Friday, September 10, 2010

My Name Is Lena and I’m a Downshifter...

My name is Lena and I’m lucky.  I have done well in one of the most random lotteries of all: parental one.  Besides the practical convenience of being pretty (you know, free drinks), compact (enough leg room on the smallest bus) and healthy (no allergies, no broken bones and a digestive system that can process nuclear waste), I owe to my dad my boundless curiosity and an over-anal(ytical) mind to my mom.  
When I was a little girl my mother told me that there was nothing I couldn’t do: focused enthusiasm was the key ingredient of any magic in her opinion. So whatever I wanted bad enough (to work for it hard enough) always ended up within my reach.   Thus by the age of 30 I have built a highly successful career.  So successful in fact, that there was nothing left for me to improve in my job - short of implanting somebody else’s brain.  
Yep, I’m that good.  Of course, there’s always more money to be made, newer cars to be bought and companies’ names to be upgraded.  But ultimately this is as good as it gets for me.  I will never have a more spectacular combo of benefits:  I love my job, I travel a lot, I look and feel like 20 (thanks again, mom!), I’m single (read “free”, not “alone”) and have no debts or liabilities of any kind.  
The biggest commitment in my life is work.  Wait, let me correct that: it’s my ONLY commitment!  I occasionally help my parental family financially, but I do that out of love, not because I’m obliged.  With work it’s different: loving it (and I do, I DO!) helps me cope with the obligation part.
I have never particularly wanted to have kids, pets or a husband.  When I think of myself at an old age, I picture a Miss-Marple-like character, living in a neat little house in a neat little village.  Curious and somewhat nosy, yet intelligent and still enjoying her days, with books and memories for company and entertainment.  What a charming chapter in life!  No more appearances to be kept, no more men to seduce, no more external, unsatisfiable desires - just living…
Couple years ago I started hearing about downshifters: these vagabonds of the modern world seemed to follow their wanderlust so effortlessly! For them living - just living! - didn’t require vindication of elderliness.  I was enchanted by them, envied them and knew that I - clearly! - would never have the guts to become one of them.
A little later, during a (painfully short!) trip to Thailand, I met numerous escapees from the West. Their expatriation stories were almost identical: a vacation that ran several months/years/decades longer than was originally planned.  Some owned bars and guest houses, motorbike rentals and internet cafes.  Others just strolled around the planet, country after country, returning to the developed world only to generate enough cash for the next journey.  
Back home I started to really think about it.  I looked at my fear of uncertainty through my mother’s eyes: “There’s nothing you can’t do!”  I counted all my savings (don’t need a car, not enough for an apartment and hell, not taking any credits in this economy!), talked to my bosses (“All my boyfriends combined didn’t last quite as long as this job - I need a break!”) and started planning my exodus.
So here!  My name is Lena and I’m a downshifter!  Well… at least a part-time one.  Starting October 2010 I’m taking 6 months off and heading to South East Asia.  I’ll be posting my prep reports as well as my travel notes and photographs here.  I’ll try to keep it real (“what’s the cost of a tram ride in Istanbul?”, “are shared bathrooms really that atrocious?”), entertaining (roasted bug tastings with graphic descriptions) and funny (I solemnly swear to recite all travel jokes and report all comic accidents, no matter how embarrassing!)
So far my route looks as follows:
- Istanbul (October 5-14, 2010)
- Sri Lanka (October 14-November 5, 2010)
- Phuket, Thailand (November 6-December 4, 2010)
- Koh Phangan, Thailand (December 10, 2010-January 10, 2011)
- Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, North Thailand (January , 2011)
- Laos (February, 2011)
- Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam  (March, 2011)


  1. Happy Travels! Great to see your itinerary. I'm heading for Cambodia soon, let me know if you travel there!


  2. Thanks! I'm actually debating going to Cambodia... 1,5 months might be too long for Vietnam alone.

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