By Zoe Sottile, CNN
A pair of best friends from Texas are proving that adventure doesn’t have an age limit — even when you’re 81.
Ellie Hamby, a documentary photographer, and Sandy Hazelip, a physician and lecturer, toured the world in 80 days, adventuring from the beaches of Bali to the deserts of Egypt.
The octogenarian grandmothers started their ambitious adventure on January 11, according to the blog the two have used to document their travels.
Their first stop was a location that eludes even many seasoned travelers: Antarctica.
Getting to the southernmost continent first required crossing the Drake Passage, the notoriously rough waters between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands.
“For almost two days, we were a rocking and rolling and a slipping and sliding through the Drake Passage and we were holding on for dear life,” Hamby said in an interview with CNN. “It was just wild.”
“But when we stepped foot on the ground on the Antarctic, you forgot all of that,” she recalled. “The beauty of the Antarctic is just unbelievable to see the penguins and the icebergs and the glaciers — just, this was amazing.”
Since that first venture, the pair have visited 18 countries across all seven continents, often while clad in matching T-shirts. They’ve also accrued a loving social media following who track the “traveling grannies” on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.
Hazelip told CNN that she met Hamby after her husband died in 1999. Before his death, he “planted the seed in my heart that we should start taking our grandsons on mission trips in the summer,” she said. This led her to the Zambia Medical Mission, a project run by Hamby and her husband in southern Africa.
The two bonded over their shared interest in travel and commitment to prioritizing unique experiences over comfort and amenities while abroad. Both became closer as widows after Hamby’s husband died in 2005.
Hazelip says the idea for their trip originated a few years before they were each set to turn 80.
“I just got the idea because we had traveled previously together internationally,” she said. “And so about four years before we were going to turn 80, I mentioned to her one day, ‘Ellie, wouldn’t it be fun to go around the world in 80 days at age 80?'”
On their website, Hamby and Hazelip say they dedicated the trip to their late husbands, Kelly and Don. “We miss you and wish you were joining our adventure,” they write.
Originally, the two planned to disembark in 2022 when they were 80 years old. “And COVID shut those plans down,” Hazelip went on. “But COVID didn’t shut us down. So we went this year, and our theme was, ‘At 81 and still on the run.'”
And despite the challenges international travel presents, the best friends say they finished their trip without any arguments.
“We’re both independent, very stubborn. But we seem to allow each other to give space,” said Hamby. “We just understand each other and we know this is a good thing we’re doing and we kind of respect each other’s feelings.”
For Hamby, the highlight of the trip was the people they met along the way.
“We love all the sights that we saw, but the things that we remember the most are the people that we met,” she said. “We met some of the most wonderful, kindest, friendliest people in the world. We just have friends now all over the world that we love dearly.”
“We always say when we started this, we did not plan a vacation,” she added. “We planned an adventure. And every single day was an adventure.”
Although Hamby and Hazelip have finished their worldly quest and returned home to Texas, the two are already planning for their next trip, they told CNN.
And they shared a crucial piece of advice for any travelers worried about the language barrier on their own adventures.
“You know, people ask us often about the language, how we manage it,” said Hamby. “We say with Sandy and Ellie, there’s one language and that’s a smile. And we found that worked wonders because we were often aware that there was not English spoken. But a smile covers all languages.”
They also encouraged other older travelers to not let age hold them back. Aside from some small concessions — like deciding not to ride a motorbike in Bali because of concerns about falling — they said their age didn’t affect their itinerary abroad. They said felt confident that if they were injured on their trip, their children “would have been at peace knowing that we were doing what we absolutely wanted,” said Hazelip.
Hazelip described 81 as “the perfect age” to embark on their trip.
“Getting older does give you a little bit of wisdom of making decisions,” she said. “And so that’s the fun part. I think at this age I appreciate so much [of] the beauty and I can really just soak it in. And for me, this was the perfect age to go. I’m so thankful.”
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