Kay’s Excellent Adventures

By Susan Bean Aycock

Adventure traveler Kay Weekley is still touring the world at 80

Kay Weekley didn’t apply for her first passport until she was about to take a 50th birthday trip to Spain. Now 80, the great-grandmother has racked up a travel list that includes 86 countries and all seven continents, including Antarctica. She celebrated her milestone birthday in Zimbabwe, going on a photo safari and ziplining at Victoria Falls.

“Saying my age has never bothered me — I’m celebrating being 80!” she exclaimed, though without ID she could fool a customs agent by a good two decades with her youthful appearance and upbeat energy. “I’m in good health right now so I’m trying to get in as much as I can since I know that can change unexpectedly.”

She’s curious, practically fearless and pretty much willing to try anything. That’s led to sleeping in accommodations from luxury to budget hotels, tents, yurts, cruise ships and river boats. She’s traveled by plane, bus, car, van, train and boat. And ridden elephants, one- and two-humped camels, and once even an ostrich (one adventure she likely won’t repeat).

“I’ve always had an adventurous spirit,” she said. “Growing up in a small town [Rochester, Texas, near Abilene], we participated in everything. I’m just naturally curious and like to learn new things. I went to Croatia in 2022, my first trip after Covid. Someone asked me, ‘Why Croatia?’ And I said, ‘Because I’ve never been!’” (Which, she says, might become the title of the book she’s considering writing about her travels.)

She’s already documenting her travels in the photo books she loves to put together and admits that she takes two to three thousand photos on a long trip. And rather than shy away from social media like some seniors do, she embraces it by popular demand.

“I post more photos from my travels on Facebook these days because so many friends tell me they travel vicariously through me,” she said. “Some are fearful of travel or not in good health, so they love to see my photos without going there themselves. Traveling at 80, I’m definitely in the minority of my peers.

“Everyone should decide what they want to do and I can’t fault anyone if they choose to relax and take it easy when they retire,” she said. “That’s what I do sometimes when I’m home, but I can’t imagine not having travel in my life to inspire me and motivate me to learn more about the beautiful world we live in.”

It’s definitely been a road with some setbacks, though. Divorced from her first husband and highschool sweetheart at 41, she remained single for the next 20 years. After reconnecting with childhood friends Beth and Linda at a 30-year high school reunion, the trio decided to stay closer in touch by traveling.

“We first traveled to Boston and Colorado before Beth and her husband, John, invited us to Spain,” said Kay. “Linda and I didn’t have a passport before then. Beth and John showed us the ropes about how to travel on a budget by taking local buses. We took too much luggage, even though they warned us, and I’ve never done that again.”

For the next two decades, Kay and Linda traveled frugally “like middle-aged backpackers,” using Rick Steves’ “Through the Back Door” travel guides.

“Sometimes we didn’t know where we’d spend the night,” said Kay. “As you can imagine, that led to many adventures. Later, we booked a trip to Italy with a tour group and it didn’t take us long to get spoiled — it was so much easier just to place our luggage outside the door.”

Kay’s life both on and off the road continued to take twists and turns. She remarried at 61, having first met Glen Weekley at age 15, though their paths diverged for 46 years. She retired six months after their wedding to finish out a 30-year career at Brazos Electric Power Cooperative. Kay and Glen figured traveling would become easier and more frequent since they were both retired, and the two planned to travel to all seven continents together.

But 10 months after their marriage, Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her surgery and a six-month break from travel, they decided to double-up on their seven-continent goal, accomplishing it in 2008. Kay and Glen traveled the world for the next 13 years until his health declined; he died in 2020. Still, Kay continues to travel — with gusto.

Comfort and safety are legitimate concerns for seniors traveling to second- and third-world countries. Kay admits that for safety and logistics, she goes more often with a planned tour than she used to.

“There are pros and cons of traveling alone and traveling with a tour group,” she said. “You learn and experience so much more on tours that you just couldn’t on your own. Plus there’s a whole layer of precautions and logistics that you don’t have to worry about. I’d like to inspire other women who think it’s too late to start traveling at their age, whatever that is,” said Kay. “Travel has opened the door for me to new experiences and allowed me to start an exciting new chapter in my life after my divorce. I flew to India by myself to join a tour and someone asked me if I wasn’t afraid to fly so far alone. I said, ‘That doesn’t scare me — driving down I-35 scares me!’”

Kay does emphasize that good health and staying in shape are crucial for traveling seniors. Though she and Glen had taken a cruise ship to Antarctica in 2007, they hadn’t been able to disembark, and she returned in 2022 after his death to actually set foot on her seventh continent. If she hadn’t been flexible, she recalls, she wouldn’t have been able to get into the rubber Zodiac raft to get to shore, or climb a hill with trekking poles in the snow. And take the polar plunge into icy Arctic waters.

She’s even weathered some medical drama overseas and lived to tell the tale. At Uluru [formerly called Ayers Rock] in Australia, Glen went back to the bus while she stayed at the site until the last minute. She fell, cut her forehead and returned to the bus bleeding profusely; a doctor on the tour said that it needed stitches. They super-glued her forehead at a small ER, and she still made the tour’s sunset champagne dinner.

For group travel, Kay’s a huge fan of Overseas Adventure Travel [OAT] and this year will complete her 20th tour with them.

“OAT really immerses you in the local culture and activities; it’s totally hands-on,” she said. “You have a meal with a local family, and do activities in their daily lives. It’s more than just seeing places; you’re learning about another culture and how people live in other parts of the world.”

The company is evidently a fan of hers, too — its March 2024 brochure featured a photo of her hopscotching in Cape Town, South Africa, arms spread wide and mouth open in delight, while her husband Glen smiles in the background.

“I think travel expands your world to new experiences, and that’s stimulating to your brain,” she said. “Traveling opens up the world. Though it’s not just the trip I look forward to, but the research that I do and anticipation in getting ready for it that’s part of my excitement. Preparing for a trip keeps me mentally active!”

But as much as Kay Weekley enjoys exotic places, it’s the people that she remembers, both travelers from her tour groups and locals in the places she visits.

“It’s been such a wonderful surprise meeting and becoming such good friends with fellow travelers who live in different parts of the U.S.,” she said.

Kay shakes her head at people who continually find fault with something on their travels, be it weather, tour plans or food — which she inevitably loves, like most everything else.

“A lot of your enjoyment depends on your attitude,” she said. “Because I’m an optimistic person, I always expect my trips to be good — and so far they have been. It’s important to be flexible and go with the flow, because things can go wrong and it’s up to you not to let it spoil the entire trip. I always say you have to make your own sunshine.”

She takes three to four major trips a year, usually two to three weeks long and incorporating some form of adventure activity. This year’s plans include a cruise from Boston to Montreal and Niagara Falls with the lifelong friend who invited her to Spain at 50 and changed her life; France, visiting Paris and the beaches of Normandy; and trekking in Nepal.

“Nepal may be my last adventure trip,” she speculated. “I keep saying I’m going to slow down. But then again, maybe not.”

Weekley shared some of her favorite trips across the seven continents:
• Africa: Egypt — Visited the Great Pyramids and Abu Simbel, went on a Nile River cruise
• Antarctica: Rode in a Zodiac inflatable boat and took the ‘polar plunge’ into Arctic waters
• Asia: Mongolia — Attended a once-a-year festival, milked a yak and slept in a yurt
• Australia: Snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef and hiked around Uluru Rock
• Europe: Cruised the castle-lined Rhine River (she’s taken a total of 30 river cruises)
• North America: Alaska — Viewed glaciers by cruise ship and float plane
• South America: Peru — Climbed to the gate of the mountain ruins of Machu Pichu

Her brother, Nick, summed up his older sister on her 80th birthday: “I most admire her adventurous spirit, her love of seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. She never meets a stranger and is willing to try each new exotic delicacy or local custom. Her energy is contagious, her enthusiasm is inspiring. Lucky for her friends and family, she documents her travels with thousands of photographs, which she loves to share (her family teases her about these photos, but secretly enjoys reliving with her these precious memories).

She doesn’t have a bucket list per se, but still has a wish list of places she wants to see: The Amazon basin. The Galapagos Islands. Singapore and Malaysia.

Is there such a thing as too much travel?

“The only thing I don’t like about travel is not being home,” she said. “I love my life when I’m home too and miss my family when I’m on a trip. I have to miss special events sometimes and it’s especially hard when it’s my precious great-grandbabies’ birthdays.” Her clan includes daughters Lisa and Lori, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

When asked to pick a favorite quote about travel, she settles on . . . a dozen. But this one by French writer Marcel Proust stands out: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

“This quote reminds me of when I was in Greece in springtime, and I took so many pictures of the beautiful yellow flowers everywhere,” said Kay.
“When I returned home, the same flowers were also everywhere around Waco but I had never noticed them. Now when I see them I call them ‘Greek flowers.’