Finding a Fitting Label


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Sometimes I get caught up in trying to label myself. I am not sure if I am trying to figure out where I belong in the order of things or if I am just trying to come up with a handy shorthand to explain myself to others.

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Before I retired, my labels were pretty straightforward. Merchant Marine Officer: short explanation to normals was, “I drive huge ships that the military doesn’t own.” Resident of Hawaii: this one always got me envious utterances. Union Member: Hawaii is a state where this label is a mark of respectability. Those three labels were all I needed to let people know where I fit into the world.

Now that I am retired, and roaming about, people are confused by me. Am I confused by me? Maybe so. Retiree is a good label, but the people I have met on my journey don’t find that one sufficient to locate me.

When I was in Ecuador, the tourists I crossed paths with were always asking me how many days I would be in Cuenca before moving on. It seemed that even the slow traveling tourists only gave the city two or three days. They seemed perplexed when I informed them that I would be leaving when my 90 day visa ran out. When I crossed paths with expats, they quickly lost interest in me when I told them that after my 90 days there I would be heading to Mexico then on to Europe. I didn’t share their concerns of maintaining a permanent residence.

I hover in that place between tourist and expat, not completely being one or the other. My current life is fluid, at a moments notice I can slip between being more like a tourist and then being more like an expat, not making a commitment either way. Sometimes I find it easy to tell the expats I am a tourist and tell the tourist that I am an expat.

Locals are a bit easier that expats or tourist to deal with. Language barriers are helpful. When shared words are limited, it curbs how far someone can dig into labeling you. In Mexico, I would just say, “Vivo en la ciudad para tres meses.” That put me out to the tourist range. The shills selling tours around the plaza, quickly recognize me and no longer offered me good deals on tours.

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Poland has been a bit different. I have a friend, who is the widow of a Polish national. She has introduced me to some of her local friends, whose command of english is rather too good. I have to explain that have no plans to rush about hitting all the historical high points in the country. With these folks, I have to occasionally answer their remarks with the comment that I am not a tourist.

I am tempted to say I am a traveler, but that would make me sound like an Irish Traveler. Nomad is the word I use the most, but I often find that I have explain that, “No, I am not a digital nomad.”

When I lived on the mainland US, where the label Merchant Marine Officer was only understood by a few people, I used to tell people that I was a housewife who worked part time out of the home. That usually was enough for folks to be comfortable that they had a fix on me. I wasn’t lying! At the time I was married, four to eight months out of the year I was at home being a housewife. The rest of the time I was going from union hall to union hall looking for the next ship, and being at sea, having found one. So it was working part time out of the home.

Recently I have been experimenting with labels, which people will find just as boring and more than a little off putting. I tried, “I am looking for a place to settle down.” That hasn’t worked so well, since people are full of advice on that subject. My current one, which seems like it is the best is, “I am novelist.” When I say that, people get a look in their eyes as if I had said, “Let me tell you about Jesus.” They can’t change the subject fast enough.

In my blogging I find myself coming up with labels, which make a quick shorthand for my mode of travel. I call myself, a slow, long term, minimalist traveler. I like that description. Then I read other blogs and find that all those terms are being used to describe different parameters of travel.

In one blog the writer, who labels himself as a slow traveler, bragged that during his 11 years of travel, he had actually stayed in one city for 2.5 months. (Why do so many long term travelers seem to have been at it for 11 years? What happened it 2008? Perhaps the 2008 financial crisis?)

Under the heading of long term, I have seen bloggers, who consider themselves long term travelers if they travel beyond two or three weeks, or spend their two or three week vacation in one spot. I admire the folks who been traveling non stop for a decade or more. I would love to reach that decade milestone.

I read about one minimalist who puts me to shame. He travels with only what fits in the pockets of his cargo pants. He is, of course, a short term traveler. Others, who consider themselves minimalist, travel with one checked roller bag, as large a carry-on bag as they can manage, and a personal item.

I believe that in my personal life I merit the label of minimalist, since I have divested myself of most of the trappings of modern life. It does, however, bother me that I still have a 10×10 storage until in Hawaii. Granted that it is less than half full, but I keep thinking that I need to get rid of most of that stuff too, since it preys on my mind.

When it comes to traveling, I am not sure if my minimalist efforts really give me a right to the label. Yes, I know that I shouldn’t get wrapped up in numbers, but I have always loved numbers and spreadsheets. When I google minimalist travel, past the ones that brag about traveling with one bag (read one bag and one personal item), and go straight to the ones that claim 11 kilos or even as low as 5 kilos! It irks me that I can’t seem to get down to 11.8 kilos, which is my goal, for carry-on and under the seat bag added together. If only I didn’t have to carry 2 kilos of OTC pills!

Okay, that has me twitching again. I have to back away slowly from the minimalist travel label. Breath deep and finish this post.

Well, that takes care of the labels I can roll out for others, and leaves the label I use in my head. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really need a label. But I want one, even if I don’t use it publicly. I am an american lady author. So now you know.

Categories: Pontificating, Random Thought, Retirement, Talking Story, Travel MinutiaTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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