Interview with Donna Leftwich Hull
Donna Leftwich Hull is a boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing , The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel, Donna writes a twice-monthly travel column for My Well-Being Powered by Humana and explores Western Montana for Make It Missoula. She is also the author of My Itchy Travel Feet: Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.
When did you first start traveling?
I started traveling in earnest when I married Alan in 2000. We discovered a mutual love of travel, which has greatly enriched our marriage and our lives.
What kind of travel do you prefer (e.g. luxury, budget, backpacking, train travel, etc.) – and has that changed over time?
When it comes to travel, I’m open-minded about the kind of experiences that are included in my trips. I want to see and do it all, although I do prefer a little luxury thrown in for good measure. Small ship cruises, off-roading, hiking tours and other active experiences interest me the most. Over time, I’ve become much more inclined to travel slow with an emphasis on off-the-beaten path destinations instead of famous tourism spots.
How do you like to travel – alone, with a spouse/partner, other family members, with friends or as part of a tour group?
Alan and I enjoy traveling together whenever we can, although I’m a big believer in the emotional benefits of traveling with a group of girlfriends. And, a small group tour is a fun way to meet other like-minded travelers.
Travel, and writing about it, takes up a great deal of my time. However, I’m not a one-trick pony. Playing the piano and hiking are two of my other passions.
Have your passions played a role in the choice of travel destination?
Certainly my love of hiking has played a part in choosing travel destinations and introduced me to the natural wonders in many parts of the world.
Do you consider travel a necessity or a luxury? What are you prepared to sacrifice so you can travel?
Travel is part of who I am. It’s a necessity that I can’t live without. I’m happy to forgo a fabulous wardrobe or the finest furnishings to fund my urge to get up and go.
What are you prepared to pay extra for when you travel?
I’m a firm believer in that old saying, “you get what you pay for.” That’s especially true with cruising. I’ll cruise less often if it means that I can sail on a small ship line that costs a bit more but where everything is included. And, when it’s financially possible, I’ll pay for business air if it means arriving at an international destination a little less tired.
What has been the most fascinating destination you have visited from a cultural perspective?
From a cultural perspective, China has been the most fascinating destination that I’ve visited. For one thing, all the public spaces are huge; but, of course, that’s to accommodate a very large population. But it was also the yin and yang of a burgeoning capitalistic society ruled by a communist government that I found fascinating.
What place in the world surprised you? Was the experience better or worse than expected?
When I visited the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberian Russia, I wasn’t prepared for the natural beauty of the area, especially the smoking volcanoes. I enjoyed it immensely and would definitely go back. In fact, I am in September of 2014 on a Silversea adventure cruise from Nome, Alaska to Sapporo, Japan.
Is there somewhere you return to year after year? Why?
There are two places in the world that I’m happy to return to again and again. Cruising through the South Pacific is such a delight. It’s relaxing and exotic all at the same time. And, Alan and I loved our visit to Western Montana so much that we moved there.
Tell us where your top three travel experiences occurred and what made them stand out.
My top three travel experiences include a safari, hiking in a national park and exploring Alaska on an adventure cruise.
After staying at Ivory Lodge in Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve in South Africa, I never looked at animals in quite the same way. And I certainly lost any interest in visiting zoos. Watching a pride of lions waking up one by one from a late afternoon nap as our group sat silently in a Range Rover was an awe-inspiring experience.
Last year, Alan and I hiked in Glacier National Park on a Road Scholar program. First, I was proud to know that I could hike 30 miles in one week. Second, hiking the trails with expert guides educated me to the effects global warming really is having on Glacier National Park as well as our entire planet.
I never thought I’d be kayaking in a quiet bay on Alaska’s Inside Passage. Until our American Safari cruise, I had never even kayaked. But there I was, in a tandem kayak with Alan, watching bald eagles and experiencing Alaska’s powerful beauty. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Where in your own hometown do you encourage people to visit?
I live in a small town in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley that only has one stop sign. Within a 10-minute’s drive, numerous trailheads offer access to the wilderness in the Bitterroot Mountains that border Montana and Idaho. If you’re coming here to visit me, I’m going to take you hiking.
Final Question: Do you have a favorite movie (or song, television program, book) that inspires travel?
Mountains have always attracted me and it’s the movies and books about them that have inspired my travel dreams. The Sound of Music ignited my desire to stand in a meadow in the Swiss Alps and belt out a rendition of “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” And a book I read in elementary school, Paradise Lost, has fueled my dreams of visiting the Himalayas. I have yet to visit the Swiss Alps or the Himalayas. It’s about time I made those dreams come true.
Photos courtesy of Donna Leftwich Hull