Photograph by Susan Seubert
“When I was in high school in Lipue, Hawaii, my dream was to sail around the Pacific,” says 85-year-old Linda Yuen from her home in Honolulu. But in the early 1940s, with a world at war and a father who hailed from Hiroshima, exploring the world wasn’t an option. So Yuen went to college, married a marine biologist, and raised a family.
With the exception of long weekends on nearby islands, family trips to national parks, and an extended jaunt to Europe, travel was mostly a dream deferred for the school social worker. But something changed as Yuen approached 60: Her curiosity about terra incognita became a passion for seeing the world.
She threw herself into research mode, planning trips to visit the places she had always dreamed of seeing. She flew to Easter Island, explored the Galápagos, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, took a New Year’s Eve cruise to Antarctica, followed the Silk Route across China (twice), and fell in love with Bhutan.
Sometimes Yuen coaxes her husband along on trips, other times her globe-trotting friends tag along. But no matter how far she travels or how exotic her destination seems, she never feels alone. “I get captured by places, and I carry them with me.”
—By George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler: Why is travel important?
Linda Yuen: It can lead to greater respect and understanding and dissolve stereotypes, an important step in achieving a peaceful world.
NGT: What inspired you to travel in the way that has resulted in your being chosen as a Traveler of the Year?
LY: My interest in different cultures, in history, geography, archaeology, the arts, the natural world, and physical activity.
NGT: Who is your hero and why?
LY: I have many, but Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind. She was appalled by the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II and pleaded with her husband to abort his plan to inter Japanese Americans in Hawaii. She also actively helped representatives from Hawaii who went to Washington to lobby the President against internment. I believe her efforts were substantial and invaluable.
NGT: Do you have a personal motto or mantra that embodies your approach to life and travel?
LY: Be open and receptive to new ideas and people. Appreciate what others do for you. Have fun.
NGT: What do you never leave home without when you travel?
LY: This one is easy, but the answer is silly: lipstick.
NGT: What was your most surprising food experience on your travels?
LY: The kaiseki at Shojoshin-in on Mount Koya, Japan. I expected austere, since this was a Buddhist temple, but what the monks prepared and served was a different austere, one of elegant tastefulness and beauty.
NGT: Who is the most memorable person you’ve met while traveling?
LY: I have met many beautiful people in my travels. Here’s one story:
In 1992, I visited a Dani tribal village in Wamena, Irian Jaya, Indonesia. I wanted to follow the trail of the native Dani women who climbed up to the well on the top of the hill for their salt. It was a difficult climb for me, and noticing this, a young Dani child of about seven years came to my side, offered his hand, and helped me climb that hill. Both in Bhutan and in Wamena Valley, the children made me feel like I was their beloved grandmother.
NGT: Name three places that you’d like to visit before you die and why.
LY: At this advanced point in my life, when thinking of travel aspirations my thoughts tend toward sharing special places with loved ones, a place such as Bhutan, which continues to be a place of spiritual wonder for me.
NGT: What's one place you’ve been to that you think everyone should visit?
Now, Bhutan is my choice. It’s a very poor country by most standards, but it is a place that will touch you on a spiritual level. It is inspiring to see "Gross National Happiness" used as a measure of good governance. Bhutan is rich in this regard, and I wish this message would spread to other peoples and countries.
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