by Elaine J. Masters
Living in Southeast Alaska had its perks. In the 6 years I was in Ketchikan and Juneau, the scenery and wildlife never once became anything less than awe inspiring. After working as a volunteer producer at a public radio station, I’d finally landed a paid gig as Operations Director and loved every minute. So, it was shocking when my boyfriend suggested that we take our back packs and travel the world for 6 months. Crazy idea! No way. I couldn’t do that! But then the dreams of standing in the Parthenon, finally visiting the Louvre in Paris, seeing dear friends in London, wouldn’t let me be.
In Alaska at that time Juneau was bustling. It was a little San Francisco with a side of survivalist spice. I loved the adventure of it and yet, the weather was daunting. Cabin fever was no joke for anyone living ‘out the road’. It wasn’t that surprising for people to take 2 or 3 month sabbaticals just to stay sane. So, finally gathering the courage to ask my boss for a 6 month leave wasn’t that much of a stretch. As long as I found someone to fill the position in my absence, he gave me his blessing. I found two. They job-shared and soon I was on my way.
I can’t speak highly enough of going long and far. We started gently with nearly a month visiting family and friends on both coasts. Leaving LA on a midnight flight for New Jersey was tiring but my only regret was not being alert enough to give up my seat in exchange for a ticket anywhere the airlines flew. We realized later that ticket could’ve taken us to London for free.
Finally landing in London and taking the rail line downtown is burned in my memory. People looked the same but not. Fashion was extreme for a girl used to down parkas and “Ketchikan tennies” (rubber boots). It was early spring and having had enough cold we decided to try our luck at a ‘bucket shop’ (listed in Time Out magazine) settling on discounted tickets to Sri Lanka.
There was a point, about 6 weeks into the trip, when I experienced a shift. It can happen for anyone at different points in a long journey. I was no longer just taking a trip, I was a traveler. Our itinerary was loose but there was enough ahead of me that I didn’t have to plan or worry about returning. I was able to be completely and totally present.
Over the coming months that absolute being in the now served me well and led to so many stories, people and experiences. When I finally did return to the states I’ll never forget calling my boss from Anchorage where I was considering a few days exploring Denali Park when he said, ‘If you want your job, you’d better come back now.’ I couldn’t have known that the station was on the edge of bankruptcy and there was so much bad blood, so much rancor and bitterness that my presence was a breath of fresh air.
The outcome? Because I hadn’t been there, taking sides, battling over budgets and positions and was an ‘in-house’ hire, the station manager asked me to step into the Program Directors place. It was another shock but a wonderful one that kept me there for another two years before the travel bug hit again and I left Alaska permanently.
A fluke? – Surprisingly no. There are many intrepid travelers who return with new perspectives, skills and wisdom making them beacons in their company or crowded job market. There’s also another secret – when I was overseas I met people from many countries, back-packing and not, but few Americans. We have an understandable land-locked sensibility in North America, with all its regional and natural diversity. Media also has us petrified of disaster whether it’s food borne illnesses, pirates at sea, terrorists, what have you. America needs its everyday ambassadors as much as the governmental appointees. If you ever had a dream of standing in the Parthenon, singing with school children in a Fijian bure, or driving through the English countryside, summon the courage and set a date to go. A community of like-hearted nomads is there for you at Meet, Plan, Go.
I only wish that MPG had been around when we set our sights on a big trip. It also would’ve been helpful to have a local community of world travelers to commiserate with. That’s a big reason I’ve taken on being the San Diego host and set up our big event on October 16th. It’s been a joy to draw in the expert travelers to speak and set up the space. Now, we just need you! There are 10 cities across the North American continent holding their events at the same time. Join us.