This Intrepid traveller just hit 90 countries… and he didn’t start until he was 30 

written by Liz Carr March 14, 2024

Meet Ken, the Intrepid traveller who took his first international flight at 30 and has been around the world since with 18 Intrepid trips under his belt and more to come.  

‘This is my 18th Intrepid trip,’ were not words I expected to hear at the welcome meeting of our Central America road trip.  

It was 6 pm on the nose, and a few of us sat around in awkward, anticipatory silence, waiting to meet the rest of our group with whom we’d be travelling through four countries in nine days. And in strolls Ken, a born and bred Midwestern American living in Tampa, Florida. He immediately warmed the room with a few self-deprecating jokes before letting it slip that not only was this his 18th Intrepid trip, but when we crossed the border into Nicaragua on day seven of our trip, he’d be ticking off his 90th country. 

At a self-proclaimed ‘young-but-beaten-down-by-life’ 55 years old, Ken has spent his years doing some pretty rad things. Even just looking at his roster of Intrepid trips fills me with inspiration… and a little bit of envy. He’s seen Machu Picchu and cruised through the Galapagos, taken the ultimate cross-world journey from the United States to Australia and safari’d in Africa, toured Cambodia and even experienced Russia.

He’s visited people he met on Intrepid trips in England, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and New York, and many have come to see him stateside. And while it may sound like he’s a fellow member of the travel biz or a career traveller whose parents got him a passport as an infant, the reality is that Ken never left the United States until he was 30. 

But the travel bug bit hard, and after that first international journey, he had no problem making up for lost time. On the heels of our Guatemala & Beyond trip, Ken noted that a personal highlight was the cohesiveness of our group and the vibe between strangers turned friends, although this trip marks the first time he was the oldest person on an Intrepid tour. But with some long travel days, tedious border crossings and stiflingly hot temps, we could always count on Ken to come through with a joke and a laugh. So, really, his age is just a technicality. 

Ken and I sat down to chat about his most memorable experiences, why he loves Intrepid and how travel changes everything. 

a man and woman standing in front of the bus
Travelling from Darwin to Alice Springs in Australia

Did you travel with your family growing up?  

My parents drove all over the US, and I probably saw 40 states by the time I was 18. My dad loved to drive, and we camped a lot and went to national parks as they were free. But I never went on a plane until I was 22, and I first travelled abroad when I was 30.   

What inspired your first international and how did it change your travel mindset? 

Ken on his first Intrepid trip in China in 2009.

In 1999, my girlfriend at the time told me about an exchange she did in high school where she lived in England for a year. We started to talk about travel a lot, and we both decided to try to get an unpaid leave of absence from our jobs at Hallmark to travel for a couple of months. She worked in creative, and they approved hers, but I worked in sales, and they would not approve mine, so I decided to take a chance and resigned.

I was afraid of doing it. I had a mortgage and had to turn in the company car, and quitting a great corporate job in the 90s wasn’t something anyone I knew ever did. But my dad died shortly after I graduated from college, and he never got to the finish line, so it changed how I saw things. I started taking chances that most people wouldn’t because you only live once.  

After resigned, everything just kind of fell together. I got someone to rent my house, Hallmark covered my insurance and then I was on my way. Before we went, my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to go to three countries and see them in depth or see a lot of Europe over two-and-a-half months. I said a lot because I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go again. So we did. Sixteen countries. 

It changed everything. I didn’t know I’d like international travel, and it’s almost like a door opened that I didn’t even know existed. I stepped through that door and never looked back.   

Can you tell me a little bit about your first Intrepid trip?   

My first Intrepid trip was about a decade later – two weeks in China in the summer of 2009. Until then, I’d been to 30-something countries, and I had planned all of the itineraries and worked out the logistics, financials, accommodations, language, et cetera, all on my own. I actually loved doing it, and Lonely Planet was my bible.

I had become a teacher in the meantime, and this was the first summer I had off [in a while]. I had been so overwhelmed by all the learning from my first year of teaching that I felt like I couldn’t plan anymore. I decided to call Lonely Planet’s 800 number and ask if there was a company they would recommend that I use where someone else handled the planning, the logistics, et cetera, and they recommended Intrepid. So I looked online and called, and it was the start of a beautiful friendship.   

travellers wearing head garbs traditional to Jordan
Visiting Petra in Jordan

What are some of the most memorable highlights from your trips? 

Ankor Wat at sunrise. St. Petersburg at midnight on bikes as the sun was still up. The Galapagos… wow, all of it. A tour of Cambodia‘s Killing Fields followed by dinner at the guide’s home where he had 32 people living under his roof. Hiking on glaciers in Alaska and swimming with nurse sharks in Belize. Visiting Bosnia. The Haga Sofia in Istanbul is my favourite religious site that I’ve ever been to. On this last trip, I loved learning about the Maya cultures that have existed for centuries.

On the Cape Town & Winelands trip, we went to the Spier Winery – one family has owned it since 1692. They had a wine there called Pinotage, and South Africa is the only place in the world you can get it. I never bring alcohol home from abroad because it’s such a hassle, but I bought an entire case and shipped it home with me, which cost more than the wine itself. I never saw that wine in the States again, but I actually just found a place here in Tampa that has it, so I serve it every time I have guests. 

Why do you love travelling with Intrepid? 

I loved that Intrepid has a local guide with each trip and that we do more than just visit tourist destinations. The itineraries are interesting and off-the-beaten-path, and my favourite parts have become visiting people’s homes, which I’ve done on several trips – four times in Russia alone.

Intrepid itineraries are interesting and off-the-beaten-path, and my favourite parts have become visiting people’s homes.

You can see how people live, what they eat and what they value. When not on a homestay, we stay at hotels where locals stay, and in the 90 countries I’ve been to, I’ve only stayed at an American hotel once. Most people I’ve met on trips want to experience the culture like travellers, not dabblers who only want to stay at nice hotels. Some of the leaders I’ve met are also foodies, entomologists and biologists, which always adds to the experience.  

What advice would you give someone who is nervous about travelling solo or joining a group trip as a solo traveller? 

If you’re nervous, try a small trip first. It could be trying an Urban Adventure in a major city or doing something small where there’s not a huge cultural difference or a massively long flight. My flight to Johannesburg was the longest in the world when I went, 16 hours. So maybe don’t start with that. If you’re American, travelling to Europe, places like England, Ireland, Germany or France are great to start with, so you can get a taste of how it rolls and what it’s like. If you’re nervous about safety, there’s always safety in numbers, and Intrepid offers that. 

So, where to next? What Intrepid trips are on the wish list? 

I’m going to Munich to stay with a friend I met on my first Intrepid trip 25 years ago. After that I’m on to Slovenia for four days, my last country to see in Europe. Intrepid trips on the schedule include Nepal, Mongolia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.    

Any plans for country #100?  

For trip 100: Antarctica, my seventh and final continent. It’s expensive so I’ll have to save up. 

Ken hit his 90th country on Intrepid’s 9-day Guatemala & Beyond trip, new and improved as the 10-day Nicaragua & Beyond for 2024.  

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