It’s hard to pinpoint the exact anniversary of when we launched our travels. In early 2010, we made the decision to sell our house and go off somewhere. In August, we closed on our house and put some remaining items in storage. Tom had already found an apartment in Quito, Ecuador, where he was teaching, and I joined him at the end of the month.
But it’s early September, after a short return to the U.S. for Tom’s father’s funeral, that we started this “Travel Past 50” episode in earnest. At that point, the journey had no shape, just a starting point from a studio apartment in the old city, a part time teaching position, and a sense that we wanted to explore and observe and experience how others live around the world.
Our blog, Travel Past 50, started up a couple years later, after we’d moved on from South America and walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. From there, the pace quickened–though we still considered ourselves slow travelers, seizing the opportunities that came to us. We sought out cultural and historic sites, adventure and nature, house sitting jobs, and nearly every chance we could get to eat local and make friends.
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I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag
We learned to just say “yes” to invitations and ideas, no matter if it meant new challenges. We learned to listen better and be more patient. And we enjoyed imagining ourselves as residents of all those destinations. As we moved about, our mantra became, “We could live here.” And we could.
As I write this, we’re celebrating (that might be too strong a word in these days of COVID-19) our 43rd wedding anniversary. As Tom’s mother often marveled, “It sure is nice that you two enjoy doing the same things.” Sure is. She could hardly imagine a week’s vacation with her husband back in the day, much less a decade of endless travel.
Here we are, ten years later, still marveling at the world and practicing blogging about our odyssey.
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After 2020, where to?
Without traveling since February of this year (apart from nearby jaunts in Minnesota), we are still finding things to enjoy together. Now it’s time to look forward. We know enough to plan, but to remain flexible; to move forward, but to advance slowly and await what comes. Will we be married another 43 years? Unlikely. Will we be traveling as steadily through the next ten years? Unlikely. Are we ready for our uncertain future? As ready as can be–and we have our travel experience to thank for that state of anticipation.
Travel requires resilience and is vastly more fun when approached with an open mind and open heart. We’re grateful for all that’s come into view, and we still yearn to bring more of the world and our peripheral vision into focus.
To mark this ten year anniversary of our odyssey's start, we’ve selected a few stories to represent aspects of our constantly evolving approach to travel.
1. Walking the Camino de Santiago
Walking the Camino de Santiago changed our notion of travel. The physical challenge provided us with some confidence in other adventurous explorations. The personal experience, the elongated time, and the close proximity to the land and people along the Way prodded us to travel more slowly–and more frequently on foot–after that. Read Finding Your Rhythm on the Camino de Santiago
Other Camino posts: We learned after the fact that many friends and readers wanted more practical information about walking the Camino and even preparing for other day hikes. If you’re interested, start here with our Camino/Hiking packing list.
2. Adventure at any age
After walking the Camino de Santiago, putting on miles and miles in cities around the world, and hiking every National Park we could, we were somehow introduced to the Adventure Travel Trade Association. ATTA opened our eyes to the world of local tour operators who are equally focused on environment, sustainable travel, and adventure experiences. Granted, those adventures can be as tame as we are: hiking, biking, kayaking, forest bathing, even cooking and eating with locals. Our first bike tour combined a good work-out with culinary rewards at the end of each day. Read Our First Bike Tour: Brittany Backroads.
Other adventure posts: Sometimes our adventures were spontaneous and independent. In both the following cases, we didn't know entirely what we were getting into–and these are among the most thrilling of all our expeditions.
Visiting the ATM Cave in Belize
The Road to El Mirador, Part 4, pictured above. Of course you can read all of the 10-part story, but this episode give you a nice glimpse into Tom's state of mind. Not good.
3. We brake for museums
Museums serve as introductions and reference guides to so many destinations. We get a dose of regional history, a window into local culture, and sometimes a nice break from the hot sun outside. Of course, with all the time we’ve spent in Spain, the Prado Museum ranks high on our list. Read Five Reasons the Prado in Madrid is the Best Museum in Europe.
Other museum posts:
Florence is the birthplace of renaissance art, and still art museum central. My very first international trip was to Florence, and I was forever spoiled by the experience of listening to the world's foremost authority on Michelangelo talk about the master as I sat in front of his work. Travel, listen and learn. Read What's New in Florence Museums.
We love natural history museums, too. Among the best is the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, included (along with Frida Kahlo’s home/museum) in this round-up of our visit to Mexico City.
We go out of our way to reach photography exhibits, too. The Fotografiske Photography Museum in Stockholm is worth repeat visits.
4. River cruises we have known and loved
We never expected to include river cruises in our travels, especially because we are decidedly not ocean cruising people. So each river cruise we took was a real treat. We basked in the luxury of unpacking for a week while stopping in at a number of cities; we soaked up the informative guided tours even if we weren’t accustomed to wandering around in a group; and we definitely ate up the food. We’ve visited Africa, Asia and Europe on seven different river cruises (with three different companies) and will jump at the chance to add North and South America to our river travels in the future.
These cruises were instrumental in delivering us to destinations we may not have otherwise seen. Picking a featured cruise post is as impossible as picking a favorite child. The Yangtze River and the Danube River trips are representative, however, in generating multiple stories from each journey.
China: Read Starting Out: A Viking River Cruise in China and related stories.
Danube: Read A Tour of Five Countries in Eastern Europe and related stories.
5. Food finds us
We love our food wherever we go, usually because it’s a chance to sit down, reflect, and savor the flavors of the sites we’ve seen as well as the food. Travel Past 50 isn’t known as a culinary blog, but we’ve certainly been inspired by food, meeting people and learning about local farming, fishing, cooking and culture along the way.
We generally extol the virtues of Asador Etxebarri as our best meal ever, but we'll add here the unexpected delight of eating at the Buil i Gine winery in Priorat, the great wine region of Catalunya. Most of our top ten meals would be in Spain.
More foodie posts: We also love to eat in Vietnam and Sweden, and hope these posts will whet your appetite.
Vietnam: Food in Vietnam: Flavorful Restaurants, Markets and Recipes.
Sweden: Our Favorite Swedish Food and Restaurants, focusing on central regions of Jämtland and Värmland.
6. Geo-political tours
Two tours we’ve recommended repeatedly are any of the “Black Taxi” tours in Belfast, Ireland, and Green Olive Tours in Israel. Both are outstanding examples of guided, educational tours of conflicts, offering insights from both sides and opportunities for questions and discussion.
Read Crossing Barriers in Israel with Green Olive Tours
7. Exceptional tour guides
Most independent travelers, like us, will advise you to avoid tour groups and explore on your own. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and we acknowledge many highlights of our travels have been with guides. That’s because guides know more than we do! One of the exceptional guides we loved was Izzet Yilderim, whom we met by chance while visiting Gallipoli battlefields in Turkey.
Other notable guides:
Pablo Valladares was the naturalist who lead us on a Land-Based Tour of the Galapagos.
Juan Ronco guided us in Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, and shared stories of his coast walk around Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
Tokyo: Check out the Tokyo Free Guide program, a volunteer service to help visitors get oriented in this dynamic city. We succeeded with their help. Read about the Layered Look of Tokyo and our first impressions.
8. Literary Connections
Not surprising, we’re attracted to places inhabited by our literary heroes. (One of the few guest posts we’ve published, in fact, is about creating a literary itinerary.) Back in 2011, later in our first year traveling, we lived in Santiago, Chile, just a few blocks from one of Pablo Neruda’s homes.
We gathered many stories of Neruda's life and loves, and an assortment of photos of his homes. A weekend trip to Valparaíso was really an excuse to visit Neruda's seaside home in Isla Negra. Read Valparaíso and So Forth.
We didn’t set out to uncover family ancestry, but followed leads as they presented themselves. These three experiences will stay with us forever.
Visiting My Uncles Grave: Ardennes American Cemetery
Finding My Ancestors in Skåne Sweden
Visiting the area where Tom’s father fought in World War II: The Battling Bastards of Bastogne
10. U.S. National Parks are calling
We spent the first few years of travel almost entirely overseas. Since then, we’ve hit the road every year to visit U.S. National Parks and monuments. Some of our favorite photos come from these trips, and being the children of 1950s America as we are, we love the freedom of escorting ourselves by car up dirt roads, around mountain curves, and into funky motel parking lots.
More park posts: The United States isn’t the only place with a great park system. Parks Canada and England’s National Trust offer historic and scenic sites meriting your visit, and perhaps your membership support. Read about a friendly intro to England.
BONUS #11: Serendipity
So many of our experiences have to do with the rudimentary travel days, figuring out where we're going next and how to get from here to there. Sometimes, oftentimes, things don't go as planned. We ran across this old post about a day in the life of Kris and Tom on the road.
Read Getting There: Travel Days in Belize and Guatemala and laugh.
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land. – G. K. Chesterton
After ten years on the road, there's one thing we know. We are forever travelers. While we may or may not be wandering the world, we'll be approaching the world around us with more clarity because of these years of experience. We're traveling well past age 60. Despite a few aches and pains, our future is infused with energy and interest. Let's continue to hope that the spirit of travel, of one small world reliant on one fragile planet, can be regained soon.