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Goodby Home, Hello World

June 25, 1992|PAULA M. JHUNG

Call it what you want, escape, wanderlust, the call of the wild, but many of us fantasize about giving up the rat race to experience a different way of life in another part of the world.

Some people actually do it: Leo Urias, 27, quit his job teaching in Vista to climb the Himalayas; when the tables turned on Ginger Allen, 48, of Solana Beach, she righted them with travel to distant ports; Bill Wheeler, 48, of Solana Beach decided he'd rather cross the Sahara than practice medicine.

Although North County is home to these and other modern day vagabonds, for some this is the far corner of the world being explored: Sherlie Thomas, 38, left behind her job in British banking to sample life here.

Although they often get where they're going by air, these travelers don't stay in tourist hotels and eat in expensive restaurants. They conserve their dollars and most often live simply to stretch the length and distance of their travels.

Among those who regularly see people leaving their careers behind for travel are Angie Brenner of Word Journeys in Solana Beach and Carolyn Wood of Maps & Travel in Encinitas. Both say they've seen an increase in the number of customers in their stores who've made the decision to not just take a vacation, but to travel as a lifestyle.

Here is how four individuals broke away:



With a sprawling estate in Rancho Santa Fe, a 26-year marriage, three grown children and rewarding volunteer work, Ginger Allen thought she was living her dream.

But her life today could hardly be more different: At age 48 she is single, without possessions and doing odd jobs in far corners of the world to fund her passion for travel.

After a financially difficult divorce, Allen found herself struggling to keep a roof over her head and a new business alive. In a couple of years, she went from a large house to a small condo, to a smaller apartment. She was then burglarized of all her jewelry. "No matter what I did, money seemed to slip from my hands," said Allen.

So throwing caution to the wind, she put her belongings in storage, took the money she had, and left for a six-month odyssey around the world.

"I had never done anything like it before," said Allen. "But being forced to give up all the trappings gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted, and that was to travel."

Her friends couldn't believe she had the courage to take off by herself. But she was seldom alone. She met and traveled with people of all walks of life and ages. In Bali, for instance, she connected with a 21 year old American she met on a flight from Singapore. "I told her at the beginning she ought to hang out with people of her own age, but she insisted," said Allen. "We ended up having a ball jeeping through the countryside. We met neat people, some her age, some closer to mine; two brothers for instance who put me up in Germany when I got there. The age factor diminishes when you're traveling alone."

In the port of Patrai, Greece, waiting to sail across the Adriatic to Italy, Allen found herself in a sea of faded blue jeans and backpacks. "I looked around and realized none of them were any older than my children," she said. "But I was dressed just like the rest of them and didn't feel at all out of place."

But there were times when she did feel out of her element. Being married at 19, she had always been surrounded by family. "It was hard at first," she said. "But I've learned to appreciate my solitude, and what kept me going were the everyday challenges of money, people, and finding a place to stay the night."

Sometimes she stayed in private homes, other times in pensione-type places. In Greece, $15 was the most she ever spent on a room. In Bali room and board cost her $10 a day.

Allen booked transportation through Council Travel, a student agency at UCSD where she had just finished a credential. She had originally planned a shorter trip but found with special fares and free stopovers she could extend her journey for less money than planned. "If I can get there cheap and it's cheap to be there, I'll go," said Allen. she traveled for six months for just under $10,000.

Allen's lack of foreign language skills posed few problems. Even in the most remote areas she usually found someone who could speak enough English to help. "It can be frustrating sometimes not knowing the language because you can't always comprehend how they do things," said Allen. "But you learn to become flexible."

The trip wasn't always a bed of roses. She was robbed both in Czechoslovakia and in Spain, and suffered a nasty fall from a motorbike in Greece where she was hospitalized. "I had some outrageous scars," said Allen, "but the thought of coming home never occurred to me."

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