One of life’s good fortunes is that retirement offers plenty of free time—time that many people use to see the far corners of the world. But Norma Johnson, a resident at Friendship Village—Chesterfield who’s been a travel agent for 35 years, says you don’t have to wait that long! “You can’t take it with you, so spend it and enjoy it while you can,” she says. “If you can take your kids or grandkids, that’s even better.”
A specialist in Australia with Altair Travel, Johnson says the country’s best attribute is its incredible diversity. “You name it and they have it in Australia: There’s all the wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef, beautiful mountains and rivers, and beautiful museums.” The biggest problem she encounters is that people never have enough time to see everything. “It’s the same size as the U.S., so if you go from Perth all the way to the other coast, like Melbourne, it takes some time.” And the people there are among the nicest she’s encountered. “I’ve never encountered anyone who hasn’t been enthusiastic: They want to hear and learn about where you live.”
When she’s not visiting the southern hemisphere, Johnson’s other favorite trip is an annual trek to Jamaica, where she and her husband have been going for about 25 years, exclusively for rest and relaxation. She also recommends European river cruises for family trips. “You really do get to see the interior of the country as opposed to just the big cities. It’s a good experience for kids because they learn so much and you still have free time in a city every day to go explore on your own or with a tour guide.”
Johnson’s favorite moment occurred in a mom-and-pop restaurant in Switzerland, where her bus stopped one day. The owner’s son was about 10 or 12 and was fascinated by the tourists, she says. Joking, she asked him if he’d like to go back to America with them. “His eyes got real big, and then when we were getting back on the bus he came out and hopped on the bus and said, I want to go with you to America! Everybody on the bus started laughing because they didn’t know how I was going to handle it. Fortunately, his father came out and said, I don’t think you can go, because you don’t have a passport—he saved me! So when we got home, I sent the boy some T-shirts.”
Gatesworth residents Candy Lee and Red Mills are equally well-traveled—in fact, when LN caught up with them, they were packing for the Caribbean. “It’s nice to get out in the winter; we’re going to have projected highs in the mid-80s and lows in the mid-70s,” Lee says.
The pair met at The Gatesworth one day while Lee was walking her Yorkshire terrier. “It turned out her husband had been at college with me and we had a lot of things in common,” Mills says. A widow, Lee had traveled some with her husband; whereas Mills got his travel bug from a 1955 to '57 stint in the Army, where he was stationed in Paris. “I have three ambitions: to be a world traveler, a good photographer and a good chef,” he says. On their favorite trip they’ve taken together, to Tahiti and French Polynesia, they brought home some fresh Tahitian vanilla beans, which Mills has since worked into crème brûlée and other treats. On the advice of their guide, they’ve kept the unused portion soaking in a mason jar of rum, which should help it keep forever, he says. Apart from the food, what they loved about the island was the spectacular views. “They’re always changing and always beautiful,” Lee says. “It’s hard to take in that much natural beauty.” They also enjoyed snorkeling there, for the clear water, beautiful reefs and the opportunity to pet rays and small sharks.
So what’s the couple’s dream trip? “We want to drive the car across the country, and visit national parks,” Lee says. “We want to see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. Red has a car he calls the Princess, it’s a Volvo XC 60, and she practically drives herself. You never know where we might go next!”