Dear Joyce: Just finished another epic journey. This time with my new husband. London to Capetown, South Africa. Two continents, 25 countries, 25,000 miles (at 15 mph), 10 flat tires, four months and 26 days.
Got arrested in Nigeria for "taking pictures of naked children" -- they had shorts on really. Was patted by a very wild 400-pound gorilla. Held chimps. Sat near lions. Were charged by elephants. What a wonderful world! It is truly a privileged life I have. -- Kristen Mitchell.
This is today's postcard from a young woman whose true life story of adventure and romance sounds like the makings of a film starring Kathleen Turner. In her mid-20s, Mitchell quit her marketing job in San Diego. With $600 to her name and owing $12,000 in student loans, she grabbed a sudden opportunity to travel to Australia where she worked for 10 months as a waitress on an island in the Great Barrier Reef.
Mitchell is one of the country's great escape artists -- but far from the only person who has decided on a career divorce, or separation at least, to chuck everything and follow where bliss leads. Ben and Esther Burns of Chicago have been quitting great jobs to see the world since 1939. John Riley quit his Nevada engineering job to rebuild the slums of Bombay, one shack at a time. The Tom Babbits of York, Maine, decided to sail away for a year, tutoring their children with correspondence courses.
It's not happening in huge numbers, but apparently more Americans are feeling that life is too short to starve their dreams to death. People tend to put things off, travelers say. We ignore central human needs to pursue less meaningful side issues. Then we turn around and the time to pursue dreams is -- poof! -- gone.
Travelers inevitably run into troubles as they attempt to get quick jobs and often are forbidden work permits in host nations. Mitchell's best job was teaching English in Japan for 14 months, which paid well and allowed her to pay off debts with money left over for traveling in Japan. She became a celebrity in her company's television commercial and billboard advertising.
Mitchell's wildest adventure was crossing a ravine in Pakistan in a bucket as men ran toward her with guns and boys threw stones at her. They turned out to be friendly and helped her cross the river.
Malcolm Mitchell, Kristen's new husband, and she had dated each other for several years before she took off. The romance began perking after she'd been traveling two years and he finished his master's degree. Even though he traveled to India, their paths didn't cross. Their communications passed in the mail. His letter directed her to a note behind a picture in a cafe in India, which she found was a marriage proposal. He received a Japanese puzzle box on which she had written a list of her values. It was true romance.
The Mitchells were married in San Diego. A few months after the wedding, they left on a trip that includes an expedition, partly funded by National Geographic, to the Sahara to study the Blue Men, a tribe that formerly ran salt caravans.
Mitchell insists she has no sense of direction, no knowledge of languages and not much money. When she stops in the workplace again, it probably will be as an office manager, but preferably as a travel writer. She doesn't see herself as an adventurous person, merely one who wants to taste the banquet of life. As Mitchell explains:
"Adventure isn't something you sign up for. Adventure is your attitude. Unless you're tied to a heart-and-lung machine, nothing binds you to your life -- there never is a perfect time. The goal in life is not to get through it but to live it."