Member Spotlight: Alla Campbell, Greensboro, Georgia

Alla Campbell celebrating her 51st wedding anniversary in Galapagos Islands with her husband Charles.

I grew up in the small historic southern town of Madison, Georgia, which survived General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in 1864 because the town was “too beautiful to burn.” I would agree, and until I went to college and got married, I rarely ventured out of the state of Georgia. My travel was limited and my story was only starting when I took an African safari in 1998.

My daughter Beth was in the Peace Corps in Tonga and in 2000, my husband Charles Campbell (TCC gold member) and I were able to visit her. Unfortunately, we missed the plane that was to take us from Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, to the island of Vava’u. I think you will laugh and understand my comment that “it had its own schedule.” However, we were accommodated on a plane carrying King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV and his entourage. This meant we were greeted with a red carpet and band upon arrival.

When Beth’s time ended in Tonga, my other daughter Chris and I joined her on an 80-day backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia. Now that was a real eye-opener. We obtained around-the-world tickets on United Airlines and used Lonely Planet guidebooks to figure out where we should go; it was truly by the seat of our pants. Twenty years ago, traveling mostly without the benefit of internet and email made some of that a rather hair-raising adventure. Chris had the unpleasant experience of ending up in the Istanbul American Hospital where no one spoke English. That really was the beginning of my many travels.

Whether I traveled with Charles, a friend or even someone I did not know, I always had a simple camera available no matter where I was. I even used to develop film in my bedroom closet. To document these trips I have made Shutterfly photo books and have over 90 books so far. It’s always been a good way to reminisce and share my experiences with my children and grandchildren.

An early trip was an amazing archaeological dig in Israel. I was in a kibbutz with five or six 20-something gals—no modesty in the showers. At age 60 I was the oldest female on the dig. But holding a stone bead that I found at a 7,000-year-old site was exhilarating.

Then I was able to go to the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. My most prized possession from any trip is a sago palm fibre and nasa-shell necklace that was made by a native’s mother some years before. I found a photo of an identical necklace in a 1993 book about the Sepik River and discovered it is a fertility necklace worn by men.

Life changed again about 10 years ago when I stumbled upon the websites for International Travel News, the Travelers’ Century Club, and Most Traveled People. More travel opportunities came along and I jumped at the chance to see new places and cultures. I could read about those places and keep up with where I had been by using the information on those websites. My bucket list officially began.

Charles is a World War II history buff, so we undertook a 35-day around-the-world adventure to WWII sites in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. With 11 new countries (plus six previously visited), seven new places, two UNESCO World Heritage sites, 32 flights on 18 airlines, 41,727 air miles and over 1,000 land miles, we plotted our itinerary and had an airline consolidator plan our flights and notify us when airlines made a schedule change while we were on the trip. Charles arranged the hotels, transportation and used “Tours by Locals.” These were especially well done and gave us more opportunity to get to know locals in each country.

I love the African continent, but at times it can be rather daunting. While in the mangroves of Cameroon, three “maritime police” arrested us, confiscated our passports and then took off with them. What? With the help of our guide, the police eventually returned. The magic of an American bill slipped into their hands seemed to help solve the issue. In Djibouti, an insistent guide took us to see the sunset at Lac Abbe. While lovely, returning to civilization in the dark proved to be difficult for our driver who did not know where he was going. After four hours of wandering around the desert, the faint lights appeared in the distance and we returned to our luxurious room at the truck stop. Another time, nothing seemed more significant than being greeted at the border from Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo by three armed rangers who joined our jeep driver to the lodge in the Virunga National Park.

Africa also yielded special moments. Being eye to eye with silverback gorillas in Rwanda, and seeing the remains of Dian Fossey’s compound were particularly poignant. At the Senkwekwe Center orphanage, it was thrilling to witness a new gorilla embraced by its new family of three resident gorillas. Asmara, Eritrea, was a surprise with the Art Deco buildings which were built by the Italians in the 1920s and 30s. Benito Mussolini and other political leaders contributed to those buildings. Who knew? A final push before COVID-19 got me to Socotra, Yemen, and I made it to Libya once restrictions lifted. These are difficult destinations which go to show that when there’s a will, there’s a way.

The crowning glory of my travel came last year when Charles and I celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary aboard the Tip Top II in the Galapagos Islands. I had been there in 2003, aboard a ship with the same name, and knew this was the place to take all 16 of my family. It was serendipity!

The world is finally returning to some type of normal and I believe this is our opportunity to meet the future with renewed vigor. I encourage all of us to travel to some distant land or explore a nearby town not yet visited. Whatever we decide, let’s go!

Alla Campbell and daughters Chris and Beth on the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb in 2000.