Eighty-Year-Old Woman Travels the World With Just a Backpack

Kaye Tobin travels nine months a year efficiently and economically, making new friends everywhere. She hopes to travel 20 years more.

“I have everything I need, have ever wanted and appreciate it all,” says the octogenarian who lives in Arcata, California. “The only thing I’m running out of is time.” Interviewed last month in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Tobin had just spent Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala, followed by three weeks traveling through Chile, including its famed Patagonia region. The day after her return from Chile, she repacked and flew off to Thailand.

Backpack is the Only Way to Go

How does the retired real estate broker, mother of seven, tirelessly fly from one place to another? “It’s never been a problem; I think I levitate,” she says with a chuckle, adding, a backpack is the only way to go. For her two-week Thailand jaunt, she packed a pair of slacks, a couple of blouses, changes of underwear and socks, slippers, bathing suit and toiletries.

The inveterate traveler books her trips in any fashion that gets her there inexpensively and efficiently. Her children (whose names all begin with the letter “K”), often give her airline mileage. “They really take good care of their mother, they do.”

She frequently overnights in international hostels, such as one very familiar to her in Santiago, Chile. “I know my way around. I’ve been there at least five times.” A year earlier at Christmas time, she stayed at the international hostel in Quito, Ecuador, down the street from the Hilton Hotel. A new addition to the hostel is a penthouse apartment. “I’m expecting I’ll be back sometime. Imagine a nice little room at the top! These things happen to me all the time. It just gets better and better because I’m out and about.”

Economy-minded Tobin also recommends going the Affordable Travel Club route. Through this organization, travelers stay in private homes whose host members serve them breakfast and offer sightseeing tips. Paying about $20 a night for these accommodations, Tobin explains “I can visit people around the world as their guest for at least two nights and not more than three. It’s sort of a grownup backpackers club . . . people of all ages. I have met a lot of super interesting people that way.” Membership in the club requires reciprocation. Tobin has a guest room in her home for visiting club members.

Her Affordable Travel Club adventures include U.S. destinations. Among her favorite overnights, a house and property set on 360 acres of oceanfront, north of Santa Barbara, Calif. “It’s not about people hoping to make a few bucks. It’s about people who enjoy meeting people.”

She also owns a time share property in Park City, Utah that she has exchanged for time shares in Europe, Australia, Africa and India.

Wonderful Encounters

Her first trip abroad was to Israel with her late mother in 1977. “I had wonderful encounters, happy memories while walking through Jerusalem looking for a bottle of Scotch for my mother.” Tobin recalls meeting a 12-year-old Muslim boy who took her to see the Dead Sea Scrolls housed at a Jerusalem museum. She in turn accompanied him to the city’s Hadassah Hospital and its celebrated stained-glass windows created by artist Marc Chagall.

Another memorable experience in Kiev, Russia involved a young man who approached Tobin, asking to converse with her in English. “I was looking for a little fur hat for my grandson; we went all over Kiev,” she recalls. “People just start talking to me. I’m never lonely when I’m with me. My kids are not concerned about me. They know I’m in good hands.”

Fear is not in her vocabulary. “I always have been full of enthusiasm and thrive on challenges. If someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s all I need to hear.”

And even though she may have been there, done that many times earlier, each trip introduces a fresh, new perspective, as though never experienced before. Despite many trips to Thailand, she’s still in awe of its beauty. “The other night I was swimming in the moonlight at nine o’clock at night and the next morning I was in the pool at six in the morning at dawn, watching the sun come up. I mean it’s all there.”

Future travels? Timbuktu on the West coast of Mali is a possible destination. But more immediate, a trip to Alaska. “I’ll arrange to fly as far north in Alaska as I can, just so I can say I’ve gone from the tip of South America to as far north as possible.

Taking advantage of frequent flyer mileage, inexpensive accommodations and packing light has enabled Tobin to travel often, enjoying life to its fullest. “I meet wonderful people in places like this,” she says. “It never happens while I’m sitting around at home taking inventory of my aches and pains!”.