My YouTube channel just added “What’s It Like to be a Nomad at 60” into my feed. The twelve minute video, shot by filmmakers Vanessa Carr and Josh Gleason, centers on a women learning the Nomad lifestyle, while living out of her van. At age 64, I too have quite the non traditional lifestyle. For the past four years, I have been volunteering and traveling around the world.
Although a spare room, in a host family’s house or rented space on a compound, might not provide me with the freedom of a van, I’ve been able to work in Eastern Europe and Eastern Africa. Before leaving the USA, for Peace Corps service, in 2017, I packed my American Red Cross Disaster Services vest, in hopes of starting a Red Cross club, at my site. As it turned out, there was an Armenian Society Red Cross soup kitchen, in my town. It’s funny how things work themselves out.
I’m a firm believer that volunteer travel can introduce us to the vast unknown. During Pre Service Training (PST), my Peace Corps cohort visited Noravank, a 13th-century Armenian monastery. The trip there was one of those long bus rides, on a weekend, when you just want to stay home and sleep. I’m so happy that our training staff made us go. Trust me, I would have never gone otherwise.
While international vacation opportunities is not part Peace Corps mission, volunteers are allowed to travel, both in and and out of country. While serving in Armenia, I spent my first Christmas holiday in London.
I joined my godson and his family, on a winter break to the UK. The family rented an AirBnB, near Paddington Station. We made side trips to Bath and Stonehenge, in between sightseeing around London. The opportunity to travel, during volunteer service, is a great benefit of Peace Corps service.
The following year, over a spring break, I visited the UAE. An old Peace Corps Kenya buddy was Chancellor at a college, near Dubai. This was my first trip to the United Arab Emirate, but it wouldn’t be my last. I visited there, two other times, during my service.
It was nice being a Peace Corps volunteer and a tourist, all at the same time. On my first visit, I made trips to a souk or two, went to the beach, and enjoyed all food court, at the world’s largest mall, in Dubai. My friend let me stay in her guest bedroom. With no hotel cost, the UAE was a perfect vacation location.
My 2018 trip to Sri Lanka, didn’t start out as a Anthony Bourdain pilgrimage, but after learning of his death, a visit to the Galle Face Hotel was must do. While filing his Parts Unknown food show, in 2017, Bourdain stopped for drinks at the hotel. I felt the need to follow suit. It’s strange to have just been introduced to a place, then sit there, the following year.
“Sri Lanka: I’m a sucker for a well-preserved old colonial hotel, and while we were shooting in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, the crew and I stayed in the Galle Face, a fully-preserved relic, built in 1864, that takes its cocktail hour, and its cashew curry, seriously. “ Anthony Bourdain
On a lighter note, a good friend of mine, from Duke University, was traveling around India, 2018. I posted my arrival, in Colombo, via social media, at the same time my friend was traveling there from India. They saw my post and sent me a message. We met a local museum, then headed to lunch.
Before leaving Armenia, I made one final trip. I joined two Peace Corps Kenya friends, on a mini volunteer reunion to Mount Kilimanjaro. We flew to Kenya from the USA, United Arab Emirates, and Armenia. Of course, one of my travel companions had a connection with the Turkish Airlines Lounge, at the airport in Nairobi. We were provided with drinks, food, and showers, while we waited for our flight to Tanzania.
After arriving in Tanzania, finding our driver, and finally hitting the road, we ended walking, part way, up hill, in mud, to our hotel. Our luggage was delivered to our rooms, a short time later. Over the next few days, we sat, talked, drank tea, and ate traditional foods. One day, we ventured out and booked a traditional coffee ceremony, in the village. On the way there, we stopped and gave an impromptu English lesson, at the local elementary school.
At the end of my service, I made way home via one night stopovers in London and Reykjavík. We were given around $1,800.00 to get ourselves home from Armenia. I booked Yerevan to London (overnight stay at a hotel near Heathrow), then London to Reykjavík. In Iceland, I used part of my Peace Corps travel stipend, to book a room at the Blue Lagoon. Then, it was a quick flight across the Atlantic, to Washington DC.
After twenty seven months of volunteering, my old bones needed a good soak. The Silica Hotel was just what I needed. It was easily accessible by bus, from the airport. Once there, I took the hotel’s shuttle to and from the Blue Lagoon and the Lava Restaurant. My hotel room was pretty amazing, in spite of not getting one with a view of the lagoon.
After being stateside for less than a month, I was on another flight. I joined my new Peace Corps cohort at a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. The very next day, we were on a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I taught high school English. I lived in a gated compound, with my landlords, school principal, and six employees from the local medical clinic.
During the second semester break, I headed back to Tanzania. This time, I went to Zanzibar. I have wanted to go ever since serving in Peace Corps Kenya, in the 1980s. My spring break Indian Ocean vacations back then were in Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu. Taking a dhow from Lamu to Zanzibar was always on my to do list.
Thirty years later, I would fly into Stone Town, meet up with friends from Peace Corps Ethiopia, and finally put my toes back in the Indian Ocean. Some travel dreams do come true. They just take time. Although I didn’t get to Zanzibar the way I planned, Zanzibar was everything I thought it would be.
After being evacuated from Peace Corps, last March, I made my way to Hawaii. One of my Peace Corps Kenya friends has a condo in Honolulu. I went there to quarantine.
Although under a Stay-at-Hone Order, you were allowed to exercise, in Honolulu. I spent three months walking all over my end of that island. I would rotate 5K and 10K walks, during the week, then do one 20K, over the weekend.
After three months, I was ready for another volunteer adventure. I flew to the lower 48 hoping to head to Peace Corps Response, in Jamaica. The growing COVID numbers ended that opportunity. Peace Corps remained closed. I did another self quarantine with friends in Utah and regrouped.
Last August, I began serving as an Americorps member, in Sitka, Alaska. I’m using my librarian and Archives/Records Management skills, at the district homeschool. I retired from Duke University, 2017, so it’s nice to be back in a library setting.
So, for years after leaving my academic librarian position, I’m a nomad, of sorts. I’ve been able to keep a roof over my head and all manner of food in my belly, while traveling around the world.
Given the housing market in Alaska, I might need to watch a few of those nomad lifestyle videos aimed as senior. There very well might be a van in my future. —GGT