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Leaving Montana, Sadly

I’m impressed.

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FISH GUTS, Montana- It’s over. The reception has come to an end, my job in Montana is done.

I’m impressed at what my sister has built out here. Her house is beautiful — a big backyard with gardens and trees and places to hang out and enjoy it — her kids are smart, compassionate, and fun, and her new husband is ultimately an alright guy. She’s highly educated, is able to choose her job, and live the life that she imagines.

She moved out to Montana to strip off outside influences and the chains of habit to get to the root of who she is and what she wants. And over the past ten days I had the privilege to see what this is. She took in my family and shared a bit of her life with us. It left me impressed.

I’ve never had a house. I’ve never had a long-term job. I’ve never filled a role in a community. Hardly anyone that I meet with face to face even knows anything about me.

When I was a kid I was always mystified about how people become adults — about how they transition from young people partying and doing whatever they wanted to bona fide grown-ups with houses, cars, and responsibility.

I never made that transition.

But my sister has, and I can see the benefits of going out into the world and finding a place to call home.

I’ll probably never bother doing this but I appreciate it nonetheless.

I don’t admire the lives of travelers — traveling is the easy way out, it’s an expedient way to get what you want … if you happen to be one of the billion or so people in the world who is entitled to a grade-A passport. I admire the lives of those who stand in the ring, who wake up in the morning and face the day. These are the people who weave the stories for me to retell.

There is a reason why the backpacker hostels of the world tend to be socially drab, startlingly un-loquacious places. Deep down travelers know that the lives that we live are boring and uneventful. What’s there to talk about? “I went and took a picture of the same rocks as everybody else.” We go around, see shit, and feel embarrassed, as we know there’s nothing to it. The travel experience as-is is ultimately not much to write home about.

The richness in life is stirred thick by the people doing what my sister does: building homes and building lives. I could never cultivate the excitement and drama that she does daily while living on the road. No, the traveler doesn’t struggle, the traveler leaves. But the stories of life is found in the struggles. Travelers move through the world like a eunuch in a brothel, vicariously ingesting an act that we ultimately cannot do.

My sister’s family stood outside of their white picket fence as we got into our car to leave. Petra tried to hide inside their house in hopes that we wouldn’t notice and leave her behind. When we finally routed her out she was crying. She said she didn’t want to live with us anymore, that she had found a new family.

We somehow managed to get her in the car. As we drove away Nicky’s youngest son chased the car as we drove away on his scooter. He gave up the futile attempt at the corner. I looked back at him through the rear view mirror as he stood there defeated, watching us sadly until we turned the corner and were gone.

Filed under: Family, Montana, Perpetual Travel

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

8 comments… add one

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  • Mary Soderstrom August 11, 2018, 8:09 pm

    Hi Wade

    Are you really in Montreal? Would love to say in person how much I found Ghost Cities thought-provoking. Buy you coffee, drink, bagels? Show you around my ‘hood?

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    • Wade Shepard August 12, 2018, 5:15 pm

      That would be excellent. I’d love to meet up and talk about your books, etc … and eat some bagels too.

      Not there anymore. I was recently though. I do some projects with McGill and work with a film director/producer who’s based there from time to time. I love the place, and seems like it’s an incredible base of operations. I hope to be back soon.

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  • Rob August 11, 2018, 9:23 pm

    I never liked leaving my cousins place when I was a kid, or them leaving ours (after an extended stay).
    I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but cars & houses are stuff…responsibilities, a spouse & kids are “adult”. No rules say how you have to live, on the road is how it is for some, in town is how it is for others.

    You’re in a good spot. You’re doing what you want (& meeting your responsibilities), you’ve a fine family that is adjusted to how you live and you realize some of the value of how others live.

    Family is good & you have some in Montana!

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    • Wade Shepard August 12, 2018, 5:04 pm

      Thank you! For sure, it’s tough on the leaving — Petra tried hiding in the house in hopes that we would forget her — but there is something very pleasing in this: they’ve reestablished their bonds with their family. Hopefully we will keep going back yearly.

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  • Chris Smith August 12, 2018, 7:31 pm

    “Travelers move through the world like a eunuch in a brothel, vicariously ingesting an act that we ultimately cannot do.”


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    • Wade Shepard August 13, 2018, 3:49 pm

      Hello Chris,

      How have you been? Where are you now?

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  • MARY L SOUFI August 12, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Your touching piece brings me near tears.

    I have not seen so much said with so few words in a contemplation of these two ways of life.

    I read your whole drive-to-Montana series while reading “Dakota – A Spiritual Geography” by Kathleen Norris.

    Thank you soooooo much.

    Wishing you and your family a good return trip–will you drive again?

    With appreciation and respect,

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    • Wade Shepard August 13, 2018, 3:48 pm

      Hello Mary,

      Thank you for reading. It is very much appreciated.

      Yes, we’re driving back through Canada. The place is a lot bigger than it looks!

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