This recent New York Times piece highlights old age as a never-ending adventure, but there are far more desperate, fundamental reasons why elderly people are deciding they’d rather be abroad than at home.
To escape physical isolation–
He added that what Bangkok offered to the aging human was a culture of complete physicality. It was tactile, humans pressing against each other in healing heat: the massage, the bath, the foot therapy, the handjob, you name it. The physical isolation and sterility of Western life, its physical boredom, was unimaginable.
“There’s a reason we’re so neurotic and violent and unhappy. Especially as we get on a bit, no one ever touches us.”
To erase anonymity —
Farlo seemed to deflate a little. Did he really come here on a regular basis? No one recognized him. But then only money and youth get recognized. At a certain point, complete anonymity overtakes us, and people–not just women–look right through us as if we don’t exist.
We respond with instinctive bitterness to this loss of visibility, but we also recognize the first taste of our future extinction, and we accept it. There will be no reprieve from now on. But Bangkok is a city which in this instance does, after all, offer a brief reprieve. It comes via a simple gesture, which Farlo now executed. The invisible man raises a finger, one could call it the Finger of Assent, which indicates that after long prevarication and weighing up of the available options, he has decided to become financially available for the sexual act. This single gesture suddenly makes the anonymous man highly visible, and within a few seconds he has returned to the field of play upon which his antics, his desires, his neuroses, and his dubious tastes are all once again invested with the vitality, the fraudulent importance, of his youth. He finds himself returned to life, and his detestable anonymity evaporates all around him.
To die with dignity —
George Lundquist, 70, rocks gently in a wicker swing on his 2000 sq. ft. deck in Costa Rica. He looks directly into the webcam and tells us he built this house eight years ago. “I’ve been here ever since. I will never leave.” And he means it. Although he sells real estate to ex-pats, his sincerity is evident. At the end of his 10-minute video, he bares one of the root reasons why Costa Rica is his permanent home:
“I think the quality of death here is better than what you will find in the United States. I feel the doctors here are more involved and interested in my quality of life and my quality of death.”
With two houses already built on a former tobacco plantation (and ready to accommodate his future wheelchair), George isn’t much of a vagabond. He does, however, represent what might be a cousin of medical tourism: end-of-life travel. Not to be confused with the suicide tourism of Switzerland or Mexico, end-of-life travel seeks the ideal conditions and company for one’s final days, months, or years. This might be hospice care in Bangalore, a live-in nurse in Peru, or passing in one’s sleep on a beach in Nicaragua.
These motivations for senior travel are driven by pain, loneliness, and the prospect of a bleak future. They raise difficult questions. What does it say about our society when increasing numbers of our elders find the lifestyle and treatment abroad more desirable and affordable than the options at home?
Further, these motivations can’t be limited to the senior crowd. We younger travelers are quick to deny that we’re running away; we define our motivations as entrepreneurial, adrenaline-addicted, or enlightenment-seeking. But how often are we driven (at least in part) by similar feelings, and when will we start admitting it? If we keep silent about any part of what pushes us from home, how will life at home ever become bearable?
Photo by Stephan Geyer via Flickr.