet. And what made this transaction all the more special was when she told me what she was doing with them: she is shipping them to India, to a library she is building there. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to my dad than seeing his books end up in a library in India!

Before the sale, I had invited family members to come from out of town and take whatever they wanted. I made sure they got family heirlooms and other important items that I want to keep in the family. My nephew, his wife, and their two teens and preteen all had fun going through my closets, drawers, boxes, and shelves. They each got items they wanted, such as the television set, pots and pans, walkie-talkies, and my antique vanity set. I felt really good about seeing a lot of my valuables and treasures go home with them.

Getting ready for a liquidation sale is no small task. I spent more than a week going through closets, drawers, and shelves, filling boxes with things that I have acquired over the last forty years or more. Memories unexpectedly flooded back to me as I unearthed trinkets, blankets, games, and so many other things that filled my home.

I decided to have the sale indoors, as there was too much stuff to haul outside. I borrowed several long tables, turned three rooms into a store, enlisted the help of a half-dozen friends, and spent hours and hours sticking tiny white price tags on every single thing. (I was still pricing stuff during the sale!) I had a canopy outside, too, with tools, garden equipment, and other outdoor stuff for sale.

Here is what I learned from this first sale:

  • Don’t call it a garage or yard sale. When you sell everything, it is a liquidation or estate sale. (No, you don’t have to be dead to have an estate sale.) This way, people don’t expect “garage sale” prices.
  • Price everything. From chairs and lamps to can openers and toothpick holders, people simply will not buy stuff without a price tag.
    Candle holders

    Price everything.

  • Clean and wash everything. Items sell much better if they are not dusty or rusted or just plain dirty.
  • Group like items together. I had a table with nothing but office supplies on it. I displayed all the glassware and pottery on shelves on a hutch in the kitchen. The games were beautifully and artfully stacked by a friend who knows how displays work. Collectibles and small antiques were gathered on two long tables.
  • Take the time to make nice displays. Make it easy for people to see what you have. For items of value, go on E-bay to see what similar items are selling for. Don’t just guess. You could miss out on good money.
    Glassware

    Wash everything and make nice displays.

  • Buy or borrow waiter-type aprons, the kind that tie around the waist and hang to the hips. Fill them with pens and labels and change for your friends who are helping.
  • Post the sale on your Facebook page.
  • Make a flyer and distribute it on community bulletin boards.
    Sale flyer

    Make flyers.

  • Tell everyone you know you’re having a big sale. Friends love supporting you and having a “piece of you” to remember you by.
  • Put an ad on Craigslist early on the day before the sale. If you post days early, you can’t repost for several days, and your ad will be buried way down the list.
  • Make good signs. All they need are the words “Estate Sale” or “Liquidation Sale,” the day and time of the sale, and an arrow pointing the driver in the right direction. Don’t bother with an address or phone number. Just get shoppers to you with arrows. Keep it simple! (I made my signs on poster board and taped them to cardboard boxes. Then I placed a huge rock inside each box to weight it. Worked GREAT! I got lots of compliments on my signs.)
    Sale signe

    Make good but simple signs.

  • I also put up a big poster board in the yard, facing the street, that said “MUCH MORE INSIDE!” for those who drive by first to see if they want to stop. That made a big difference.
  • Assign friends to specific areas of the sale if it’s spread out like mine was.
  • Have snacks and drinks for your helpers.
  • To maximize your profit from the sale, don’t price stuff ridiculously low. Don’t bargain on prices too early in the sale. If someone offered a lower price, I would say, “It’s still early in the sale, so you could come back tomorrow when the prices drop to see if the item still here.” People usually don’t argue after that. They buy.
    Collectibles

    Group like items together and price them well.

  • During the sale, make people feel welcome, but don’t stalk them. Be friendly, engage in small talk, and encourage them to browse.
  • Have a shelf of toys, books, and other kid stuff at kid height. While all my toys were priced, I usually just gave one to a kid who had been playing with it while mom or dad shopped. I did this just before the family left, whether or not they bought something.
  • Have music playing in the background. Don’t play it too loud to talk over. Choose music on the slow side; it’s been proven that people shop longer with slow music. I played a smooth jazz station on Pandora.
  • Have a free table near the entrance/exit. I had the “FREE STUFF” sign facing in toward the sale so people saw it on the way out rather than on the way in. People love this table.
  • Have shopping bags available for people who buy a lot of stuff.
  • Relax, enjoy the day, and appreciate the friends who come to help! I could not have done this sale without them.

Since I am not leaving until October, I did hold on to things I want to make my remaining time comfortable. I still have my couch, chair, kitchen items I use all the time, lamps, curtains, and other things that I need while I’m here. Those things will go in the last sale. (I am keeping about ten boxes of stuff, mostly clothes and kitchen items.)

My first sale was highly successful. It took planning, effort, and friends to pull it all together. I made a couple thousand dollars, and I still have lots more to sell. I will be having a sale every month until I go.

The biggest lesson I learned from going through the process of purging my personal belongings is this: when I finally do settle down again after traveling the world, I will be a minimalist.

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Living in the Ending of Things

Where is that thing, I wondered as I dug deep in the back of the closet.

I know I have it. I’ve had it for years.

As I searched for the missing item, I realized how much stuff had accumulated on just three shelves in only one closet. 

Stuff, stuff, everywhere. And I am getting rid of it all.

Every single thing.

Item by item, I scan each room as I try to assess the value of everything I have lovingly, and sometimes unknowingly, collected over a lifetime.

I am no longer attached to the vast majority of these things, these representations of my life. In fact, everything I own is being reduced to just ten boxes, things I’m actually making myself keep, because I will eventually settle into one place again. I am keeping items that are, for the most part, sentimental: a painting, a family heirloom, a favorite sweater, my new pans.

I’m thrilled that my family was just visiting, because I gave a box to each of them, two adults, two teenagers, and a pre-teen, and had them fill their boxes with whatever they could find of mine that they wanted. I was thrilled when my beautiful great-niece chose my beloved collection of perfume bottles and antique trinkets from the top of some long-forgotten woman’s mirrored vanity. The tall, handsome 14-year-old snagged a stunning decorative knife, the youngest, still a sweet kid but looking more and more like a young man, got my first-gen iPad. Their mom and dad got camping stuff and keepsakes. They each got a box-full of my memories.

How does one begin to liquidate a lifetime of possessions? Getting rid of all my personal belongings is a monumental task, and yet here it is, looming in front of me. 

Memories flood in as I look more closely at things I’ve had for years, things I don’t really see any more. One by one, memories come from my many years of a marriage long since over, of my crafting days, of lifelong friendships and friendships come and gone. Even my plants hold the history of the business I once owned. Who is going to inherit these memories? Who will hold precious the items I have carefully chosen, over many years, to fill my space?

One by one, items I post to my Facebook friends are finding homes with people I know, at least. Nothing has yet gone to a random stranger, although that will certainly happen in my first liquidation sale. 

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Bottom photo by Suzanne McQueen

But how can I possibly put a price tag on the little print of Vermeer’s L’astronome I got when my husband and I visited the Louvre on our first and only trip together to Europe? What is the value of the lovingly hand-beaded astronomy orb I spent hours and hours making during a creative period? How do I price the tiny trinkets friends have gifted me over the years, dusty now, sitting in a glass bowl?

I have given myself many months to prepare for this part, this parting with the symbols of my life. I am spending time with my thoughts, my memories filled with sweet hope, quiet satisfaction, deep contentment, tragedy, and lost love.

Occasionally, I must remind myself why I am doing this. Why am I, at fifty-eight years old, selling everything I own to travel the world? Then the spark flares, the adrenal flows, and the excitement rises as I remember: to experience life to its fullest, to meet people of all colors, shapes, and sizes around the globe; to see the spectacular sites of ancient history; to hear the sounds of monkeys screeching, shop owners calling out in strange tongues, and temple bells ringing through the jungle; to smell the fragrance of flowers I’ve never seen, aromas of foods I’ve never heard of; and to taste, in all respects, the flavors of lands far away and completely foreign to me.

This is what drives me: the knowledge that this is the only life I have. The time is now, while I am young enough and healthy enough to vagabond my way through the world. And I am thrilled and excited all over again.

Ah, there’s that thing. I gently pull out a small, faded photo of my former husband and me before we got married. I am sitting on his Harley, and he is standing beside me. We are falling in love, smiling the smiles of joy and young life. There are casts on each of our broken right arms. The Golden Gate Bridge is rising high in the background. This picture is going with me on my journey around the world. It holds all the love, all the dreams, all the adventure I once felt as a young woman. It will remind me that the future of that young woman is now. Now I stand on the threshold of the rest of my life. 

If you like this blog post, please like, comment, and share. Doing so will help support me as I prepare for this amazing lifetime journey.

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