At 85 years old, Elva “The Traveling Grandma” makes friends around the world

I could hardly sit still in my chair; my happiness knew no bounds. I could not believe that my lived experiences could open amazing doors for me.

  • 7 months ago
  • December 5, 2023
8 min read
85-year-old Elva from Córdoba, Argentina, is a retired English teacher who packed her bag and set off on the journey of her dreams after her 80th birthday. With help and encouragement from her grandchildren, she started a journey to travel the world on exchanges while sharing her life experiences and sewing skills with those she met along the way.
According to Silver Century, “Many older Americans are opting for a nomadic lifestyle. Instead of aging in place, they’re aging anywhere and everywhere…” This is true globally as well. The Facebook group Senior Nomads as nearly 10,000 members and offers both connections and recommendations.

CÓRDOBA, Argentina ꟷ After dedicating their prime years to work, many people can find retirement daunting. For me, my best years started in my eighties after retirement. Instead of yielding to concepts like, “I’m too old for that,” or “I’m past my prime,” I decided to make the entire world my home. I always dreamed of traveling the world so after I lost my lifelong partner Horacio, I set out to meet new and diverse people from all over the earth.

When Horacio passed away, I realized I could be lonely or do something about it. In the quiet of my home in Villa María, I looked in the mirror and found the courage to pursue a new and adventurous chapter in my life: to travel and volunteer while sharing my decades-long experiences with the people I encountered.

I decided to challenge the social role that keeps women at home to care for the family. Despite facing a financial challenge, I gave birth to my dream to become a globetrotter. With good planning and budgeting, I started with short trips in Argentina and life suddenly became more colorful.  

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My grandchildren came up with a plan to find me sponsors online

In 2018, my grandchildren came up with the idea of designing and sharing my portfolio online with the hopes of finding sponsors for my trip. It highlighted my experiences as a retired English teacher who volunteered at a hospital and enjoyed sewing. We looked for an exchange program in Europe.  

What happened next totally blew my mind. We started receiving offers from all over Europe. Each time we opened the computer, we excitedly read messages from people interested in collaborating with me. I could hardly sit still in my chair; my emotions knew no bounds. I could barely believe that my lived experiences could open these amazing doors for me.  

My grandchildren and I took time to investigate the offers and decided to accept an invitation from a family in Brighton, England. They offered to host me in their home and in exchange, I would teach their daughter Alana to sew and take care of her in my spare time.  That began my journey traveling the world at the age of 80. On September 10, 2019, I packed my suitcase and boarded a plane to the UK.  

It all felt magical – like I was Alice in Wonderland, except far older. As I embarked on my first journey, I thought back to 1957, when I stumbled upon a course in sewing advertised in a magazine. I registered and my grandmother’s old sewing machine, a relic from 1890, allowed me to practice my new-found skill. Who would have thought that the very skill I honed using a vintage sewing machine would transform my life decades later?  

In Spain I hopped on a motorbike with a delivery driver

I met little Alana when I landed in England on a rainy September day. Filled with happiness, she hugged me and, there and then, a new family bond formed. Alana’s family treated me like royalty and made me feel very comfortable. That sweet little girl showed enthusiasm and commitment to learning how to bake and make dresses for her dolls.  

After my time with the family ended, I received another proposal from a writer in Alcudia in Palma De Mallorca, Spain. He wanted to speak with me and include my anecdotes in his book, in exchange for free accommodations. I jumped at the opportunity. I thought that I would be meeting a grey-haired, older man but instead, I was greeted by a young, 30-year-old. In our rented home, I met another young man nicknamed El Gringo and his girlfriend, Lorena. The four of us established a beautiful friendship, and they offered me an invitation to Ushuaia. My stay transported the group back to their childhoods, waking up to the smell of freshly prepared pancakes as we sat at the table chatting.  

While in Spain, I met a fellow Argentine who invited me to his home. He was a delivery man who became my personal chauffeur. I had a choice to sit idly at home and await his return at the end of the workday or ride along with him as he did his job. So, I threw on a helmet, wrapped my arms around him, and explored tourist destinations on his motorbike.

Sometimes, he would drop me off by the beach, where I would sit and knit or take a swim while he worked. I went from one beach to the other, and from one tourist site to the next, allowing the gentle breeze to envelope my mind.

Each person or family I meet creates a deep emotional impact

In my first three months in Europe, I met many people and listened to their stories. Each story opened my eyes to new realities. On one of my trips, I encountered Leandro Blanco Pighi, better known as the Intermittent Traveler on social media. He quickly became my adopted grandson.

With Leandro, I spent my days in Mallorca making omelets and visiting the beach. Our relationship eventually led to an exchange visit to my home in Cordoba. The way he called me grandma lifted my spirit.

Leandro is a member of Todo a Pedal, a project run by four friends who cycled to Qatar to cheer on the national team during the last World Cup. He called me to watch him on live television from Doha. I felt so emotional and happy, building strong bonds with strangers regardless of distance and time.  

I’ll never forget when I cycled around the walled city of Alcudia, helping a bewildered Englishman onto a barge that would take us across the Mediterranean Sea to Valencia. In Castellón, I lived with a widow and her children in the countryside. The youngest child went to school one day and gladly announced that a grandma now lives in her home. Surprisingly, the school invited me to come read stories to the kindergarten students.  

My visit coincided with Halloween, so I worked some magic on my sewing kit at the request of the children. I designed a mummy custom for the little boy and an El Zorro custom for a four-year-old Moroccan classmate, complete with a mask and cape. That earned me an invitation to his home. Instead of insisting on sitting comfortably on the couch for tea and cake, they honored me with a special bench. These displays of love affect me deeply. 

My strength and ability to cycle and hike shock people, but I have more surprises up my sleeve

At the age of 84, I climbed three mountains with El Gringo and Lorena. We arranged to meet in Tierra del Fuego and when they arrived in Argentina, as promised, he called me and said, “I’m sending you the tickets.” It happened so fast that four days after the call, I was on my way to a mountain climbing adventure with a few items in a mini suitcase.

With a stick for support and a lot of goodwill, I made it to the top of three mountains in Argentina and sailed the Beagle Channel until midnight. What more could I ask for? After one such adventure, El Gringo, Lorena and I arrived at the quaint house where we were staying. Lorena served us delicious empanadas with manioc, honoring her Brazilian roots. Excited about what we were doing, Lorena’s father invited me to Brazil and I intend to go. 

On our last night together, a group of young people asked me for my secret to living well. I said to them that to live well, they must remember that death is inevitable. They should live every day well because tomorrow is not assured. At this age, I only make plans for the next day. If my plans work out, I enjoy them, and if they do not, I still make the best of what I have.  

Every trip I return from adds newly adopted grandchildren to my life and they have become like a legion of friends. The new relationships I forge often come with more invitations for travel. The way I live my life reflects my belief that acceptance and love transcend religion, race, ethnicity, and language. Everyone is a human being first. I know people who travel and when they get on that plane, they go to their destination, explore the area, retire in their hotels, and rarely talk to anyone.

Women – especially elderly women – can overcome fear and stereotypes

So far, my funding comes mainly from my social media and from my contacts. Through my Instagram and interviews on many international media platforms, my story went viral. As my fame grew, so did the invitations to people’s homes.

For me, traveling remains a therapeutic endeavor. It brings healing to my body, replenishes my soul, and reenergizes my mind. At over 84 years old now, I still feel like a teenager in puberty without any fear. I have so many years ahead of me, and memories to make.

Every single step of the way, my grandchildren stood with me and I would not have achieved any of this without them. They manage my social media accounts, respond to emails, and participate in all my projects. My family remains immensely proud of me.

When I think back on the journey so far, I remember every single place I traveled to – not only by the name of the city, but by the memories of the people who welcomed and supported me. I relish and relive those memories often.

In addition to sharing my travels on my social media accounts, I use them to encourage more people to embark on memorable adventures. I encourage women, and especially the elderly, to overcome their fear, ignore the stereotypes, and take on new challenges. No one is too old to dream and make those dreams come true. Doing so makes you feel more alive.  

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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