As a couple, we are fortunate to share our love of travel together. But what if
you are single or your spouse prefers the comforts of home to the challenge of
adventure? Nancy Pettine has been journeying around the world on her own for
decades, before and after she was married. An experienced traveler, she shares
her insight and tips in our interview with her below.
Retire Early Lifestyle: Nancy, could you tell our Readers a little about
Nancy: Up until I
started traveling in 1983, I lived a normal life – born and raised in Cleveland,
Ohio, school (but not college), working in hospitals mainly as a secretary. While living and working in Denver
I discovered travel by going on Windjammer
cruises and taking long weekend trips to Mexico, and a week in Jamaica. On a
secretary's salary one couldn't do much more than that. So I luckily got a job in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and stayed 7-1/2 years, returned to the States and had major
culture shock, so I went back to Saudi for another 2 years. Back and forth to the States
and off to Brunei for 2-1/2 years. Those years of
living, working and traveling abroad were the happiest times of my life.
I settled in Florida, meeting Tony (my husband). Two years after his death I moved to New Mexico for 3-1/2 years, and then back
to Florida. I also considered Arizona. I was searching for that “perfect” location to live. But then I came to Panajachel, Guatemala in March 2013
for the fifth time, and cried like a baby when I had to leave. I decided
that this is
the “perfect” place. My heart was always at Lake Atitlan.
So here I am, loving it, and enjoying everything
about the area and the people, both Gringo and local.
REL: How long have you been traveling as a single woman traveler?
Nancy: About 34 years. Actually the serious traveling started in 1983 when I moved to
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to work. My goal was to see as much of the world as I
could with my vacation time.
Buying my hookah from the "junk man" on
our houseboat in Kashmir
REL: As a single traveler, what sorts of places do you choose to visit and why?
Can you tell us the names of some of the locations you have been? What was your
most exotic destination?
Nancy: I prefer less developed countries. I'm a
simple person, and like my destinations to be simple. I like spending my time
seeing the sites and watching people; getting to talk to them. While in Morocco,
I had dinner and then tea the next morning at my driver's sister's house. In
Siberia I did home stays. In India (one of my six times there) I was on a 3-day
camel safari for part of the trip and another time in India I volunteered with
Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta and got to meet Mother Teresa at Adoration
one evening at the Mother House.
My friend and I did a trip to Kashmir and Ladakh and got snowed in on the return in a town called Kargil for 5 days – a
real experience!!! No water or electricity, but we did find beer and great
fried rice. And super nice people. We put rubber boots over our shoes and
plastic bags to try to keep our feet dry. I was working in Riyadh during the
first Gulf War, and I refused to leave. I didn't want to send my “treasures” home as I
bought them to enjoy. I was not worried.
So many experiences, so little room to mention them all. Some of the
other countries (which I consider all to be exotic) are Bhutan, Sikkim,
Tibet, northern Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Sri Lanka, Kenya,
Tanzania, Zaire (gorilla tracking), Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Mali (including Timbuctu),
Birkina Faso, Tunisia, Seychelles, Greece,
Viet Nam, Cambodia,
Russia/Central Asia, Mongolia, Indonesia (including Suluwesi and a civil riot
was happening while I was there and great festivities in Toraja Land), Malaysia, and others.
REL: How many countries have you visited?
Nancy: About 60.
Feeding M&Ms to the kids at a
Yemeni wedding at Wadi Dhahr, Yemen
REL: How long a period of time do you tend to travel? How much do you budget for
a trip, or does that amount vary depending on the location you choose?
Nancy: It varies – I travel anywhere from 4 days to 2-3 weeks. I don't budget,
it just sort of
varies on the location. I usually have an idea of what accommodation will be
and I don't eat much, so don't usually need much per day. I shopped a lot while
traveling when I was working in Saudi and Brunei, and I collected lots of “treasures.” Now
that I've parted with the majority of those, I don't really collect material
things that much. Maybe just one item from each country I have visited.
REL: How do you pack efficiently? Can you give us your best packing tip? What
item would you pack and never leave behind? What items do you consider to be
Nancy: I usually pack a lot of my older clothing that I don't mind leaving behind. That way I have room if I choose to shop, and
and my older clothing goes to people in
need. When flying I always go carry-on, so I guess I'd say travel lightly. Toiletry items are
always in small sizes, and I can purchase at my destination if needed. I'm
not sure what is absolutely necessary, except your money and passport. If
you are taking any prescription medication, you
would definitely bring those, along with a copy of the prescription.
never leave behind my ankh jewelry
(necklaces, earrings) – as those have sentimental value. I purchased them in Cairo,
Egypt but then these became even more important in my life when I met Tony and gave
him one to wear on a silver chain which I also bought for him. The ankh was used on
our wedding invitation and wedding cake. I believe in eternal life, before
meeting Tony and now.
My camel and camel guide in
REL: Do you ever utilize a tour group? Do you prefer to travel alone? What about
meeting up with fellow travelers on the road? Did you ever travel with your
Nancy: I have gone on group tours. I occasionally went while in Saudi as it was difficult to
get information on travel. This was before computers. Sometimes I use tours because I'm
tired and I want to have someone take care of everything. It's also good for meeting
people, which I do fine on my own, but I still enjoy having everything
pre-arranged. I did a 16-day tour of China, and there were only 10 of us in
the group, 6 being Chinese – and it was a low budget tour so we got the Yangtze
River tour on a boat that had locals sleeping in the hallways, and chickens hanging
from the ceilings. We used possibly two star hotels.
I was picked to be group leader to take care of room assignments in each city. I try to avoid 5 star tours.
I do like traveling alone as it seems easier to meet people. When traveling
with a companion sometimes you tend to keep to yourselves, and I love
meeting people along the road. While in southern India I ran into a couple
twice, and we talked about how we're travelers, not tourists.
I met Tony in 1998, two months after his wife passed away. He never traveled
much. But being with me we went to Peru, Alaska, Costa Rica, a couple of
short cruises through his work, and around the US. Unfortunately he passed
away five years after I met him, but he still travels vicariously through me.
REL: What is your goal on the types of trips you take?
What is it that you are seeking? Experience? Adventure?
Are you pursuing a Spiritual Quest? Are you looking for
insight into humanity?
Nancy: Pretty much all you just mentioned. I just love an adventure. I have a quote I
keep on my refrigerator “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
I also have one, author unknown: “Although I do follow my own rules, I have no
fear of dying while I'm traveling.” she writes. “Living is dangerous. Not to
live is death.”
REL: Tell us about your lodging choices. Do you stay in hotels? Hostels? Do you
book ahead or take your chances upon arrival?
Nancy: I prefer Bed & Breakfasts, but will stay in hotels but not 5 star, maybe 2 or
3, it depends on where I'm going. If I'm on a tight schedule I tend to book ahead and
other times I just take my chances. Like when I traveled around southern India,
I just went from Brunei (where I was living/working) to Sri Lanka for a night,
then on to India.
Me and my
"fiancé" (ha) in the Baliem Valley, Irian Jaya
REL: Nancy, have you
ever gotten ill while traveling? Or found that you needed medical assistance due to
something unforeseen? Have you had to see a dentist? Do you pack a small emergency kit?
What kind of advice could you give others who find they need medical attention
while on the road?
Nancy: I was
ill one night on the Nile Cruise, but I was determined to be fine the next
morning for the Valley of Kings and Queens, and I was! I did get sick at the
end of a Mexico trip, but that was because I wasn't eating much and I think
I caught it from others. I have never needed medical
assistance, nor a dentist. I don't
really pack an emergency kit, except some band-aids and ointment. Not sure what
advice I could give since I have not needed it myself. I just tell myself that
I'll be fine. Positive thinking helps!!!
What is your
best money-saving tip for travel?
That's a tough one for me to answer, as I don't spend a lot when traveling
anymore. I am not a big eater, so I save a lot on food! People would ask me
after a trip what I thought about the food, but that's not what I'd go for. I
go somewhere to see the sights and enjoy watching and talking with the local
people. I guess maybe you could say I walk as much as I can rather than
spending money on transportation, even simple transport like tuk-tuks and
REL: Do you have any advice for single women considering traveling alone? How do
you ensure your safety? What is your best safety tip?
Nancy: Just use common sense and leave your valuables at home. Just enjoy the
adventure!!! My best safety tip – hmmm – carry as little as possible with you. And keep what valuables you carry close to you
and tucked away. I can
usually judge when an area is not safe to walk in, or a person looks a bit
REL: Do you write about your travels?
Nancy: I generally keep notes of my daily activities during a trip. Before digital
cameras I would then keep the notes with my photos. I still usually print out
at least a few pictures of each trip and file away with my notes. Several
friends said I should write a book, but the older I get the less inspiration I
have to write. I have lately met so many people that are like me as far as
traveling goes, so I'll leave the writing to them – ha!
REL: How do you choose your travel destinations?
Nancy: I tend to look for places that are out of the way, third world, small rather
than big city (except when getting from point a to b and have to fly into a big
city (then I spend as little time as possible there). While in Saudi I and a
friend would learn of destinations through the airline magazines (for example,
Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir and Ladakh).
At Lake Atitlan in Panajachel
- now my home
REL: What would you say to a woman who is considering traveling alone but has
some trepidation about the adventure?
Nancy: Just tell yourself you can do it, and be a better person for it. Tell yourself
you're going to see new places, meet new people, have an adventure to remember
forever, and become a better person for having done it. If you decide not to do it,
you might regret it. Just follow your heart. And remember the quotes I
mentioned earlier in this interview.
REL: How often do you get back to the states?
Nancy: I just moved to
Panajachel, Guatemala at the beginning of November. But I am hoping to not
get back to the States for at least a couple of years. And then it'll be mostly
to shop, and of course spend a little time with friends and eventually family. My plan is to make
my home and travel around Central America, Mexico
and possibly South America when I want to get away. I've seen a lot of the rest
of the world while working overseas, spending my salary as I earned it instead
of saving for retirement.
REL: Where are you going next?
Nancy: I'm not sure. My 90-day entry stamp is due for renewal towards the end of April, so
may just go to Comitan in
Mexico for about 4-5 days. I really am enjoying the
Lake Atitlan area and am not in need of a “real” vacation just yet. Except
maybe to go to
El Tunco, El
Salvador with some friends here in Pana. That is,
when they decide to return to Pana as they're leaving very soon for not sure how
long. But they will be back (Billy
and Akaisha – you know who I'm referring to
Life is an adventure – enjoy every day!!!
La paz y la felicidad a todos!
We would like to thank Nancy for sharing
her life and travel adventures with us. What an inspiration she is! Thanks