A friend and I were out for a drive one day when I raised a subject that had been on my mind for some time.
I'm in a rut, I said. I've been a free-lance writer in the same city for 20 years. But now that the Internet is at my disposal, I should be able to use e-mail to continue submitting work assignments no matter where I live. So why can't I do what I do in a nicer place a place like, say, San Francisco?
My friend thought for a minute before replying, "Why can't you do what you do in a place like Paris?"
In the 40-odd years prior to the day of that conversation I had never left the United States, save for a few short trips to Canada. I didn't even have a passport. My knowledge of the world was limited to information I gleaned from newspapers and books. My foreign-language skills consisted of the remnants of high school French and a few words of German I picked up primarily from movies set during World War II.
Nevertheless, a little more than a year after that conversation, I was standing in an airport departure lounge, waiting to board an overnight flight to Europe. I had sold my house, my car, and most of my possessions. I had a new laptop computer and a new suitcase, and the only information I needed on my new business card was my name and my e-mail address.
Waiting for my flight, I was as nervous as a human being can be while still ambulatory and reasonably coherent. I had no idea what I was doing.
It is now four years since I gave up my stable life and became a "virtual" person, tethered to the "real" world by little else than an Internet connection.
I didn't settle in Paris, but instead chose to travel. To date, I have spent extended periods in England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Slovenia, Japan, China, and Australia. Each country has offered me something intriguing in the way of food, culture, language, politics, and people.
Even the train stations are interesting.
I now have wonderful friends in some of the great cities of the world London, Glasgow, Munich, Vienna, Warsaw, Tokyo, and even Shanghai. Between face-to-face encounters we stay in touch via e-mail, which means I spend an inordinate amount of time on the Web. If you want to know the locations of the best cybercafes in much of Europe and Asia, I'm your guy.
Because I have acquaintances in so many places, I am privileged to see and learn about aspects of other countries that typical tourists seldom experience. I have participated in heated debates with total strangers in smoky cafes. I have been given access to rare materials in national archives. I have eaten foods that don't appear on restaurant menus. I have even gone fly-fishing in the middle of London. Invariably, however, my most interesting experiences spring from the most mundane of activities walking the streets of the cities I visit.
Most of the people I know in the US and around the world tell me they envy my way of living. They wish that they could do something similar.
They would not be so envious if they knew how much effort is involved in making a living while on the go. No one I know would want to spend so many hours constructing work and travel arrangements, killing time in airports, or trying to decipher train schedules written in languages they don't understand. Nor would they be willing to settle for a reduced income in exchange for more independence.
Most people are intrigued by the idea of freedom, but in practice they much prefer stability and security. Then again, who hasn't felt the ground tremble beneath his feet at one time or another?
Living with insecurity does not necessarily mean living with fear. It is a skill that can be learned like any other, and it requires practice. It also requires the willingness to take a chance, to embrace the unknown, to grab opportunity when it presents itself.
It is always difficult to forgo the comfortable and the familiar, as I found out in an airport departure lounge four years ago. I didn't know what I would find, or even if the step I was taking would end in disaster. But if my experience since then is any guide, it was most assuredly worth the risk.
I have never recommended my lifestyle to anyone, and I never will. It isn't the sort of path that most reasonable people choose to follow. I do, however, recommend taking the occasional chance in life. As with most things, caution is fine when applied in moderation. But sometimes you just have to trust, and make the leap.