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Packing up...for good

Have you ever wanted to take off and travel around the world for as long as you wanted? That's what reporter Jeff Tyler is going to do. He's cut his domestic ties, leaving the security of a steady job with benefits and taking off to travel around the South Pacific and Asia. Over the coming months, he'll bring us stories from that corner of the globe. But first, we asked him to focus on himself and consider not so much what it's like to go someplace else but what it's like to leave the place you think of as home.

Packing up...for good
by Jeff Tyler

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Dear Rudy,

It's less than a week now before I leave on my big trip. I'll be gone between six months and a year, and that requires some planning.

I've always wanted to be that sort of easy-going free spirit who could just pack up the bags and leave at a moment's notice. Walk away from possessions and obligations and not give the past a second thought. But the truth is that's just not me. I give everything a second thought.

Maybe that's why I find getting ready for a long trip to be so stressful.

Like anyone going abroad for an extended period, I've got to deal with a daunting series of mundane tasks. Visas, health insurance, international drivers permit, electrical adapters and transformers, traveler's checks, travel books, and of course, travel shots.

Terry: "We'll start with immunizations and the typical mosquito repellants and how to avoid food and water problems*"

My doctor, Terry Rock, is great. She knows travel medicine backwards and forwards and is very thorough in explaining it all. But still, the process is a little traumatizing because it's my responsibility to make an informed decision, and choose what drugs to take. For example, the kind of malaria pills that are easiest to take could, as a side effect, induce nightmares and hallucinations. Then there is a disease found in rural areas around Asia called Japanese Encephalitis. It's extremely rare but if you do get it, you'll likely die or be left with brain damage. The problem is, the vaccine is potentially just as bad.

Packing up

Terry: "There was an unexplained death of a young, presumably healthy person taking the vaccine."

It's things like this that stress me out. As does moving...

I'll be away long enough that it doesn't make sense to sublet my place. So, I'm leaving the Los Angeles apartment where I've lived for almost five years. My mom came by to help me pack it all up.

Mom: "It's easy to look around an apartment and think, 'I don't have that much stuff', but we're going to have six boxes of books."

Books, pictures of friends, posters on the walls, souvenirs from past trips to West Africa and the Middle East, all the inanimate objects that have come to symbolize my identity. Suddenly, all this stuff is just junk that needs to be categorized, boxed up, and labeled before going into storage.

And as I empty out my apartment, I feel a little empty myself. Luckily, my mom is reassuring.

Mom: "But it's all exciting. It's a matter of living your life. And if you don't live your life, then you're always going to have regrets about, 'Well, gee, I wish I had. I wish I had experimented and tried out things that were on the edge. Not the standard kind of thing that people do.'"

I completely agree. I mean, I almost have to. It's the same argument I've used with several ex-girlfriends. "Why wait for retirement?" I'd say, "Travel now, live life to the fullest." And they'd reply, "Travel, yes. But for a year? Quit the job and leave the people I love? No thanks. Travel shouldn't come between you and what's really important in life, like family and relationships."

Mike: "I'm using the Bible as my road map, my last stop is heaven one sweet day."

That's my friend Mike singing an old folk song and playing the ukulele. We got together recently for a party at an old inn just north of San Francisco. Tons of food and wine, family and friends, kids all over the place and lots of music, the kind of event that I'll really miss when I'm away.

Packing up

And everybody keeps telling me that they envy me, how great it must be to chuck all my responsibilities and hit the road. But secretly I envy them, being married, having kids, owning a house. And I wonder if the whole trip is just an excuse to justify not having grown up and settled down.

When you're in your 20's and you go abroad for months at a time, people see it as an adventure. But when you do it in your 30's, they see it as a crisis. I'm 31.

My stepbrother Bill is a few years older than I am and can relate.

Bill: "The last time I went I had planed to go again for four months, like I did in Asia. When I got down there, I'm sure it was because I was older. And I realized I don't want to be gone for so long. I realized I wanted to be at home with the family more than I really wanted to go cruise around Third World countries forever, you know?"

I do know. And yet, I'm still going. If I didn't, I'd always wonder. I could go back and forth about this forever. But it's a good chance to learn something. If not about the world, then at least about myself.

Bill: "Confucius said 'Go away from your life and view it from a distance, because only then can you understand how it is.'"

That's one of Bill's favorite quotes. And it may be fortune cookie philosophy, but I'm gonna take it with me any way. I'll write you about my adventures from the road, Rudy.

Wish me luck.



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