Around the World with Branchlands Residents

Life at Branchlands centers on plentiful opportunities for a healthy, active lifestyle, along with the personalized support residents need to take advantage of them. After all, the women and men living at Branchlands are interesting and energetic people—age hasn’t changed that!

One thing that many of our residents have in common is an adventurous spirit and a love for travel. We invited them to share some of their travel experiences and photos with us, and below you’ll get a chance to glimpse some of our residents’ life-changing experiences, from first trips to what they’re up to today.

Denise D.

Denise standing in front of a temple in Nepal

First Travels

Growing up in a single-parent home in the suburbs of Montreal in the 1930s, Denise didn’t have the same travel opportunities as other families. For many years her only travel experience was her yearly summer trip to St. John, New Brunswick to spend time with family on the Bay of Fundy. Her mother would put Denise and her sister on the train for the 700+ kilometer journey.

From this humble beginning, she went on to become an accomplished world traveler, visiting all seven continents. Yes, even Antarctica!

The Travel Bug

Denise at Branchlands, holding up a sketch of a house from her travels
Denise, holding a sketch she made during her travels in Nepal. A larger home with a tea house and rooms to rent on the first floor, it’s built of local stone, using no mortar. Large windows like the ones in this house, she says, have to come into the village by helicopter!

After some life changes in her 60s, Denise was intrigued by an advertisement for a ski trip in New Zealand, specifically for seniors. Well, she thought, why not?

On that trip, her assigned roommate became one of her good friends, and the experience proved a doorway leading to so many other adventures.

The travel bug has led Denise all over the world, to include traveling in many different modes—by plane, by boat, on foot, and more. These days, she prefers a slower pace, often in the form of cruises with her sister.

“Cruising is a great way to travel for seniors,” says Denise. “You can do as much or as little as you want to do.” A fan of opera, she has wonderful memories of an Italian cruise liner that played opera on the TV every day. “And,” she adds, “I found the Adriatic Sea to be gorgeous.”

Favorite Trip

Denise especially enjoyed an Elderhostel cruise of the Greek isles. She remembers fondly a meal they shared with the whole community on Paros, her favorite island.

But of all her world travels, one trip stands out to Denise the most—the one where she climbed Mt. Everest in Nepal in 1996. At the sprightly young age of 65, she made it to an elevation of 14,000 feet.

Denise with two sherpas

A prayer wall from Denise's Nepalese adventure

Everest, though, wasn’t her favorite Nepalese peak. That honor goes to Ama Dablam. She has fond memories, too, of the Namche Bazar, held in a village at 10,000 feet. She remembers the children who handed her and the other climbers necklaces of marigolds.

Everest and ama dablam mountains
The snow-covered peaks of Everest (to the left) and Ama Dablum (to the right.)

Denise isn’t sure if she’ll take any more trips, but even after all those years of travels—climbing mountains and setting foot on all seven continents—there are still two places on her bucket list: Vietnam and Jerusalem.

While age might bring an appreciation for a slower pace, it certainly doesn’t quench curiosity or the desire for adventure!

Bill and Carol O.

Bill and Carol posing into front of the Pacific Ocean
Bill and Carol at an overlook on the Pacific Coast highway in California

First Travels

A snowy street and residential neighborhood
Winter in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Bill and Carol met in Wisconsin, where they’d both grown up. In true Wisconsin spirit, they took their first trip together to Chicago for a Bears versus Packers game. Did either of them imagine the lifetime of travel that would follow this short trip across the state line?

Just a few years later, they set out on their first intercontinental journey, a nine-day voyage by ship to Germany. This wasn’t a glamorous cruise. Bill was in the Army, and Carol was pregnant with their first daughter. They both recall the size of the waves out on the open ocean.

The Travel Bug

While stationed in Germany, they traveled all over Europe, including visits to France, Amsterdam, England, and Italy. Some of their best memories were of heartwarming Italian hospitality. The local ladies even offered to babysit while they enjoyed an evening on the town!

Bill’s most memorable excursion was a visit to the American cemetery in Normandy in the 1980s. It almost didn’t happen! When they arrived at the front gate, the guard told them that the cemetery was closed that day as they prepared for a visit from President and Nancy Reagan.

Undeterred, Bill employed his charm to talk them inside for a brief visit to see the cemetery.

Meanwhile, of all their European outings, Carol has her own clear favorite.

“Heaven on earth is Switzerland.” – Carol

The only place she regrets not visiting in Europe is Sweden, her grandfather’s place of birth.

Favorite Trip

Bill posing at the Grand Canyon
Carol beside a window with her bag and two beers on the table in front of her
Carol, when they stopped for a snack in Quebec

Bill and Carol saw many places during their travels with the military, but their very favorite trip came long after retirement. It was 2004, the year of their 50th anniversary. Instead of throwing an anniversary party and inviting their family and friends to come to them, they traveled around the country to visit loved ones.

From New Hampshire to Texas to California, they journeyed to visit people they hadn’t seen in years.

They divided up the trip, heading somewhere different every month and visiting 12 states in total. Along the way, they stopped wherever they could to enjoy local attractions and national parks.

Bill on a beach with a fishing pole
Topsail beach, NC
Carol in front of a building in Savannah
Savannah, GA
A bison in front of a post office
Yellowstone National Park

“It was,” Bill says simply, “the best year.”

Bill and Carol and a friend posing on a mountain
On top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire

Nancy N.

Nancy and two others posing with their cameras in Africa
Nancy (left) during one of her trips to Africa

First Travels

While Nancy was born in Richmond, Va. and considers herself a Virginian, she moved regularly in childhood. That’s how it is growing up in a Navy family. Her first real trip, though, came when she was a junior in high school. Her sister was in college at the time, and their mom sent the two of them to Europe on a Thomas Cook Tour.

Their mom’s reason for the trip? To keep Nancy’s sister away from her boyfriend!

Nancy giving a presentation beside a table full of pictures and stuffed animals

Regardless of how successful the trip was on that front, it had another, unintended consequence: it kindled Nancy’s love for travel.

That love ties into an even more central passion for Nancy: the natural world.

For her, the most important thing about travel is the way it brings her into contact with each place’s plants and animals.

Lovingly referred to as ‘the nature lady’ at Branchlands, she shares her knowledge and passion to this day with other residents, both in casual conversation and during lunch-and-learn presentations.

The Travel Bug

Two adult elephants and one young elephant

With so many different ecosystems in the world to experience, Nancy wasn’t content with visiting Europe. From the dry, hot deserts of Africa to the cold mountains of Alaska, Nancy will go anywhere that offers plants and animals to be observed.

“It doesn’t matter, what the flora or fauna,” says Nancy. “I’m interested.”

That said, the iconic and amazing animals found in Africa made for a destination so inspiring that she has visited Africa three times, Botswana twice and Tanzania once.

A cheetah in front of a tree

A leopard sitting up

“Everyone ought to go to Africa once,” says Nancy. When there, she says she can spend hours observing an animal, interested in every aspect of its context and behavior.

Favorite Trip

It can be hard to pick favorites, but one key contender for Nancy is her trip to Katmui National Park in Alaska to see the Grizzly bears.

A grizzly bear and its two cubs

She stresses, though, that she doesn’t need to go far to enjoy nature. She loves exploring Shenandoah National Park, which is just 30 minutes from her home at Branchlands. She and two nature-loving companions stumbled into a close encounter with a bear and her three cubs in a cherry tree on Jarman’s Gap off Skyline Drive. They watched the bears gobble cherries for an hour, before mother bear decided she did not appreciate how close these humans were to her cubs!

Nancy and her friends cleared out quickly, but you can be sure it didn’t dissuade Nancy from planning her next trip into the wild.

Two zebras

David R.

First Travels

At 17 years old, David graduated high school and joined the Navy. Like so many other sailors, it was a ticket to seeing the world, albeit in circumstances very different than those of the average traveler.

He had two tours in Vietnam and one in the Mediterranean, and his time in the Navy gave him an introduction to the philosophy he would develop again later in life: “My home is my backpack.”

When he was out of the Navy, David moved to Wisconsin, where he met his wife. She had never been out of the state, so they decided to change that by signing up for the Peace Corps.

Just as they were all set to go to South America, where David would work fixing televisions, he got a phone call. The Peace Corps wanted to know if he would consider going to South Korea to fix x-ray machines instead. He said yes, and off they went.

The Travel Bug

In his late 20s, David started working for Motorola, which turned into a career spanning more than two decades. But that didn’t mean he’d given up the traveling bug. He decided to retire at the age of 52, and in exchange for his 23 years of service, the company offered him 23 weeks of pay. What do you think he did with that time? Sit home and put his feet up?

He grabbed his backpack and spent those 23 weeks on the road, traveling.

In his retirement, he’s traveled many places, including several visits to his daughter in Brisbane, Australia. For him, Australia is both exotic and not, since it reminds him a lot of America.

Favorite Trip

Our reasons for loving a place often come down to the simple things. In David’s case, he loves Kauai, Hawaii, for its color: an astonishing green. Plus, he adds, “the temperature is always nice.”

What we look for in a trip changes, of course, when our circumstances change.

Ten years ago, David moved to Charlottesville with his partner to pursue a dream of purchasing some land to create an eco-village on over six acres. Then the unforeseen happened: Covid and a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

David realized that the best thing for his quality of life would be a move into Linden House.

He enjoys living at Linden House because he gets the care he needs, while staying close to town and public transit. “Transportation is so easy with the bus stop right at the mall,” says David. “And the buses have bike racks.”

He also appreciates that he is a train or bus ride away from Washington, D.C. and all it has to offer. His trips may be shorter these days, but David is still travelling.

Adventure and exploration are a vital part of life at any age. We’re proud to help our residents keep active and in touch with new experiences. Check out our activities pages for Manor House Independent Living and Linden House Assisted Living, or our Weekly Outings and Adventures blog post for more details about how residents are living their lives to the fullest.