Barbara Kirk says there’s only one true way to travel internationally and experience everything a foreign country has to offer.
Kirk, who has been an international traveler for 25 years, decided about 17 years ago to start renting an apartment for at least one month wherever her destination took her.
“I decided that was the way to get into the culture and the society of another country,” she says. “If you’re in a hotel, you meet tourists, and if you’re in an apartment, you meet the residents.
“I had to submerse myself in the culture, and that’s important to me,” she continues.
Kirk first started traveling the globe when she worked as a trip escort for an incentive travel company. Incentive traveling is a motivational tool corporations use to increase sales by rewarding their employees with trips. Kirk assisted those who went on the trips and later operated her own incentive travel company until she retired.
She still acts as a pseudo-travel consultant to friends and acquaintances who are preparing to travel to a destination with which she is familiar. She’ll pull her file and share information. The most important thing about traveling abroad, she says, is to be a good ambassador for the United States and accept people on their terms when they are on their own turf.
“If you’re in a country, respect their customs,” Kirk says. “I think Americans sometimes have a problem with that.”
Kirk, who also speaks Spanish and Italian, says she hasn’t run into any language barriers while traveling abroad. While English is widely spoken throughout the world, she says it’s always a good idea to know basic words such as “please,” “thank you,” “yes,” “good morning,” “good evening,” “hello” and “good-bye.”
Woman takes several international trips each year, solo or with a group
Kirk belongs to an international women’s club, where she has utilized her contacts in various countries to help her find apartments to rent. Kirk thoroughly researches each location she plans to visit.
This year, Kirk will stay at an apartment in Paris and visit the south of France with an alumni group. The trip includes 12 hours of lectures about the culture and 12 hours of language lessons, along with dinners in local homes and excursions. She also visits Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, each year with a group and recently went on a riverboat cruise in Russia with a friend.
Most of Kirk’s traveling occurs alone, which she says draws the attention of locals because they’re curious about an American woman traveling alone, and it allows her to meet more people. She has traveled to about 70 countries and 300 cities throughout the world, traveling to every continent except Antarctica.
She talks fondly of her visits to Paris and the time she took the inaugural Eastern Orient Express luxury train from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand. She recalls the time she went on a South African safari in an open Land Rover, where the group followed a pride of lions. At one point the lions were all around the vehicle, and she later saw one bring down a water buffalo.
“If I would have put my hand out, I could have brushed the mane of this lion,” she recalls.
There are so many places she wants to revisit, including Greece, Budapest and Tuscany. She doesn’t have one favorite trip — her favorite will oftentimes change depending on the people she meets. Kirk says she would like to spend more time in Prague and Belgium to become better acquainted with the cultures.
While she has vivid memories of her trips, Kirk has few photographs. She does not believe in taking pictures on trips because she is then viewing the moment through a camera lens.
“People just take pictures and throw them in drawers,” she says. “I have them in my head and in my heart.”
Instead, Kirk enjoys meeting street artists and purchasing one of their pieces, whether it is a watercolor or an oil painting to bring home. Her downtown condo is full of treasures from her various vacations.
Couple finds joint interest in traveling
Joe Clark picked a place he had always dreamed of visiting for his first major international trip in 1996, when he traveled to Rome and Venice, Italy, with a friend.
Clark says he was a little nervous, so he tried to learn some Italian to get by. Over the course of the week-long trip, he was impressed with the history, the culture and, of course, the food.
“I had the best food there that I’ve ever had anywhere,” he says. “It’s a cliché, but it really was good.”
A year later, in 1997, Clark’s now-husband, Jason Clayworth, took his first international trip when he traveled during spring break to Paris to visit a friend who was studying abroad. Clayworth visited several museums including The Louvre and the Picasso museum. He also went to the Palace of Versailles, took a sewer tour and saw the catacombs of Paris, which he describes as unbelievable.
“It’s humbling, because when you leave there, you realize you’re just one of millions and millions of people, and that your life isn’t necessarily unique,” Clayworth recalls thinking after his visit to the catacombs, a 200-mile network of tunnels, caves and quarries, much of it filled with skulls and bones.
Since those initial trips, Clark also has traveled to Italy, Paris, Barcelona, London, Cancun and Puerto Rico, and has taken a special trip to southern Spain, Morocco and Gibraltar with his father.
The couple found a joint interest in traveling and since getting together have traveled to Argentina, Uruguay, various destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Tahiti, Montreal, Canada; Kenya and on a Caribbean cruise. They’ve also take a Pacific Coast drive from Seattle to San Diego, a northeastern road trip to Maine and a southwestern states trip that included a stop at the Grand Canyon.
They take at least two trips a year and an international trip every two to three years.
“Part of it is my parents traveled quite a bit, and I think I inherited it from them,” Clark says. “It’s strange to me that you’re only on this planet for so long that I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to see as much as you can. You see things on TV or read about it, and I just want to see it in person.”
Clayworth thinks human beings are curious by nature, and that those who travel are generally more open-minded and see life differently because they are forced to look at things through other people’s eyes and cultures.
“When you travel, you truly see things you’ve never experienced before,” he says. “When you see someone who has traveled a lot, they’re generally more rounded. It gets you out of your little bubble.”
Several factors come into play when selecting trip destinations
Cost and safety are the top two things Clark and Clayworth consider when they select a trip destination. Oftentimes, the initial destination isn’t the end result.
“We come up with a place we want to go and change our minds a million times, and then at the last minute end up picking a place that isn’t even on our radar,” Clark says.
Safety has become a more important factor the more the couple travels, they agree.
“We haven’t had a bad experience, but the more we travel, the more cognizant we are of it,” Clayworth says.
The couple has liked their various trips for different reasons and say it’s hard to pick a favorite because each is so different. They agree their trip to Tahiti is one that they will always remember for its beauty. It was not overly touristy, had little pollution and was safe and affordable.
“It was one of my bucket list places,” Clark says.
Their most exciting trip was in 2012 to Kenya, where they went on an African safari and had up-close views of elephants, giraffes, lions and more. The couple stayed in tents that had electricity and running water. Clayworth says accommodations were Americanized, but he would not have traveled to the country any other way.
The most educational trip was to Paris, though they went there separately.
The next trip is always on the horizon as couple continues to chip away at bucket list
Clark, 44, says Alaska and Australia are at the top of his list of trip destinations within the next couple of years. He had a goal to reach all 50 states and seven continents by the time he turned 50. He thinks the couple will hit all 50 states but doubts they will visit Antarctica.
Clayworth wants to go on a driving tour of Italy and take cooking classes.
“I want to go on a vacation just to eat,” he says. “I think that would be fun.”
Clayworth admits he’s cautious about what he eats while in foreign countries after a food poisoning incident in Puerto Vallarta that forced Clark to spend two days of sightseeing by himself.
While the couple does some planning ahead of time for vacations, lately they’ve been relying more on locals and lodging staff for recommendations to avoid cramming in too many things.
“I think some of the best vacations are just exploring and not having an agenda,” Clayworth says.