Miami departure by Elliott Hester
the first time in my adult life I am keyless. I no longer own apartment
keys, car keys or work-related keys. The keys to my bicycle lock,
storage facility and mailbox have either been returned or tossed
away. Keys are no longer necessary because, as of a few weeks ago,
I own almost nothing and live essentially nowhere. That's when I
quit my job, sold all my possessions, abandoned my apartment and
took off, alone, on a one-year trip around the world.
I didn't actually quit my job as a commercial airline flight attendant.
I secured a leave of absence. This gives me two options: return
to work at the beginning of 2004, or accept another one-year leave.
With any luck, I'll be in a position to accept.
The idea for this around-the-world trip took flight in 1989 when
I set out on a three-month global excursion. Armed with $4,000 in
travelers checks, I nickel-and-dimed my way through the South Pacific,
Australia, Bali, Thailand and Nepal. By the time I reached Europe
my funds had been depleted and I returned home, abruptly, having
failed to reach many destinations on my itinerary.
Nevertheless, the experience was an epiphany. Rather than spend
hard-earned money on new cars and electronic toys, as many of my
contemporaries were doing, I began using my disposable income to
travel. Two weeks in the Greek Islands. Twenty days in Spain. Quick
jaunts to Central and South America. But rather than satisfy my
appetite for traveling, these trips simply made me hungry for more.
I developed a taste for authentic Thai food, learned to scuba dive
at Australiaís Great Barrier Reef, became mesmerized by the Balinese
sunset which, for those who've never seen it, is like watching a
huge ball of orange sherbet melt into the sea. With each new outing
the world became more intriguing and I became more comfortable in
it. But like a fisherman snagging the proverbial flounder, reality
kept reeling me back to shore. There were bills to pay, after all.
To satisfy my travel habit I had to work.
Thanks to good fortune, however, I've finally made the ultimate
getaway. Sales of my first book, "Plane Insanity: A Flight
Attendant's Tales of Sex, Rage and Queasiness at 30,000 Feet"
(St. Martin's Press), were healthy enough to help stave off creditors
and breathe life into my defunct savings account. Believe it or
not, Whoopi Goldberg read the book and thought it was funny. Her
people spoke to my person and voila! Through her production company,
Whoop Inc., Ms. Goldberg purchased the film option for the book.
No, I didn't get rich. But if the movie goes into production cha
ching! The payday will be sweet. I"m taking fifty of my closest
friends to dinner at McDonald's.
Insanity's success led to a second book deal and a modest advance
of royalties. This new book which, incidentally, focuses
on my around-the-world trip is scheduled for publication
in Sept., 2004. With the moderate windfall, I paid off my debts
and cleared the runway for departure.
I plan to spend all of 2003 as a "Continental Drifter".
I'll travel west, from continent to continent, beginning from my
former home in Miami and continuing to South America, Australia,
Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. The timing of this route allows
for a perpetual summer. My travel wardrobe will consist primarily
of T-shirts, shorts, loose-fitting cotton pants and sunglasses.
I'll live out of a duffle bag, eat in low-cost restaurants, sleep
in hostels, discount hotels and occasionally in the home of a benevolent
After a year of continental drifting, perhaps I'll rent an apartment
in the posh Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta. (With the devaluation
of the Argentinean peso, a stylish one-bedroom apartment costs as
little as $300 U.S. per month.) Maybe I'll move to Barcelona and
join my sister who has lived there for the past ten years. Or maybe
I'll "go" Hollywood. By some quirk of fate, the "Plane
Insanity" film option names me as co-producer. If the project
gets green-lighted I could be living la vida loca in la la land.
But first things first.
I called American Airlines to get ticket prices. The "OneWorld"
alliance with British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and other
carriers allows passengers to book itineraries at American's "around-the-world"
desk. When attempting to make reservations, however, the problem
with airline alliances is that you're only allowed to fly on partner
carriers. This limits your itinerary and in some situations forces
you to fly hundreds of miles out of the way. The result can mean
higher ticket prices and a more arduous travel schedule.
Rather than face similar restrictions with United, Delta or USAirways
alliances, I contacted travel agencies that specialize in around-the-world
trips. Two leading agencies, both based in San Francisco, purchase
deeply discounted one-way fares from a variety of carriers and pass
on the savings to customers. Air Brokers International provides
excellent services. But in the end I went with AirTreks.com, mainly
because their website's "Trip Planner" allowed me to add,
subtract and shuffle destinations until my itinerary reached near
perfection. Then I clicked a button and within seconds received
an estimated price. It took a few quick phone calls to workout kinks
in the itinerary and obtain a final price.
My flight itinerary looks like this: Miami - Buenos Aires - Miami
- Los Angeles - Papeete, Tahiti - Sydney - (overland to Darwin,
Australia) - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei - Bangkok - (overland to
Singapore) - Bali - New Delhi, India - (overland to Bombay) - Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia - Cairo - Athens - Prague - Helsinki - Barcelona.
Total AirTreks price: around $3,500 (not including the Miami - Buenos
Aires - Miami segment which I secured with an airline employee pass).
After Barcelona I might end up anywhere, so I haven't purchased
a return ticket home. But along the way I'm planning trips to Vietnam,
Russia, Estonia, Hong Kong, and will probably pop in at a few unexpected
to recent terrorists attacks, some say this is a bad time to travel.
Immediately following the October, 2002, Bali bombing in which
nearly 200 people were killed, for example, the U.S. State Department
(and similar agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other
countries) warned citizens to refrain from traveling to Indonesia.
Bali's beaches emptied; the terrorists won. But we can't let terrorism
dictate our every move. I've visited Bali on two previous occasions
and refuse to let the threat of terrorism prevent me from a third.
Although gunmen entered the Hatsheput Temple in Luxor and murdered
58 tourists in 1997, Egypt remains on my itinerary. Our world
is rife with acts both horrible and sublime. The latter inspires
me to travel. The former makes some of us stay home.
Because I'm a single, 44-year-old with no children, it was easy
to leave the rat race and jettison everything I own. To that end,
I sold my car, television, stereo and every stick of furniture
in my apartment. I packed my collection of books and carted them
to the Miami Public Library. Most of my clothes were donated to
Camilla's House, a local homeless shelter. I sent the few remaining
belongings to my mother for safe keeping.
After reducing my life to that which fits into a single suitcase,
I needed to find the right one for the trip. I chose a 35-inch
Tumi duffle bag ($525.00) with in-line skate wheels and a retractable
handle. Made of ballistic nylon, itís large enough to hold all
my possessions and tough enough (I hope) to withstand punishment
from a worldwide mob of baggage handlers. Next, I purchased a
digital camera and stocked up on Lonely Planet travel guides --
one for each destination (to lighten the load, I used a razor
blade to cut out thousands of unnecessary pages).
No travel writer worth his adjectives would be caught without
a notebook computer. I selected a Gateway 400XL ($1,699.00), complete
with a 15-inch screen and CD-ROM burner that allows me to save
hundreds (perhaps thousands) of high-resolution digital photos,
some of which will be emailed to this newspaper for publication.
To carry and protect the computer, I searched the Internet and
found a Darwin backpack ($141.00) from Willow Designs www.willowdesign.com.
It's one of the few computer backpacks that accommodates big-screen
notebooks and has enough zippered compartments to store a portable
is the final concern. In addition to paying off my debts, I cancelled
all but three credit cards and designated one low-finance-charge
MasterCard as the primary credit card for the trip (the two remaining
cards have zero balances and will only be used in emergencies).
Online banking allows me to receive and pay monthly credit card
bills, transfer funds between bank accounts, check balances and
receive wire transfers all this, using my notebook computer
(with America Online local access), or a variety of computers
at Internet cafes throughout the world. For quick cash I'll reach
for my ATM bank card which should work in every country on my
itinerary. For backup, I'm carrying a small stash of traveler's
I've managed to allocate $60 per day for this one-year global
adventure. French Polynesia, Australia and Europe will no doubt
exceed the daily limit. But in Southeast Asia, Africa and the
Indian subcontinent where I plan to spend a big chunk of
time the low cost of living should balance the overall
With everything I own in a rolling duffle bag and computer backpack,
I'm off to see the Wizard. Like the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and
Scarecrow, perhaps I'm trying to find some missing attribute.
A heart? Courage? A better brain? And maybe, when this yellow
brick road comes to an end, I'll pick up a new set of keys. But
for now, the world is my doorstep. For the first time in my adult
life I am free.
here for images of trip
stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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