These Two Senior Best Friends Went Around the World in 80 Days—Here’s Their Travel Advice

At 81 years old, best friends Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip traveled around the world in 80 days. A little more than a year after their big adventure, they’re not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip wearing long red dresses and swinging on the Happy Swing in Bali

With significant social media followings, Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip have taken the internet by storm with their friendship and zest for life.

Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip

Sandy Hazelip and Ellie Hamby are the vaunted darlings of the travel influencer sphere—but they’re a little different from their peers. Hazelip and Hamby are in their eighties.

On January 11, 2023, the two best friends—who hail from the Abilene, Texas, area—embarked on a journey to visit all seven continents in 80 days after being inspired by the famed Jules Verne book, Around the World in 80 Days. They documented their experiences on their blog, Around the World at 80, and on their social media accounts. Thanks to their infectious personalities and clear love for one another, they quickly rocketed to fame; today, they have 35,000 followers on Instagram and 70,000 followers on TikTok and have been featured everywhere from the New York Times to USA Today. Hamby and Hazelip are now known as the “TikTok Traveling Grannies”—and even have the shirts to prove it.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip standing near canyon overlook and wearing their "TikTok Traveling Grannies" T-shirts

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip are known as the “TikTok Traveling Grannies.”

Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip

Hamby and Hazelip are also a reflection of greater trends in travel: In recent years, more women are embarking on solo travel than ever before, and approximately 40 percent of all American travelers are seniors. And as AFAR’s Katherine LaGrave reported on in 2020, “Women make close to 85 percent of all travel decisions: where to go, when to fly, where to stay, what to see.” LaGrave also noted that women live longer than men and outnumber them in a crucial travel bracket—retirees—making them an important area of investment for the travel industry.

Despite the rise in offerings for women travelers, Hamby and Hazelip make it clear that they are doing things their way. They arrange all of their own travel plans and almost always eschew high-end hotels for hostels, local inns, and even rooms of private homes. They make it a point to always eat at local restaurants and never say no to a spontaneous experience.

And there have been plenty of those. Together, they braved the wild waves of the Drake Passage, navigated the Japanese subway and Shinkansen systems, and rode camels in Egypt (Hamby is admittedly not a camel fan, but hopped on one for her friend). They’re not stopping there: In addition to still working at the nonprofit organization where they originally met, Zambia Medical Mission, Hazelip and Hamby are currently on a 30-day trip across South America (“We Are Eighty-Two And We’re Not Through”) and are planning an even bigger excursion for their 85th birthdays, which they’ve already dubbed “Eighty-Five and Still Alive.” (They’re still working out all the details.)

During their travels, Hazelip and Hamby have learned big lessons about life, the world, friendship, and themselves. We asked them to share.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip standing outdoors wearing red flower hats

Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, Hamby and Hazelip embarked on an 80-day journey around the globe.

Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip

How did you two become friends?

Sandy Hazelip: Twenty-four years ago, we met at a medical missions workshop. Ellie and her husband were the directors of Zambia Medical Mission and I’m a physician with the organization. My husband had died six months previously and I was trying to fill up my heart with things.

Ellie Hamby: About five years after we first met, my husband died unexpectedly. It was at that same time that Sandy was moving her medical practice to Abilene. Sandy said, “I got a deal for you. If you’ll gimme a bed two nights a week, I’ll take you out to eat.” Well, that was 19 years ago and she’s actually staying here tonight.

That’s how we started all of our travels. We had two very, very bad tragedies happen in our lives—we lost our husbands. But a beautiful friendship came out of that. So, when you have a tragic loss, life doesn’t have to end, right? It’s difficult, but life does not end.

How did you know that you’d be good travel companions? Because sometimes we may have best friends, but we can’t necessarily be roommates with them.

Hamby: Three or four years after her husband’s death, I mentioned to Ellie one day, “You know, I have always wanted to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway. Would you be interested in doing that?” She said, “Well, yeah.” So, we bought tickets to fly to Moscow to catch the Trans-Siberian. And we discovered on that trip, “Wow, we are easy travelers together.” We just enjoy the adventure and we enjoy each other. And we also realized that while we are very different, we have very similar outlooks on life. We both love people. We have a basic trust in humanity.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip in London with several fans, with Thames River and Houses of Parliament in distance

Hamby and Sandy are usually recognized on their travels thanks to their large fanbase.

Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip

What’s it like being TikTik famous?

Hamby: We didn’t realize the impact that our friendship would have on millions of people. We’re known as the “TikTok Traveling Grannies” now. We have one video with 6.4 million views, and if you look at the comments, it’s all of these young people talking about, “I want a friend like that.” Sandy and I did not realize what a beautiful and valuable friendship we had until the rest of the world saw it for us.

I feel like you both really value going with the flow while you travel. Why is it important for other travelers to do the same?

Hazelip: In Bali, we had a driver that picked us up at our hotel every morning, and one day, he was driving us up into the mountains to see where this volcano had been. And as we were driving up there, we saw this sign that said “Happy Swing.” And Ellie said, “What’s a happy swing?” And he just said, “Well, let’s turn around and find out.”

Next thing you know, we’re in these red dresses and swinging 300 feet above the rice paddies. My God, we were just like 12-year-old girls. It was so fun. If we’d been on a tour, the tour bus wouldn’t have stopped there. But Sandy and I are always in charge of ourselves.

Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip in front of an Egyptian pyramid

For Hamby and Hazelip, traveling is all about getting to share new experiences with each other.

Courtesy of Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip

For people looking for their own travel companion or best friend, what piece of advice would you give them?

Hamby: No matter how much you like each other, you’ll have to give one another space—and be flexible.

Hazelip: You need to realize that in any relationship, both people are adults and you need to give each other common respect. Respect among strangers is important, but respect among friends is extremely important. We need to show each other that we care.

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at Afar. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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