Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Leaving it all behind currently features an article about a middle-aged couple who sold everything and toured the world on bicycles from 2002-2006. The title of the article is "Leaving it all behind." I can't imagine a more warped (yet, admittedly, mainstream) way to characterize their lifestyle change. Instead, I'd call it "Putting it all ahead."

If traversing the well-worn path between home and office every day, sitting in a chair for 40 hours a week, seeing and experiencing the same things day in and day out is "normal," such that breaking out of that cycle and doing something bold means you're "leaving it all behind," then maybe I'm the one with the warped perspective. To me, it seems that escaping the rat race would put the best of what life can offer ahead of—not behind—you.

Contemplating the seductive idea of exploring the world on your own timetable (instead of wedging such journeys into the small box delimited by your company's vacation policy), I imagine how liberating that would feel, how open your lifestyle would become. The phrase "leaving it all behind" contradicts that feeling; it connotes sacrifice, a limitation of options, like you're giving up everything. I think the opposite is true: in choosing such a lifestyle, I think you gain everything.

You acquire the power to define your own life, instead of having it defined for you by the expectations of America's consumerist society. You get the humbling insight of experiencing how the other 98 percent of the world lives, instead of viewing life through the lens of reality TV, celebrity gossip mags and Pottery Barn catalogs. You attain the perspective of seeing just how large this planet is, and how tiny your little place in it is. Perhaps most importantly, you learn what matters most: how much more a new experience adds to your life than does a new pair of trendy shoes.

The critics (my father chief among them) will offer the usual arguments against vagabond living: what about health insurance? retirement savings? financial security? Clearly, these are valid concerns, but they are not reasons NOT to "leave it all behind." If done right, you can live like Pat and Cat Patterson, bicycling around the world—or sailing, or backpacking, or whatever turns you on—and still keep some measure of security. Your 401(k) might not grow as quickly, you might not be able to see a doctor for every sniffle, you will almost certainly have to tighten the belt and live on less. But isn't that the point?

I think we should all take a sabbatical at some point in our lives, whether for only a few months, or for several years, like the Pattersons. It's certainly a notion that I've thought about more than once before. If or when I do it, however, you won't hear me saying I'm "leaving it all behind."

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