Two 80-year -old Abilenians Share Their Grand Adventure Around the World
Over 23 years ago, a friendship began to form between Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip. The two met on a medical mission trip in Zambia, but the friendship deepened after Ellie lost her husband unexpectedly in 2005.
Sandy had become a widow years before and at the time Ellie was walking through her loss, Sandy was commuting back and forth from Eastland to Abilene several days a week. Knowing the journey that her friend was embarking on, she reached out and offered to buy her dinner in exchange for a couple nights of room and board a week.
That was 18 years ago.
The two friends love life, love traveling and after going on several trips together, Sandy had a big idea.
She asked Ellie, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to go around the world in 80 days when we turn 80?’
Ellie paused for a minute, agreed shortly after, but the pandemic had other plans and intervened.
When life allowed travel again, the pair modified their theme and went for it. The updated slogan was ‘Around the World in 80 Days at 81 and Still on the Run’ and their planning was underway. When asked how their friends and family members reacted to their traveling plans, they said most didn’t truly believe they would do it until the tickets were purchased.
The criteria for the trip was based on the novel, ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne. Sandy and Ellie decided to visit as many cities as possible as the character Phileas Fogg did in the story. In addition to that, they chose to visit all seven continents and see as many of the world’s wonders as they could.
Both Ellie and Sandy prided themselves on being travelers on a budget with the average hotel stay on their trip averaging only $29 a night per person. The places they stayed at were quaint and full of wonderful people. Sandy recalled the favorite hotel stay being only $13 a night with breakfast included, and a million-dollar view. It was in Cairo, Egypt overlooking the pyramids.
The days were long, the stays were typically short, but the length of stay varied from place to place depending on the sites to see for each location. The excitement and joy exuded from the pair as they recounted their adventures and when asked if they were exhausted during their travels, emphatically not.
‘People get tired on vacation. This was not a vacation, it was an adventure,’ Sandy said.
Both believe that looking at people and places through the lens of awe and wonder is what gave them the energy that sustained them all 80 days.
Ellie shared that her favorite place was Easter Island, and her favorite memory was an experience they had in Lapland, Finland when they went on a sleigh ride with Huskies. In their minds, it was going to be a leisure adventure, but the reality was much faster.
‘If we were running a race that day, we would have won,’ Ellie said. ‘As soon as the sled stopped, Sandy and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, that was fun!”’
Ellie also loved Antarctica. That was the kick-off to their trip, taking two days to travel through the Great Drake Passage, which was a rocky adventure. As soon as they stepped foot on the continent, they knew they were in for the trip of a lifetime.
For Sandy, the Northern Lights in Finland were the most memorable and her favorite place was the Island of Bali where the scenery was breathtaking.
‘I remember sending a photo to my kids asking if they thought my landscape guy could create something like what I was seeing in Bali. Their response was no way in West Texas,’ Sandy said. ‘The flowers and beauty were out of this world.’
Sandy also loved Asia and its diversity.
An unexpected turn in their trip was the attention and fame that came their way. During their travels, the duo was recognized because of articles that were published about them in various places. They also gained attention and followers as the TikTok Traveling Grannies. One video, for example, has over 6 million views to date.
This recognition came in handy in situations where Ellie and Sandy needed help. One specific encounter occurred in Japan at the Shinjuku train station that has more than 3.2 million people pass through it each day. The duo was looking to buy tickets to Mt. Fuji but being in the most automated country in the world and the 2nd largest train station in the world, the two felt lost. Along came a man named Ziggy, from Slovenia, that recognized them from an article he read in the Daily Mail in London. He stopped what he was doing, changed his plans, and helped the two travelers get back on track.
‘Situations like this one and many others on our adventure reminded us of the goodness of humanity. The world is full of good people,’ Ellie said.
Since their return they have been featured on 52 television stations and numerous printed publications throughout the world, ranging from the Daily Mail to the New York Times and lots of places in between. They also laughed about making the Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live with the joke, ‘two 80-year-old women are circling the world for 80 days because the post office lost their ashes.’
What Saturday Night Live didn’t know at the time of their ‘update’ was how full of life and vitality Sandy and Ellie are and what the future holds for the pair. The next trip is already being planned, but this time they plan to enjoy one continent at a time beginning with South America. The catchphrase for this trip which will take place in 2024 is ‘We are 82 and Travel We Can DO!’
The icing on the cake for Ellie and Sandy has come through the thousands of comments with fans and followers sharing the joy and inspiration that they have been to themselves and so many others. Life is always an adventure for the friends and thanks to their first GRAND adventure and the attention that they unexpectedly gained, we now all get to go along for the ride.
By Nicole Fletcher
Photos Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip