Around the world at 80 years with Intrepid travellers Bob and Herry-Bear

written by Patrick Boxall July 3, 2024

At 80 years old, Intrepid traveller Bob Hall remains passionately committed to exploring new places and making connections with people all over the world, through song and an unyielding spirit to bridge cultures and spread joy (with a little friend called Herry-Bear in tow).

It takes less than an hour for Bob Hall to serenade me with a rousing rendition of Scarborough Fair. Singing, he feels, is a way of communicating across language and culture, of spreading joy and including others; more importantly, it’s a way of getting oneself into interesting situations. 

Bob fondly recalls a meal at a restaurant in Punta Arenas, an isolated Chilean town overlooking the Strait of Magellan’s frigid waters. The room was filled with Italians and he was surprised to find there wasn’t a glass or bottle of wine in sight. 

‘I got my phone out and used the translator,’ Bob says. ‘I wrote, “It’s very hard for an Englishman to see two tables of Italians with no wine.” The phone was passed around and the first thing they said was: “Thank you for talking to us.” You don’t realise how much talking to someone – even complete strangers – means to people. I never realised it could have such an impact.’ 

Bob says ‘singing is a way of communicating across language and culture, of spreading joy and including others.’

By the end of the evening, the Italians were so enamoured with Bob that they paid for his meal. Wine included. Naturally, Bob insisted he would have to sing for his supper. 

‘I sang Scarborough Fair and Silent Night. It was fantastic seeing these Italians bopping away. The following morning, when I left my hotel to catch a taxi, I was flash-mobbed by them all. They were hugging me, kissing me, shaking my hand. So that’s why I like to sing.’ 

Though Bob and I speak via video and are separated by 17,000 kilometres of land and sea, his energy is palpable even through my screen. Eighty years young, he has already completed his daily exercise: a brisk walk near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, with 500 feet of elevation thrown in for good measure. 

‘I don’t take medication,’ Bob explains. ‘I take care of myself and try to do everything right. I have to.’ 

Bob understands the realities of ageing more than most, having spent a decade caring for his wife, Mary, who suffered from Alzheimer’s before passing away in 2019. He’d previously travelled extensively for work – first in the army, then the British civil service – and they’d spent several years living in Cyprus, but Mary’s condition made it impossible to travel. They remained grounded in the UK.  

After his wife’s death, Bob returned to travel as a way to heal. He flew first to Cyprus but it was, he admits, a case of him running away.  

He then travelled to Australia six months after Mary’s passing but found himself in a dark place with his grief bubbling to the surface. He arrived at his hotel in Sydney but felt like he was trapped in hell. He was distraught. Shouting. He couldn’t get a grip on reality until a woman settled him down and coaxed him through it. Feeling calmer, Bob walked to Sydney Harbour through heavy rain. And it was here, by the bright white sails of the Opera House, that he noticed a woman sitting on her own. 

‘I love meeting people. And I want to try and encourage others [to do the same] because life is there, you know? But you’ve got to make the effort.’

‘She looked like how I felt,’ explains Bob. ‘I went over to her and said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you don’t look very well. Would you like somebody to talk to?” And she just came out with it all. She was from Herzegovina and there were problems back home. She was worried about being able to return and wasn’t sure whether her family and friends were okay.’  

This talking, this connection – it really meant something to Bob. ‘That’s what I really, really want,’ he says. ‘I love meeting people. And I want to try and encourage others [to do the same] because life is there, you know? But you’ve got to make the effort. It took me a lot of effort. But once you’ve made the effort – wow. It’s like a drug. Life really is a drug.’ 

Bob became hooked. On seeing new places, meeting new people. In 2020, he took his first Intrepid trip to North India, thanks to a recommendation from travel agent. He’s clocked seven more trips since then. Sri Lanka is locked in for Christmas and he’ll visit Antarctica in the new year, taking his tally to an impressive 10 Intrepid trips over five years. 

‘The thing about Intrepid that really inspires me is that they always try to support a local community of some sort,’ says Bob. ‘And the no plastic thing. I think it’s absolutely admirable. In India, we visited a cafe run by women and young girls who’d had acid thrown in their faces. So you’re not just travelling, you’re also supporting a community, which I find absolutely fantastic.’ 

That’s not to say there haven’t been a few hiccups along the way. A brown belt, Bob recently travelled to Okinawa, Japan, to train at the home of karate; however, he was told he was too old to participate. The dojo’s insurance wouldn’t cover him. Far from discouraged, Bob opted for samurai training in Tokyo instead. 

‘They taught me how to parry, how to strike blows. How to walk. And then I took part in a scenario where they came up behind me, started attacking, and I had to defend myself before “killing” them with two strokes of the sword. It was fantastic.’ 

Joining Bob for Samurai training was a very special travel companion: Herry-Bear. This diminutive explorer was placed in Bob’s care by the students at Hertford Vale C.E. Primary School, who receive regular updates on Herry-Bear’s whereabouts via email. 

‘I live right next door to the school,’ says Bob, holding Herry-Bear up to the camera. ‘Before I went to Australia, I asked the headmaster whether it might be a good idea for the children to follow my trip as a sort of geography lesson. I asked if there was a mascot that the children could identify with, so they presented me with this bear. He’s been everywhere with me. All over the world. I like to think he has a black belt in travelling.’ 

Bob – or Herry-Bear, I should say – sends missives to the students of Hertford Vale from around the world. And upon returning home, the two of them will visit the school to give a presentation on where they’ve been and what they’ve learned. 

Herry-Bear was placed in Bob’s care by the students at Hertford Vale C.E. Primary School.

‘It’s really brilliant,’ Bob says. ‘Like a real-life geography lesson. The kids are super excited and just sit there and listen. The headmaster shows photos and I point to a map and tell a story about the place. It’s not to encourage them to travel, necessarily, just to show them that there is a whole world out there and they can go see it. I keep offering to give Herry-Bear back but the headmaster has told me that as long as I want to travel – and as long as I’m willing to take pictures of where we are – Herry-Bear stays with me.’ 

And how long does Bob want to travel? As you might expect, he has no plans to slow down. But he admits to being a little too old to rough it these days. On his last visit to Australia, he travelled across Tasmania with a group of backpackers but opted to get a hotel room instead of sharing a dorm. And as much as he loved North India Revealed – a 22-day journey through Varanasi, Udaipur and the Thar Desert – he’ll now happily embrace a few more creature comforts. As long as there’s room for Herry-Bear, of course. 

Build bridges, make a connection or discover a furry pal somewhere in the world on a small group adventure with Intrepid.

Feeling inspired?

You might also like

Back To Top