Florida man ditches suburbia for the tropics

Just before Christmas I received an e-mail from a local bank vice president with the subject line, "Farewell."

The latest casualty of a rotten economy making an attempt at gracefully announcing his "pursuit of another endeavor," I thought.

Until I read further into the note from Kevin Benson, who at 35 was a VP with BB&T Mortgage Warehouse Lending in Orlando.

"After extensive soul searching and prioritizing my life the past couple years," the e-mail read, "I decided to stop day-dreaming about doing these things and make this dream a reality. With a heavy heart but a resolute spirit I have rented my house, sold my car, resigned from my job at BB&T, given away or sold a good amount of my possessions and purchased a one way ticket."

This guy wasn't getting laid off. He was laying off his old life and hiring a new one.

How many times have you thought, even for a second, about sending such a note?

I'm a homebody but even I have a pang of jealousy at Kevin's willingness to risk it all for a year (maybe more) on the road in Central and South America. And, just a guess, you probably feel it, too.

If you're with me, let's all live vicariously through Kevin for the rest of this column...

I knew Kevin back in high school, though we hadn't talked in more than 15 years until I told him I wanted to write about how he ditched suburbia for the tropics.

The first part of his story is typical enough.

He graduated from the University of Florida and immediately started a career in banking.

He bought a house in Altamonte Springs. Became president of his homeowners association. And put on a tie every morning for the 25-minute commute to his downtown office, where he drank cup after cup of bland Folger's coffee.

Then about five years ago a buddy convinced him to go to Spain and Italy. He was hooked.

And after a couple of years of cobbling together his vacation time to travel, he decided it wasn't enough. He had three weeks vacation each year, decent by most standards, but too little to see the world the way he really wanted to.

It dawned on him. He's not married. No kids. Why not travel before he's too old or tied down?

He planned for a couple years and at the end of last year he sold his Infiniti, rented his house and — hardest of all — quit his job.

"No one in their right mind would give up a good job, right?"

You said it, Kevin, not me.

He met some resistance along the way. On Christmas Eve, four days before he flew alone to Mexico, his family worried out loud about how dangerous his plan was.

"I've had a lot of support," he says. "And a lot of people saying, 'I could never do that.'"

It's been eight weeks and he has no regrets so far through Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba.

On Monday he spent seven hours on an overnight bus from Playa del Carmen to Belize City.

Instead of setting an alarm, the sun wakes him. Instead of runs around Lake Eola, he runs on the beach. And instead of ironing clothes, he sniffs yesterday's shirt to see if it's good for another day.

He signed off his last message to me saying, "I'm off to a remote section of this secluded beach to read my book and to get acquainted with this new island paradise."

You're killing me, Kevin.

While a lot of us would never leave everything behind because we don't want to or feel we can't, his philosophy is that anyone who wants to can. He's staying in hostels for about $9 a night. He buys groceries and cooks cheap meals.

Everything fits in a backpack.

"Life gets pretty simple and basic when you leave all the clutter behind and it is an extremely liberating feeling," he says.

Liberated, but unable to escape all of life's constraints.

Last week he flew back in town to surprise his girlfriend for Valentine's Day and take care of another necessity: Filing taxes.

Bkassab@tribune or 407-420-5448

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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