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The great escape

A year in Provence, four seasons on Walden Pond, a drive along America's blue highways - the pull of the unfamiliar has long been irresistible.

And for all our instant access to far-flung cultures and climes, through the Web, television, and books, there's still nothing like experiencing it firsthand.

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Venturing off to unknown places is as much a rite of passage as graduating, getting married, or finding that first job. Like those periods of life, there are few strictures for a road trip - no stage when it must be undertaken, no destination one has to reach, no time limit.

It could be a 12-year adventure, like that of Amilius, the young hippie in Brad Knickerbocker's story (at right), who left home on a spiritual search as a teenager and hasn't stopped moving since.

The appeal at bottom perhaps is space for reflection. To open one's thought to other possibilities in life. To move beyond limitation, shed material encumbrances, and acquire, instead, new flavors of experience and sagacity.

And the key is to play it loose.

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