Faces - June 2024

Faces of wanderlust

Have your passport ready, and don’t forget your toothbrush – there’s a great big beautiful world out there just waiting to be explored.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

It’s been said that travel is the only thing you pay for that makes you richer. 

It can be a transformative experience, simply placing yourself somewhere far away from home and discovering how the rest of the world lives. It opens your perspective, helping you see beyond the edges of limits you didn’t even know you’d placed around yourself. It deepens your appreciation for the magnitude of this world, of how far away the edge of the map truly is.

And, yes, it has its challenges — decades of stand-up comedy have inured us to the pitfalls of airline travel, and many travelers are caught off guard by the varying quality of drinking water from one country to the next. But it also has its rewards. 

These three locals have reaped the rewards of travel in all its forms: the way it transforms us and the way it helps us transform the world.

Mike and Jeanette Davis

This couple is charting new territories in their empty nest phase.

Mike and Jeanette Davis

Travel is intended to be a freeing experience, one that lifts us up from the tedium of our every day, transplanting us somewhere far away where we can see the world through another lens. 

Travel with children, however, is something else entirely. Not something worse, necessarily. Just different. 

That’s not to say that every adventure with children needs to be a matter of jumping from one theme-park gift shop to another, although that is often part of it. In fact, sharing that joy of travel, seeing that widening perspective behind the innocent eyes of a child, can be more rewarding than experiencing it yourself. 

“Getting ice cream in Italy was fun with the kids,” said Mike Davis. “It was fun to spend time with them. But they’re adulting now.”

“When our children were small, we didn’t travel as much, but we did once they got to high school,” added Jeanette. “When they were out of the house, it definitely picked up.”

Mike and Jeanette, married for 34 years, had their share of adventures raising a son and a daughter while maintaining their active calendar of trips around the world. But now that their children are grown, the couple have embarked on what they’re calling their “empty-nest adventures.”

Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru

There was the experiential trip through South America, traipsing across natural splendor in Chile and down to Argentina. There was the trip to Alaska, stalking the wilds of America’s last frontier, dining on crab legs straight from the docks in Juneau. There was the humanitarian trip to Cuba in 2007, bringing prenatal vitamins to expectant mothers in a country that was still in the grips of an embargo from American goods and travelers. 

“We weren’t really supposed to be there,” said Mike of their trip to Cuba. “It was kind of like a time warp. Nothing had really changed in 50 years, and everything was deteriorating except for the culture.”

And, yes, these travels have come with their share of misadventures, like the flight delay that caused them to miss a connection in Madrid, leaving them stranded in an airport for six hours without a word of Spanish between them. “When we finally got to Malaga, none of our luggage was there,” said Jeanette. “That’s when I started crying. All I wanted to do was take a shower and put on some clean clothes.”

But that’s the travel game. Where’s there’s no risk, there’s no reward. And if you find yourself with an empty nest, what else is there to do but take wing and see what’s out there?

“Somebody told me the other day we should sit down and check all the countries we’ve been to,” said Jeanette. “We’re working on the list.” 

Rome, Italy
Mike and Jeanette Davis

Travel tips from Mike and Jeanette Davis

Want to travel like these seasoned road warriors? Here are a few of their top tips for seeing the world.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail: “If you’re going on your own and not through a company, do your homework before you leave. Figure out where you want to go and what you want to see, so you don’t waste time while you’re there.”

Redundantly pack with redundancy: “One thing we’ve learned is to pack together. Mix up some of your clothes in each other’s bags so if one bag gets lost at least you both have something.”

Beware the water: “If you’re going to a place that isn’t your type of water, take medicine ahead of time. We always carry an antibiotic with us.”

Kelly Brock

A flight from Hawaii sparked a 38-year career in travel

Kelly Brock

Kelly Brock’s 38-year career in travel began, appropriately enough, on an airplane. Flying home from a trip to Hawaii with her father, young Kelly was given the gift of freedom. But with one catch.

“Coming back on the plane, he said, ‘You don’t have to go to college. If that’s not your path, it’s not your path.’ And he gave me that gift to be very independent and responsible at a young age,” she said. “He also said, ‘But you have to do something. And you’ll have to figure it out before we get home.’”

Cruising at 30,000 feet from an unforgettable vacation, with the endless possibilities of her future before her, she made her decision. A week after graduating from high school, she bought a one-way ticket from her home in Virginia to Los Angeles. 

“I got hired early with Continental Airlines and lived that whole Melrose Place lifestyle,” she said. For an 18-year-old with a lust for life, it was a dream come true. And while she would eventually return to Virginia, the travel bug’s bite is not so easily forgotten, and she would spend 10 years in the world of corporate travel. Helping plan business trips and corporate retreats kept her in the travel game – and made good use of her obsessive attention to detail – but soon her itchy feet would take her far from her Virginia home again.

“I just knew I didn’t want 10 more years to fly by with being stuck in the town I grew up in, even though I was traveling the world at a young age,” she said. “I was coming down to Hilton Head on vacation with girlfriends, and one of them moved here. And at the time, I had free airline tickets. I was single; I was coming all the time. And on one of the St. Paddy’s Day weekends, the stars aligned.”

Her new life on Hilton Head, and a lengthy career planning vacations for locals already accustomed to the paradise they called home, began. 

Kelly Brock and Son Cooper
From a pivotal conversation on a flight home from Hawaii, Kelly Brock was inspired to embrace a life of adventure and service. Thirty-eight years later, she (shown with her son Cooper) continues to guide local travelers, turning their travel dreams into reality with her extensive expertise and passionate dedication.

“This area thrives for travel, and that’s one of the things I loved coming here. I remember starting with AAA (25 years) ago, and I said… I know how to take care of a luxury client and an adventurous client,” she said.

If you’ve ever worked with a travel agent before, you understand the difference they can make in a vacation. Brock’s extensive knowledge of the travel world, honed through not only her professional development but through her own incurable wanderlust, has pointed clients toward getaways that changed lives. It’s also helped them tackle the challenges that inevitably come with travel. 

On one trip a client undergoing cancer treatment needed to take stops on their world cruise to have a port drained. Brock found doctors at stops along the way who could help them. One client slipped a disc, and Brock helped get them a medevac back from Mumbai. She helped one client who had broken a hip in Italy find not only a doctor but a new chapter in life. 

“He wasn’t stable enough to fly home, but we found him a doctor,” said Brock. “Toward the end of six weeks, they stopped asking to get them home and started asking to find a place to live in this small town in Umbria.”

That dedication has led to her earning extraordinary accolades among her industry peers, but that’s not why she does it.

“Selling travel is almost second nature to me, but what truly energizes me is meeting the client’s needs,” she explained. “It’s not about the sales or the accolades for me. My priority is ensuring that people are well cared for.”

Kelly Brock, travel agent with AAA

Kelly Brock: Beyond the tour package

As a celebrated travel agent with AAA, Kelly Brock has come to know pretty much every famed destination, every reliable tour operator and every mind-blowing experience there is on Earth. So you’d imagine that when she travels, each trip is a meticulously planned masterpiece. And you’d be wrong.

“I want the real experiences,” she said. “You travel as a traveler, and I don’t like to tell anybody on the tours what I do, because I want them to experience it like I did – for real.”

She credits her boyfriend, Thad, with helping her travel in the moment and letting things happen organically. “I’ve learned that you don’t always get to all those restaurants you’ve researched; you have to just go along with what’s going on that day and in that moment.”

David and Karen Burke

Bridging cultures through travel and compassion

David and Karen Burke

One of the purest joys of travel is the unbridled sense of connection it engenders with your fellow human beings.  Breaking through borders that only exist on paper, we see how there is really only one planet, and that any division from one piece of land to the next is a strictly human invention. In traveling we free ourselves to see the people around us for what they truly are: a family.

“One of the things I’ve learned, no matter where you are, people are the same,” said David Burke. “They want to take care of their families. They want education for their children. They want to be safe and live free as best they can.”

In his travels across 25 countries, some trips for fun, but many as part of his mission work as an elder with Grace Community Church, he has seen the entire spectrum of mankind laid bare. A young African missionary jumping on a trampoline for the first time. Children orphaned by political machinations in their home countries that they can’t begin to fathom. The sun rising over temples that were abandoned centuries ago. 

Siem Reap, Cambodia
David and Karen Burke have explored 25 countries, combining leisure with David’s mission work as an elder at Grace Community Church. Their journeys have revealed the depth of human experiences, from a young African missionary’s first trampoline jump to children orphaned by political strife, to sunrises over ancient temples. Together, they are committed to bridging cultures and fostering compassion around the world.

“I didn’t want my children growing up thinking that everybody lived behind gates, had a swimming pool and security, and all of that,” he said. “But unfortunately, some of the things I’ve seen really show man’s inhumanity to man. I remember standing outside of a British hotel in Delhi reading a sign that said, ‘No Indians or dogs allowed.’”

To that end David and his wife, Karen, have taken several of their adopted children along with them on mission trips. In Kenya one goat herder asked their daughter how she liked her goat, while motioning to their next meal, still walking around the village. “She said, ‘Alive.’” Later, as if to drive home the bizarre confluence of old and new that the world finds itself in, another Kenyan pulled out a phone and asked if any of them were on Facebook.

In Cambodia, where a U.S.-backed coup in 1970 left a power vacuum that was filled by Pol Pot, David found himself teaching children whose grandparents had been killed during the struggle. He also found himself watching this past year’s Super Bowl in a Phnom Penh sports bar early on a Monday morning. “It was a lot of Europeans, Australians, some Americans and a handful of Cambodians,” he said. “There were these young Cambodian guys taking a shot of beer every time Taylor Swift came on screen. They stopped by the second half.”

And his kids have joined him as he’s witnessed the beauty and heartache of the human condition, from the solemn reminder of evil’s influence at Auschwitz to the healing power of song as a choir of children from rival African tribes ended years of warfare with music. They’ve met Christians who escaped certain death in Iranian prisons and children of the Navajo nation who yearn to see beyond the reservation. And while, ostensibly, he’s met them in order to teach them and help them, they’ve returned the favor a thousand fold.

“I really want to transfer that to my children,” he said. “The more you see the world, you see there’s less and less to be fearful of. It’s so helpful for your brain to meet the different cultures meet different people.”

David and Karen Burke
Old soviet economy class buildings. City center at the background.

From Russia with love: A journey of adoption and discovery

As avid travelers and devoted parents to five adopted children, David and Karen Burke have been able to share the world with their children. But in adding to their family, they’ve also been able to get a glimpse into the world their children were born into. 

One moment of culture shock came when they traveled to Russia to adopt their youngest. Arriving just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the couple saw firsthand the long-term effects the oppressive Soviet government had on its people.

“It was certainly open from where it was. But you could still tell it’s a very untrustworthy society. They have such a huge problem with trusting each other because for so long they didn’t know if you’re gonna drop a dime on them. You say the wrong thing, and the bad guys might come knocking on the door soon enough,” David said. “So they could trust me, but (at the time) they were very scared of each other.”

Similar Posts