Earlier this year, in celebration of her 70th birthday and her Granddaughter Marissa's 13th, Atlas Wealth Advisors client Andrea Gray journeyed to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Her adventures haven't stopped there. Recently we talked to Andrea about her love for travel and how her journeys have changed over the years.
Why Do You Love to Travel?
Travel broadens my mind and gives context to my own life. When you visit places so unlike your own country, you often realize how fortunate you are. I have done missionary work in Africa, building a church, with no running water and no refrigeration or plumbing of any kind. I've been to the war torn weary Middle East. In Israel, I slipped the prayers of many into the Wailing Wall. On the other hand, I’ve traveled to Europe and seen its opulence and grandeur. I have been to the Pyramids in Egypt. I have flown over the hauntingly beautiful Napali coast with its majestic waterfalls in Kauai. Travel exposes you to all of humanity. It touches my heart and warms my soul to feel a part of the larger whole.
“I delight in new experiences. It was so much a part of my life with Jim. I am very happy to have reconnected with that part of myself.” Andrea Gray
Why Did You Stop Traveling?
Well, I was widowed at 64. My husband, Jim, died very suddenly on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. Three months later, as I turned 65, I realized that I needed to figure out Social Security and Medicare. Jim had a Masters in Economics and handled all of our finances, so I needed to figure out how to transition all of my financial life as well. We had been married 44 years and we had a great division of labor. Money management was not something I did so there was a lot of shock and awe. I was in a state of immobility and my mind felt as if it were encased in concrete. So many things needed immediate attention. Jim and I had been a team, doing most things together. We traveled and we were involved in a lot of community and church activities and outreaches. We had wonderful couple friends. It was just very difficult to find my footing as a single person. The thought of traveling alone was daunting and painful.
What Made You Start Traveling Again?
I had an "aha" moment on my 70th birthday. It was during a surprise party given by my sister, Robin. Surrounded by friends and family I realized that half a decade had come and gone since Jim's death. I had been functioning, working, going to church, doing my job, attending meetings and being productive, by most standards. However, I was not cultivating joy, the joy I had once felt when Jim was there to share my life with me. In so many ways his death is still so fresh. Grief, though an uninvited companion, seems to accompany me everywhere. I realized that my sense of loss would never really dissipate from my life, but it would only assimilate into it. I knew at that moment Jim would not want me to live without that sense of joy. I knew I had to relish life for the both of us. So, I decided to begin traveling again and begin fulfilling the dreams we shared together.
Since that "AHA" Moment, Where Have You Traveled?
I took a wonderful trip to Scottsdale, Arizona with my dear friend Esther who lives in St. Louis. We took the best hot air balloon ride of my life, saw the Grand Canyon and visited the Frank Lloyd Wright school and compound. Marissa and I had a fabulous two-week trip earlier this summer when we flew to NYC and DC to celebrate our birthdays, 13 and 70 respectively. We stayed in Times Square, saw Phantom of the Opera and ate at the famous Sardis Restaurant with the after-theater crowd. We climbed the Statue of Liberty and visited the 9/11 Memorial as well as all the other "musts" in NYC. We even spent a day in Long Island, in Garden City, Jim's hometown, so Marissa could see where her Grandfather had grown up. In DC, we actually got to tour the White House and the Pentagon. Our Congressman’s intern took us on a tour of the Capitol which included visiting both the House and Senate Chambers. It was all amazing.
Earlier this year, I also spent close to a month in Australia and New Zealand with my sister, brother-in-law and good friends. We heard the Australian Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Opera House. A bucket list item for me. While I was there, Jim's brother, who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Adelaide, flew to Sydney to see me for a day. I had not seen John for at least 35 years so it was very special to reconnect with him and his wife, Jackie. Our group also made it to The Great Barrier Reef, where I hung out of the helicopter taking pictures, and Melbourne. In New Zealand, we toured from Auckland to Queenstown and everything in between. It was so comforting to be traveling with people I love. I delight in new experiences. It was so much a part of my life with Jim. I am very happy to have reconnected with that part of myself.
Whenever I travel, I go with a curious and open heart and mind. I have learned to leave some opportunity for what I call serendipity. Don’t get me wrong. I am a planner for sure. You have to be if being vetted for the White House is a necessity or you want to book that fabulous tour that will be full once you arrive. However, I try to leave a little space to let things happen organically around me. One example of that is an evening that Marissa and I spent at the National Harbor in Maryland. We were staying in Old Town, Alexandria for the DC part of our trip. I had gone to the King Street Pier to buy tickets for our boat ride up the Potomac to see Mt Vernon. It was getting dusk, and in the distance, across the water, I saw a Ferris Wheel. I am like a kid when it comes to rides. Marissa is always saying that I am not like other Grandmas. Apparently, I am much more adventuresome than most. When she needs someone to ride the roller coaster with, Grandma is who she looks for. At any rate, I asked the vendor where that was and how I could get there. He said water taxis ran from the pier regularly throughout the evening and it was a short jaunt. Marissa and I had a lovely, unexpected evening riding a beautifully lit Ferris Wheel as its colors literally danced on the Potomac. That is what I call serendipity.
What is Next for You?
Well, I would like to follow my husband's example and leave the planet just a little better than I found it. He impacted the world in a number of positive ways, including the lives of children. I suppose by the world's standards my goals are small. I want to be a good role model for my Granddaughter. I want to interact with those I meet in a positive and compassionate way. Whether we are blessed to be an American, a citizen of the richest nation on earth, or whether we live in the Outback of Africa, toiling for water each day, we all have a common humanity.
I love intergenerational relationships and activities. Younger people keep my outlook optimistic, while hopefully my experience can lend wisdom to them. I will continue volunteering at the Stewpot, where they feed, and often house, the homeless and I will continue working with organizations like Faith and Grief Ministries. I will continue serving on Boards and committees and continue to be heavily involved in Mission. I will always spend as much time as possible with Marissa and my family and friends because that is where my heart is. I will certainly continue to travel as far and as long as I can because that is my passion. I have already scheduled Russia for next year and I hope to get to China, Holland and Cuba very soon as well. My family doesn’t necessarily like the idea, but I would like to go to Dubai and ride a camel in the Sahara Desert. I am looking for someone who wants to go with me because I really think it would be an awesome adventure.