Times Staff Writer
Hard as it is to imagine, people with common interests managed to find each other long before we all carried mobile links to the world in our pockets and pocketbooks.
Sometimes it was by sheer luck, as it was 19 years ago when a dozen people — but no instructor — showed up at an adult learning center for a class on international travel. Meanwhile, down the hall, a class on travel and culture had an instructor but no students. You can probably guess where this story is going. They found each other and the "Uncommon Travelers" club was born.
While the club is now for anyone who likes to travel, it was originally for people who had lived abroad or traveled extensively, like Mike and Judy Butler, who retired in Tampa in 1999 after living in Saudi Arabia for 17 years.
The Butlers, who are originally from Ohio, visited more than 100 countries while living in Saudi Arabia where Mike, a physician, worked for an oil company. Judy said they would often buy around-the-world plane tickets so they could stop and visit all three children when they were in different boarding schools and colleges.
"I have always said I could drop any of my children out of an airplane anywhere in the world and they would know what to do to find their way home!" Judy said.
Here's some travel advice from two seasoned wanderers as many of us make holiday travel plans of our own:
1 If you could retire anywhere in the United States, where would it be?
Right here. Florida. After living in the warmth for 17 years, we could not go back to "winter," as much as we loved living in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Also, many Buckeyes retire to the west coast of Florida, including several of our relatives. (Judy said she thought she had died and gone to heaven after her first visit to Florida when she was in eighth grade.)
2 If you could retire anywhere outside the United States, where would it be?
We wouldn't retire outside of the U.S. because we don't want to be more than a four-hour flight from children, grandchildren and relatives and, as we age, we want to have access to medical facilities here.
We do, however, travel outside the U.S., sometimes for long periods of time.
3 What is the biggest misconception people have about traveling?
That unknown or strange places are something to fear. Visiting a country where they speak a foreign language can be intimidating but we have learned that sign language works pretty well. People are the same all around the world and are generally very helpful to visitors to their country. Plus, most people in foreign countries who deal with tourists speak English.
4 What's your favorite travel destination and why?
Asia and the Middle East. This area of the world is interesting to us because it is so culturally different from our European backgrounds. Different foods, customs, religions, housing and histories give us a lot to learn about.
5 What's the most valuable piece of travel advice you can give?
A good traveler must be flexible and roll with the adventures, good or bad. Coping (especially with bad things) is a true test of character. Instead of grumbling or complaining, think of a Plan B. It could end up being more interesting than the original.
For example, when we were coming home from Saudi Arabia in April, our flight out of Dhahran was delayed, making us miss our connecting flight out of Amsterdam. We had to wait to fly out until the next day — and we didn't have our luggage. But instead of staying in our hotel room complaining about the cold, we went to see the tulips, taking turns wearing a blanket we had on the plane to keep us warm. It was a cold and wonderful outdoor show!
Another good piece of advice is about what not to take on a trip: an outdated guidebook.
Once, when traveling in Munich, Germany (with Judy's grandma), we found ourselves locked in what our 10-year-old Frommer's said was a bed and breakfast.
We'll only be a minute, we told her as we left her in the rental car and went in to check vacancies.
Once we got in, it was apparent the place had been converted into private residences, but when we went to leave, we couldn't get out. The door had locked behind us (which wouldn't have been so bad except we left Grandma in the car).
It was 40 minutes before someone came through the door so we could get out.
We bought a new guidebook.
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.