Is It Possible to Simply Disappear?



In Thailand, in a bar, I met a guy who told me he’d eaten his brother. A few moments later he passed out drunk with his head on the bar. I looked down and his dog was unconscious too, lying spreadeagled on its back with its feet half in the air.

As we left, one of the young Thai girls working the bar slipped into my seat to patiently wait for the fellow to wake up. The guy was an old sea salt, complete with obligatory wild hair and long white wizened beard, a solo sailor who’d sailed into Thailand for one common reason. Nearly all lone round-the-world sailors end up in Ao Chalong at some point, usually with their dogs. Within a few short days he’d depart on his battered sail boat with a new Thai bride and the dog would be gone. We never found out what happened to their dogs…

Of course, I’d heard the familiar shipwreck tale a few times over the years in various guises, of devouring your companion to survive, eventual rescue from a deserted island… and nearly always told by strange fellows who’d set off to sail the world alone. These colourful characters have wonderful stories to regale you with as you buy them their beer, I listen every time… but there are strange and terrible rumours about a yacht that disappeared in the Pacific many years ago…

Leaving the bar we walked down the noisy neon lit street full of incredibly pretty working girls waiting expectantly for yacht crews anchored down in the harbour. The girls ignored myself because I was with my wife, that is, until Marie got into conversation with a number of them standing on the corner. A few moments later they were trying on her shoes and she eagerly trying theirs. My wife does that, she befriends everyone, especially if it involves shoes.

We’ve befriended numerous odd sailors whilst sailing our boat through the world’s seas. It’s not uncommon to drop anchor in a secluded bay with just one other yacht anchored close by. You can always tell if it’s a loner – and there’s always a dog. Invariably, they’ve dropped out of society for their own reasons, sometimes sailing off with wives or girlfriends or whomever, with spouses or crew jumping ship along the way. More commonly they leave their home port alone with their troubles, following the proverbial dream. Nowadays, we tend to avoid the solo guys, some of whom circle the globe over and over again, because something strange happens when they’re alone for weeks and weeks at sea. We ourselves have experienced it too. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing that’s difficult to explain…

So, how easy is it to let go the mooring lines, to simply disappear and be ‘free’? To pack up your life and leave for the adventure of a lifetime? To be someday shipwrecked in paradise and live the Robinson Crusoe life? I got to thinking about this a while back and it’s an intriguing thought. It’s not just the lone round-the-world sea gypsies who’ve had enough and decide to leave. How many of you out there have thought about jumping off the crazy merry-go-round world to live a life of freedom and unabated happiness? A good number of you I would guess.

Is it possible to simply drop everything and leave the world behind? I tried this, I got lucky and married my wife Marie along the way. The first thing that struck me were the warning words of an old guru friend of mine… you need money to be free. Anyone with copious amount of cash can choose how they live, but, simply fading away is another matter. So what does it take to turn native? Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy…

Cutting the Umbilical Cord
Firstly, there is your credit score. If you live in what’s commonly referred to as a first world economy, you’ve had a mortgage to buy your home, posses credit cards or, indeed, own an ocean going yacht then you can bet your bottom dollar you have a credit rating. Just about everyone has historical information stored by financial organisations, stuff they pass around between them to decide how ‘stable’ you are. It’s just the way things work. These companies grade you and your risk to allow you, for instance, to spend with your cards, get a mobile cell phone or to successfully seek a loan from your bank.

Any economist worth his salts will tell you that developed economies nowadays rely on credit and keeping you in dept. It’s what drives the big thing called GDP. Of course, there are exceptions, the hard working Thai girls in Ao Chalong don’t care and, in the island paradise you dream of, there’s no such thing. Maybe this defines paradise.

Secondly, if you decide to show two fingers to the world and take the plunge to follow your dream, you will, at some point, be labeled by the financial world ‘no fixed abode’. This fact is noted on your credit risk record. The common method of taking an income from renting your former home is the cause of this alarming way of describing you. Like most folk, you assumed the expression homelessness is associated with those sleeping in shop doorways and found rummaging through waste bins for food. Don’t be fooled, if you ever leave your job to tackle a new lifestyle adventure… then it’s you. I’ve met numerous long distance sailing couples who live off their home rental income; their boat becomes their home and they really do have idealic lives. Then there’s trekkers and overland travellers and intrepid adventurers too. But there’s a dark side. In economic reference terms they’re homeless and classed as ‘no fixed abode’.

So what are the implications of suddenly having a zero credit score because you are now suddenly homeless? Not much really… to begin with. You’ve deregistered from the electoral role and you lose your right to vote… your credit cards expire or are lost and your cell phone contract is cut because you’re no fixed abode. In effect, you’re slowly beginning to fade away. Your plastic cards will not be replaced and instant internet access is gone. No more FaceBook and smart phone messaging for you.

And then, there’s your tax…

Tax Free
Did you know that, for men, the issue of the State taking a percentage of their earnings occupies their minds just about as frequently as thinking about sex? Men, I’m told, think about sex, on average, every seventeen and half minutes. Paying tax, or more commonly, thinking of ways of not paying tax, occupy a man’s thoughts every eighteen or so minutes. I was informed of this by a holidaying psychologist in a Borneo bar. I’ve since conducted my own research and most men, it appears, do not dispute this. Guys – give it some thought eh? And ask your best friend too.

I had a notion a while back to avoid paying any tax when I took off on my sailing boat on my own personal adventure. I infrequently returned to the UK but still paid tax to Her Majesties’ Government. I got it into my head I’d stumbled across the perfect tax exile lifestyle… not paying tax at all… to anyone. I went along to my local tax office to discuss my scheme and they gave me a form to complete for their consideration. As a non UK resident, and non resident anywhere else, it was cut and dried, or so I thought… I came to the tick box which asked me to name the country in which I planned to live. With an expectant smile, I explained my freedom plan and waited for the tax man’s acknowledging nod before he raced off to warn his superiors the perfect legal tax avoidance scheme had been discovered. But, he demanded I complete all questions truthfully not leaving anything blank. He cooly explained I must always pay tax to another government if not paying my own.

The whole discussion lasted just over seventeen minutes and I left to drown my sorrows with my lovely wife.

The great adventure so far means you’re classed as homeless, can’t get credit to spend with cards and it’s likely your cell phone company have cut off your line… but you must still complete your annual tax return and pay tax on, amongst other things, the rental income from the home you still own.

Then, there’s your new criminal lifestyle…

A Life of Crime
Not many of us banked on the incessant rise of a new phenomenon called Money Laundering. Like you, I thought this was a Mafia driven thing done in the middle of the night by shady characters with suitcases full of cash and sudden dead bodies piling up in dark alleyways. It took another bar-room beer with a holidaying accountant in Borneo for me to realise, well no, in actual fact, it’s me.

Let me tell you this, those of you who plan to be free. Money laundering is nothing to do with dark alleyways. It has little in common with evil terrorists or gambling oligarchs or those wonderful Nigerian emails promising you love and access to your missing millions (my favourite is the Nigerian astronaut, my uncle, held captive on a Russian spacecraft). Money laundering is about the use of cash and missing tax, hidden deals and those who don’t have a plan B.

It’s perfectly possible to jump off the world and be ‘free’. Plastic cards and electronic bank transfers and online trading aren’t the only way to live and get by. You might find you don’t need instant internet access or smart phones but, just as my guru friend advised, you really do need money to be free.

We ourselves learned to exchange currency on the internet and not through banks, the rates are far higher and charges ridiculously lower. We bypassed ATM costs and credit card charges to use our own money, buying local phone SIM cards for much cheaper calls. We used traditional cash and got the discounts too. Sometimes we bartered and had an exceptionally happy time in remote places with the sun, the sea and the sand. We avoided roaming internet costs and FaceBook, LinkedIn and a strange Twittering thing I didn’t quite understand. But living the traditional way, buying vegetables with cash in the markets, negotiating for fish from fishing boats, buying our beer and wine in the jar with currency, using the incredible skills of local craftsmen to repair our boat is, well, you know, a distinct form of money laundering in new official government terms. There’s no trace. Think about it?

Of course, it’s not deliberate crime. But your government likes to trace and record how you spend, where you go and what you say and do.

Are you insured?

Peace of mind for those rainy days
We take it for granted the insurance industry has our interests at heart… their message is their caring, sharing image. It’s how they sell us their insurance. Unfortunately it’s a competitive industry and, like every other business, the insurers must make a profit to survive. They do this in two ways, firstly by using clever risk assessment techniques through specialist underwriters and secondly, through loss adjusters. My grandmother used to warn my daughters, “Never marry a loss adjuster, you’ll lose everything you’ve got.” And my grandmother should know, besides being old and wise her best friend married a loss adjuster.

More than anything insurance defines paradise. Once you’ve declared everything to your insurers they make a calculated assessment of your known risk and then you pay up. When you make a claim the loss adjusters decide if you’re insured or not. If you’re not, and it’s their decision not yours, you don’t get your premiums back and you certainly don’t get paid out for your loss. If they decide you are covered within the terms of your policy then everything is fine. And there’s the crux, the terms of your policy. Most insurance policies contain clauses the industry itself rightly call ‘trip wires’.

Paradise, and your search for it, is all about happiness and companionship surrounded by everything you want whilst living in perfect health, probably in the sunshine where it hardly ever rains. Sounds good doesn’t it. Peace of mind. In paradise everyone you love is fine too. And if something goes wrong your insurance people put everything right again.

In the real world, the one you’re trying to escape from, the terms of your policy apply. You must get your insurers permission to jump off the world and tell them what you’re about to do. It’s in the small print… every time. If you don’t then you’ll just make the loss adjusters smile. Do you think you’ll get insurance when living your new radical life? A friendly pat on the back as you untie your lines? The alternative, my friends, is to live without insurance.

Cutting the umbilical cord and simply fading away is all about living without insurance and peace of mind. You’ve already given up credit cards, the internet, the right to vote, instant social media communication with family and friends and you are content being classified no fixed abode. You’ve tried not to pay tax because you thought you don’t need much money to be free.

But you’ve found paradise.

I turned native, I shaved my head, donned my sandals and Thai fisherman’s shorts and became the abominable sightseeing tourist who thought myself free. The loner guys and the working girls, the ones we see, they’ve experienced what it’s like to disappear and be really truly free. They’ve faded away, cut their lines and severed their ties and made a real attempt to flee.

But then those loner guys, they’ve bought a dog and then a wife in their desperate attempt to find a life. I’ve seen their eyes and listened to their lies and maybe there’s no such thing as being free?

Dave & Marie Ungless are currently sailing their boat Sänna around the world from west to east. Their nine year voyage so far has taken them into the North Pacific and to Alaska where they are now located. Dave is a freelance writer and journalist writing about their travels and the social aspects of their journey.

You can view their sailing website at and their sailing blog at

You can also Like their Facebook page at

3 thoughts on “Is It Possible to Simply Disappear?

  1. Mary Clarke

    Very thought provoking – escaping modern day life is not easy but mentally it is possible. “Be still and let the wind speak – hush a world is talking”


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