81 and still on the run: Two friends from Texas travel the globe in the adventure of a lifetime

Each moment became a thrilling new entry in my life’s diary, especially seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, a vision that moved me to tears. Our journey unfolded with breathtaking moments: soaring over Egypt in a hot air balloon, camel riding in Bali, dancing in Nepal, and contemplating the enigmatic moai of Easter Island and the intricate toilets of Japan.

  • 6 months ago
  • December 26, 2023
5 min read
journalist’s notes
interview subject
 Sandy Hazelip, 82, is a Texas-based doctor and lecturer. She has enjoyed nearly three decades of friendship with Ellie Hamby, 81, a documentary photographer. This year, embodying the idea that it’s never too late for new adventures, they embarked on an ambitious journey to tour 18 countries across seven continents in just 80 days. Their global odyssey not only challenged age stereotypes but also captured the imagination of millions, turning them into social media sensations. Follow their inspiring journey and connect with their adventures on their website, Instagram, and TikTok.
background information
The common misconception that older individuals should lead secluded, sedentary lives in search of tranquility is increasingly challenged by many seniors’ desires to use their retirement for new experiences, particularly travel. Traveling in older age isn’t just a pastime; it’s an engagement with diverse physical, social, and cultural environments, helping maintain connections with the world and promoting mental agility. Studies suggest that traveling can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, bolstering mental health. It also keeps seniors attentive and mentally active, as navigating new places requires constant alertness and engagement. For more on the benefits of traveling for seniors, visit Portal Geriátrico.

TEXAS, United States — As the co-director of Zambia Medical Mission (ZMM), I ventured into rural Zambia in 2000, after losing my husband. There, I met Ellie, and forged a friendship that has lasted decades. When Ellie faced the sudden loss of her husband five years later, our bond deepened through our shared sorrow. During our late-night conversations, Ellie and I discovered our mutual dream to travel.

Our first major journey on the Trans-Siberian train in 2008 marked the beginning of many adventures to come. Inspired by the idea of circumnavigating the globe at 80 years old, we ambitiously planned our world trip. Although we got delayed for one year, at 81, we set out together on an adventure to explore and celebrate our friendship. Now, at 82, we continue to travel – a testament to the power of dreams and the enduring human spirit.

Read more travel & adventure stories at Orato World Media.

From Shared Grief to Lifelong Friendship

When Ellie and I first became friends, we struck a simple deal. She needed a place to stay in my city twice a week and I would provide it. In return, she would treat me to fine dining. This tradition continued for years. During her visits, we indulged in late-night coffee sessions, storytelling and dreaming about our mutual love for travel.

When we embarked on our first grand adventure aboard the Trans-Siberian train in 2008, it felt surreal. We have since visited Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even dramatically escaped an erupting war in Syria.

Inspired by Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” we began to envision a new challenge: traveling the world in 80 days at 80 years old. We took charge of planning every detail, from selecting hotels to booking flights. We sought to balance cleanliness and affordability in our accommodations.

Meanwhile, our plans ensured that every day on the trip would be impactful. We arranged for a local driver through the hotel who spoke fluent English and could show us around. We wanted to venture to all the must-see locations.

Originally, we planned to set off in 2022 at the age of 80, but the Covid-19 Pandemic postponed our plans. Unfazed, we launched our epic journey at 81, living by the motto, “At 81 and still on the run.” We embraced every moment of our adventure.

18 countries and eight wonders of the world

My grand adventure with Ellie kicked off on January 11 with an inaugural destination of Antarctica – a place few people my age dare tread. We crossed the daunting Drake Passage to reach an icy wonderland teeming with penguins. Next, we set our sights on the Arctic Circle, enthralled by the splendor at every turn.

Each moment became a thrilling new entry in my life’s diary, especially seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, a vision that moved me to tears. Our journey unfolded with breathtaking moments: soaring over Egypt in a hot air balloon, camel riding in Bali, dancing in Nepal, and contemplating the enigmatic moai of Easter Island and the intricate toilets of Japan.

We adhered to a strict budget, opting for well-reviewed, economical accommodations. Our most memorable bargain was a room in Cairo with a pyramid view costing only $13.50 per person. Yet, this trip transcended frugal finds. It became about the warm-hearted people we encountered, enriching our experience every step of the way.

Our intent was never just a vacation but a ceaseless adventure. Despite our independent streaks, we allowed each other space and upheld mutual respect. This became crucial to having harmony during our travels. Ellie and I traversed 18 countries and marveled at eight wonders of the world. We never lost a day to illness or weariness, nor did we let our age deter us. Together, we made wise choices like skipping out on motorcycling in Bali. Our journey affirmed that the people around the world are more alike than different.

At 82, we’re as eager as ever: becoming a social media phenomenon

Throughout our world travels, Ellie and I found the experience enriched by our decision making and capacity to savor beauty. I treasure this phase of my life as the perfect time to embrace the world’s marvels.

Initially, we kept friends and family in the loop with our blog, but for our 80-day adventure, we dove into Instagram and TikTok, quickly attracting thousands of followers globally with a friend’s help. Our unexpected rise to social media fame led to interviews and a warm welcome back in the United States, underscoring the impact our travels had on others.

The messages of gratitude we receive fill us with immense joy. We inspire others to explore, value friendships, and embrace life. Ellie and I learned that the universal language of a smile breaks down barriers and opens doors across the globe.

We’re both still working as we zealously plot our next escapade to South America in 2024. Our plans include Machu Picchu, the Amazon Rainforest, Bolivia’s salt flats, and the Galapagos Islands. At 82, we’re as eager as ever, ready to embark on another chapter of exploration.

Additionally, we feel thrilled to be offered a book deal, signing a significant contract to narrate our story in print and potentially in several languages. This opportunity to share our journey feels truly exhilarating. Taking a trip around the globe with Ellie revolutionized my life. I can’t imagine stopping now; travel is my joy. It is a way to celebrate life and I am committed to cherishing every moment.

All photos courtesy of Sandy Hazelip.

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