“I HAVEN’T BEEN EVERYWHERE, BUT IT’S ON MY LIST.” — Susan Sontag
I arrived in Bahrain on September 29th, exhausted after a 20-plus hour journey, beginning in Tampa, Florida, a stopover in Boston, changed planes in Dubai, and finally landing in Muharraq, Bahrain.
This flight was a watershed event for me. My dream of travel took root while I was a child, riding across the country with my mother and sister in our red and white Ford sedan, from Ohio to California, watching the scenery change from green farmland to fields with working oil pumps, to sage brush followed by saguaro cactus, to irrigated citrus and avocado trees in Southern California and the huge Pacific Ocean. After an election observation mission in Ukraine years later, the dream grew from touring the United States to touring Europe as well, and then, in the last few years, why not the whole planet?
There is so much to see and learn in the world, so many people to know, so many different approaches to living a life, that I wanted most to travel when I could make the journey at my leisure, with time for reflection. I retired in March of this year, and “now” is finally that time. It will never be easier. I hope to share this journey with you, and perhaps even to entice you toward a journey of your own.
“Just taking off,” like many things in modern life, is not as simple as it sounds. Life in the United States has a lot of societal, bureaucratic, and economic strings attached: houses, utilities, passports, drivers’ licenses, forwarding mail, what to do with the car insurance and the car itself, paychecks, pensions, income tax returns, remote banking, healthcare, storage or disposal of household goods, mobile phones, Internet access, and that’s not an exhaustive list.
People asked when I planned to leave. I told them 2017 would be a year of transition, from career to retirement and from settled resident to gypsy. “How much money will you need?” This is the question that deters many would-be travelers from their treks, but the answer is tied to the style of travel.
I wanted to travel at leisure, not bound by a schedule or a fixed itinerary. I wanted to get to know the areas I would visit by looking at neighborhoods, people-watching and people-meeting, and sampling the local public transportation and food, as well as visiting museums, historical buildings, and cultural events when possible. Some people prefer luxurious travel — rented cars and upscale hotels — but it’s not for me. It feels isolated and uniform, and lacks the sense of place, the discovery of societies that developed differently.
I loosely planned about two years for this adventure. I don’t know if I will actually use two full years, if I will continue for longer than that, or if I’ll ever come home at all, but planning requires some decisions. It requires understanding the intersection of money required and money available. How much would I need for full-time travel? I read books: The Rough Guide to First-time Around the World, Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, and See the World on $50 a Day, among others. These were people who chose extended travel and public transportation, and avoided luxury hotels.
I had to make choices. In the end, I decided that I could manage this adventure best by shedding as much financial responsibility as possible and sold my house. That freed most of my annual income for travel, reducing the draw on assets, plus I have many fewer worries plucking at the back of my brain. I left my car with my daughter in Florida, otherwise, I would have ditched that, too. Extreme? I suppose so. There will be other appealing houses to love, but I only get one life.
The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World by Doug Lansky, published by Rough Guides, 2016.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day by Matthew Keynes, published by Penguin Publishing Group, 2013.
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, published by Ballantine Books, 2016.
All available through amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and possibly your local bookstore.