First in an occasional series of profiles of ardent baby boomer travelers:
I hadn’t seen Carol Bruen — who I knew as Carol Heller before she was married — since the end of seventh grade.
Carol and I were grade school classmates in Greencastle, Indiana, before she moved to Alaska. We reconnected recently via this blog. (One of the best things about blogging is hearing from old friends, classmates, and colleagues — so if some of you are still lingering out there, don’t forget to write!)
In our correspondence, we discovered our lives had taken many similar turns — we both did stints working in the U.S. Senate in Washington during the 1960s; we both lived in the same neighborhood in San Francisco in the 1970s; we both had come to know Alaska quite well; and, perhaps most important, we both became ardent travelers, journeying to around 120 countries each. (Carol has made it to all seven continents; I’m scheduled to hit my seventh, Antarctica, in February.)
In fact, as much as I’ve traveled, I’m impressed by the range of Carol’s adventures — which have taken her from Easter Island to Uzbekistan, Tanzania to Cambodia and beyond — and thought they were well worth writing about. They’re a good example of just how much many baby boomers have explored the world — and continue to do so.
They’re also an excellent example of a point I’ve repeatedly stressed in this blog — that baby boomers (now aged 52-70) are the generation that has the most time and money to travel, and the will to spend it on seeing and experiencing as much as they can.
Taking the Family Along
As a new grandfather myself, and author of several guidebooks on traveling with children, I was especially interested in hearing about Carol’s experiences of traveling with her kids — and, more recently, grandkids — around the globe.
Along with her husband, Jim, Carol began taking international trips with their kids when her daughter, Jenny, was age 10 and her son, Garrett, was age 6.
“We started out in Europe,” Carol recalls, “and tried to tailor things to their interests. That took us to places like gruesome castles where there had been beheadings.”
Soon, though, they were headed to Africa and other exotic locales. They took their first family safari together in Kenya in 1987, led by an ex-big game hunter who had switched to photo safaris. “He was a skinny little guy with white hair, but he turned out to be the stuff of legends,” Carol says. Several more Africa trips followed, as well as Indonesia, the then-Soviet Union, the Galapagos, and more.
“We always traveled with our kids, and they learned so much about the rest of the world, so that everything in their lives wasn’t so U.S.-centric.” she says. “And they were times for us to all be together.”
To be sure, when the kids became teenagers, things didn’t always go smoothly. “On our second trip to Africa,” Carol recalls, “Jenny didn’t want to go. She cried, ‘How could you do this to me? This is the most important summer of my life!'” But go they did, year after year, and some of their adventures were unforgettable.
On one trip to East Africa, the four of them took a multi-day canoe trip down the Zambezi River in Tanzania.
“The hippos were terrifying, and our guide seemed oblivious to it all,” Carol recounts. “Sometimes we would get stuck on sandbars and have to get out and push, knowing there were crocodiles around. And we had to drink river water that the hippos had pooped in. Our kids like to talk about how many times we tried to kill them,” she adds with a laugh.
In 1992 in Indonesia, they traveled eight hours by car to a remote village that was reputed to have elaborate and colorful funeral ceremonies. “We tromped through the mud to reach a circle of raised huts,” she says. “We sat with the family of the deceased for three days. Local men were chanting in a circle. They sacrificed 80 hogs, then seven water buffalo, and served buffalo cooked in pig’s blood. You could hear the hogs screaming and smell the blood. We were the only Westerners there — and our daughter was a vegetarian!”
Traveling With Grandkids
Carol acknowledges that now that their kids are in their thirties and forties and have families of their own, age may be catching up to her and Jim a bit, and they may have to soften their adventures with more comfortable beds and fewer crocodiles. While they once had a great time surrounded by chimpanzees on a reserve at Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, for example, “Gorilla tracking in Rwanda may have passed us by.” Then she adds, “But we’ll see.”
But there’s a whole new generation in the family to take up the traveling tradition. She and Jim have resolved to take each of their grandchildren — one at a time — on a trip anywhere in the world of their choosing, when they are old enough to appreciate it. (Their two-year-old granddaughter will have to wait a few years.)
They started last summer. Granddaughter Mazie, 12, chose a trip to Southeast Asia. “We had an amazing time,” Carol says. “She retained so much, experienced everything, from Angkor Wat (in Cambodia) to riding elephants in Thailand.”
Ten-year-old granddaughter Lily, in turn, has chosen Australia for her trip this coming summer, including visits to Kangaroo Island and Uluru (Ayres Rock).
Carol says they got the idea of traveling with one grandchild at a time from an 80-year-old grandmother they met in the Galapagos. “She was traveling with her grandson, and the year before had taken her granddaughter to Japan,” Carol adds.
But her now-adult children haven’t been overlooked. Next year Carol, Jim, Jenny, Garrett, their spouses — one from Germany, the other from Korea — and five of their grandchildren will all travel to Africa together for a safari. “Everyone but the youngest granddaughter,” Carol says.
“Ten days for that seems about right,” she adds. “Then Jim and I may extend our trip to places we haven’t been yet.”
I’m guessing that gorilla tracking in Rwanda will soon be back on the table.
Baby boomers: If you’re an ardent traveler like Carol Bruen and would like to be profiled, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Travel Tip of the Day: If you’re interested in viewing the renowned Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras in East Africa, plan your trip for July to September. But do it soon, as lodging at that time is at a premium. For more information on wildlife safari tours for that region, go to Stride Travel.