While sitting together one night, Sandy Hazelip looked at her bet friend, Ellie Hamby, with something important on her heart. The two had become fast pals in 2001 while on a medical mission in Zambia and shared everything from being senior travel buddies to supporting each other after the sad loss of their husbands.
Now Sandy, a physician for nearly 40 years, and Ellie, a documentary photographer for three decades, would both soon turn 80. While sitting together one night, Sandy looked at her best friend with something important on her heart.
We have to do something memorable to commemorate this milestone, Sandy thought. They both love to travel so she thought they could take a trip — not just a vacation but the adventure of a lifetime.
“Wouldn’t it be fun to go around the world in eighty days at age eighty?” Sandy asked, holding her breath to see Ellie’s reaction. Without hesitation, Ellie gave a one-word response. “Absolutely!” she said with a smile.
“81 and still on the run!”
Their initial 2022 departure date had to be postponed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions still in place in some of the countries they’d planned to visit. Eventually, the senior travel buddies ended up setting off from Dallas, Texas to begin their global journey on January 11 of 2023.
Since it was no longer a trip around the world in 80 days to celebrate being 80, the women changed their theme to, “81 and still on the run!”
They used the destinations visited by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days as a travel guide and added a few others; they wanted to visit all seven continents and see as many world wonders as possible.
The first stop was Antarctica, which required crossing the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. The voyage took two days, all while the boat was being battered by severe winds, strong ocean currents and 20-foot waves.
But when they finally set foot on land, Ellie says, “We quickly forgot the pain and anguish. To see the penguins, icebergs and glaciers…it was a magnificent place.”
From there, the senior travel buddies went on to Chile, Easter Island, Madrid, Finland, Rome, London, Zanzibar, Zambia, Egypt, India, Nepal, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.
From riding camels and hot air balloons in Egypt, to experiencing a Husky sleigh ride in Lapland, to taking in the Northern Lights, the women posted a blog of their adventures on a AroundtheWorldat80.com, so others could travel along with them.
“Feel inspired to get up and do something”
To Ellie’s and Sandy’s amazement, by the time they concluded their three-month venture on April 1 at the Grand Canyon, the videos of their travels garnered more than 800,000 likes on TikTok and drew in more than 43,000 followers who knew them as the “TikTok Traveling Grannies.” They also became famous on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The messages from followers ranged from “You make my heart happy!” to “Such a monumental and awesome story!” to “You are such an inspiration!”
“So many are feeling inspired to get up and do something,” Ellie happily exclaimed. “Even the elderly viewers are finding joy as they follow us!”
“Age is just a number—enjoy the thrill of living”
Sandy and Ellie are still left breathless by the sites they visited, but most memorable, they say, are the people they met. The pair is still marveling at how a smile could break down any language barrier. “We now have friends around the world,” they beam.
Today, the octogenarian grandmas are busy planning their next adventure, already dubbed, “We are eighty-two and travel we can do!”
“I think everyone should follow their heart, make a difference and enjoy the thrill of living,” Ellie says.
Sandy nods in agreement. “I hope everyone who reads our story will realize that age is just a number and it’s never too late to enjoy life,” she says. “Get up and out of that easy chair, step out of your comfort zone, make some plans and live. And most importantly, thank God every day for His blessings. That’s my secret to living life to the fullest!”
How to find your own senior travel buddies
Find your match on SeniorTravelBuddies.com
SeniorTravelBuddies.com matches singles and couples, aged 50+, with travel companions, similarly to matchmaking websites. Simply register and subscribe, by providing information like where you’d like to go, what you like to do, the level of activity you’re comfortable with, etc. so the site can match you with a senior travel buddy that meets your criteria.
Visit your local senior center
Community senior centers are a great place to make friends and you are likely to meet someone who shares your travel dreams and interests. Many even sponsor day trips and even longer adventures. Simply search for “senior center near me” or call your local
Join a group or online forum
Sites like CruiseCritic.com and provide forums specifically for older adults to find like-minded travelers with shared interests. They also help connect you with travel packages, discounts and more. ElderTreks and Grand Circle Travel are just two travel groups geared toward older adults. You will find travel packages for people of a similar age and interests, as well as destination suggestions and even travel tips specifically for women traveling alone.
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Diane Nichols is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a published author and a worldwide magazine journalist with hundreds of stories in print. She has been writing inspirational true stories and celebrity pieces for Woman’s World since 2018 and is the published author of two memoirs: Prison of My Own and God Gave Me You, which is currently under contract with Sony Pictures. She welcomes you to visit her website at DianeNichols.com and follow her on Twitter @DNicholsAuthor.