Ellen and Ted “Tedly” Kortan are Earth Vagabonds — retired budget travelers. They retired early to travel the world while they were still young and healthy enough to easily travel. They are slow travelers and take their time, often staying in one location a month at a time so that they can get a big discount on their Airbnb rentals. This also allows them to really get to know the city, town, or region that they are exploring.
Ellen and Tedly were kind enough to answer a few of our travel questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Ellen and Ted: Being from the north, we always took two winter vacations during our working years. We started noticing how much more authentic foreign experiences were, and how inexpensive travel can be if you get out of the tourist areas and the “all-inclusive” resorts.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Ellen and Ted: Our specialty is slow, retired, budget travel. We don’t stay in five-star resorts — but we are comfortable with our accommodations and lifestyle. We like to say we live how we would live in the U.S. — but better. Our money goes so much further in some foreign countries.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Ellen and Ted: Before there was electricity on the beach, and before the road to the beach was paved, we stayed in Tulum, Mexico, on many of our winter vacations. It was magical. This is going back to the early 2000s, when a cabana on the beach cost around $10 a night. But then, it was “discovered.” Now, it’s almost all high-end boutique accommodations costing hundreds of dollars a night.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Ellen and Ted: We’ve always wanted to see Southeast Asia — and we are there right now. We are writing these answers from Malaysia, and making plans to see Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and more in the coming months.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Ellen and Ted: We carry around a one-cup drip coffee maker. As Americans, we have a preference for drip coffee, but few Airbnb apartments outside the Americas come with coffee machines.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ellen and Ted: Keep an open mind and get away from the all-inclusive packages, tour groups, and tourist-area restaurants as much as possible.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Ellen and Ted: We read some early retirement blogs and we are in some Facebook communities. Our favorite group is Retired Budget Travelers: Earth Vagabonds. There are a lot of people in that group that are just like us, and we learn from each other.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you’ve ever stayed?
Ellen and Ted: We stayed at a camp in the Sahara Desert with camels and Berber nomads — and no WiFi.
TA: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten overseas?
Ellen and Ted: Just recently, we discovered cendol — shaved coconut ice, rice jelly strips that look like bean sprouts, red beans, various fruit, and a scoop of ice cream. A different sundae that is new to us, and is popular in parts of Malaysia.
TA: What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given?
Ellen and Ted: “What are you waiting for?” An old sailor friend of ours urged us to quit the rat race and travel the world as soon as possible back in 2003. But we waited until we were more comfortable with our financial situation. We were still young when we retired — 43 and 52 years old.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Ellen and Ted: Safety. To us, the United States seems to be the most dangerous place on Earth.
TA: What’s a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Ellen and Ted: Pickpockets are real, and good at their profession. Despite being well-traveled, street savvy and alert, we were pick pocketed in the Athens, Greece subway. Our advice: in crowds, or anywhere people are jostling you, put your hand in your pocket over your wallet and hold on to your purse.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Ellen and Ted: Mexico. From seafood to salsas to street food — even chocolate and beer. Can’t beat Mexico for the variety and price.
TA: What was the most romantic place you ever visited with a partner?
Ellen and Ted: Romance is a state of mind, not a place. That said, Venice, Italy, or Barcelona, Spain, even places in Morocco can help set the mood.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you’ve ever visited?
Ellen and Ted: Mazatlan, Mexico, is the most beautiful city at the best price. We stayed there for nearly two months. It has miles of beaches along a malecon, or seafront walkway. Its downtown is refurbished and vibrant. Mazatlan is more of a “working” city instead of a tourist resort attraction, so its prices can be really low.
TA: What’s one way people can get the most out of their cruise experience?
Ellen and Ted: We’ve never been on a cruise, but we are intrigued by the pricing on some of the “repositioning” cruises.
TA: Have you ever met someone while traveling who changed your life?
Ellen and Ted: We recently volunteered in a refugee camp for a month in Greece. We’ll never forget the people and their stories. They are some of the most kind, resilient, resourceful people we have ever met. We fully realize how lucky we are to have American passports.
TA: What are the best places to travel solo and why?
Ellen and Ted: Any place and every place is good to travel solo. We spend time apart at each of our stops. We believe it’s healthy for any couple to have separate interests.
TA: Have you ever taken a class while visiting a foreign city? If so, can you tell us a bit about the experience? And would you recommend people take that class?
Ellen and Ted: We’ve never taken a class, but we do take walking tours when we first arrive in a new city. Even though we stay away from tour groups, walking tours are a little different. They are run by a local who is like a teacher, and who basically capsulizes the history and reveals information on the culture you’d never know unless you read a book on the place.
TA: What’s something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Ellen and Ted: We cannot stand when tourists don’t tip. Often these people are Americans. It especially irks us when these same people have been demanding and receiving extra service.
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Ellen and Ted: Albania deserves more interest. We stayed a few weeks and were so impressed by the formerly closed country. People really liked Americans, and we don’t get that everywhere. Albanians seemed to have an optimistic energy about their future and it was refreshing. Also, the prices were low.
TA: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to travelers your age?
Ellen and Ted: Your health is not guaranteed. We would advise people of any age to get into shape. World travel will be less enjoyable if you are obese, rely on medication, or need frequent medical care.
Learn more about Ellen and Ted:
The Kortans found themselves socially isolating at a resort in the Philippines in the spring of 2020. Read more about their experience in a follow-up interview we conducted.