Born with an intense travel bug, Marcelle Simone Heller always dreamed of working independently from where ever she desired to stay for the next few months while experiencing other cultures than her own at a slow pace. At 45 she was able to retire early. Her kids by that time were independent so she was free to fulfill her most precious wish to live a nomadic life. Marcelle found her soul mate George on her travels in South Africa and he has been able to join her since then. Now they travel together as Grey World Nomads around the world, hoping to inspire people with the same wish to retire early and travel the world at a slow pace. On their blog they write about how to achieve the goal to live the wild life as Grey World Nomads and where to find exciting destinations with personal experiences, insider tips and hidden gems.
Marcelle was kind enough to spend time answering our questions below.
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Marcelle: I started my travels at the 1st of October 2012 when I boarded the flight from my home country Switzerland to Johannesburg in South Africa. Southern Africa got me hooked in 2010 when I spent a months’ holiday with my daughter on a self-drive safari in Kruger National Park, and a horse riding safari in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. Even after all my travels it stays my favorite country because of its stunning wildlife and unbeaten natural beauty.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Marcelle: Most important for us is to travel at a slow pace and to visit national parks and nature reserves in every country. Our life as grey nomads and early retirees limits our budget. We often keep our costs down by house sitting or finding cheap off-season long-term rentals. We almost always traveled with a dog, in South Africa with Land Rover and a caravan in tow and now, with our camper, we are discovering our favorite camping spots in Europe.
TA: What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Marcelle: Our travels are more of a lifestyle than a vacation. If we have to choose a favorite place for both of us it is Kruger National Park. To get so close to wildlife and to stay in a place where humans haven’t interfered with nature for almost hundred years is a unique experience. Wilderness like this touched us somewhere deep in our heart and to be surrounded by predators make you feel alive in a unexpected, thrilling way. Also, for us as hobby photographers it’s the place to be for unbeaten shots.
TA: What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit?
Marcelle: It’s not the place but wildlife we’d love to see. We are dreaming of observing wolves in the wild. Maybe we are able to do so in Eastern Europe. Certainly we will try to find them on upcoming travels around Northern America probably in a year or two. Good things take some time to plan ahead for.
TA: What’s one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Marcelle: It’s true that nothing beats the human eye if it’s about the quality of a picture and its memory, which is imprinted into the mind. Nevertheless, I almost never leave without my camera. I like to add my own photos to our blog articles and to print the best postcards to friends and family.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Marcelle: I have two tips, which I had to learn for myself during my busy family and work life. Most important, even if you have limited time to travel, try to accumulate your free time to spend rather longer than many short holidays. Skip the touristy attractions and look for experiences with the locals.
TA: What are some of your favorite travel blogs and communities?
Marcelle: We like to follow travel and expat blogs, which share in depth personal experiences. The Facebook group Boomer Travel Bloggers is a very good source to find some inspiring blogs.
TA: Where was the most unusual place you’ve ever stayed?
Marcelle: The most unusual place was by far a simple hut in the middle of the Ecuadorian rainforest. We took care of five woolly monkeys, which were to be returned to the wild after years in captivity. We were supposed to help them by slowly reducing their food rations and limiting their contact with humans. For six weeks we did without electricity, hot water, telephone or internet. Our sole contact to the outside world was possible with an old mobile phone from a hilltop about an hours walk away. Reducing the food worked quite well, but three of the five monkeys continued to seek our closeness and didn’t understand at all why they should be distancing themselves from us.
TA: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten overseas?
Marcelle: On a round trip with my daughter Naomi in Venezuela, South America, we arrived in a remote village near the border to Brazil. The local population was of indigenous origin and lived in simple straw huts. After the long journey in the minibus we were hungry and looking forward to a meal. As Appetizer there was a plate with crispy contents, bright red (serves?) on rice cookies. I boldly took a bite and could not properly classify the hot taste. The guide laughed and told me that I had just eaten ants! Suddenly I recognized the roasted insects. I left it after that one attempt.
TA: Is there something you think most travelers worry too much about?
Marcelle: Many travelers, especially travel bloggers, find it particularly important how many countries they can cross off their bucket list. Quality is better than quantity also applies here. Rushing from one tourist attraction to the next voids one of the most important travel experiences: Spending time with the local population and thoroughly discovering the culture. This takes time and is one of the greatest advantages of slow travel, which we as grey nomads are privileged.
TA: What’s a travel scam travelers should be wary of?
Marcelle: Unfortunately, it happens occasionally that you fall into a trap even as a very careful traveler. We were lucky twice when we noticed immediately that several smaller amounts were deducted from our credit card in the middle of the night by various tollgates on the motorways in South Africa. If we hadn’t blocked the credit card immediately, it would have been very likely that a larger amount had been deducted. Since this experience we now only pay cash at the toll gates in Africa.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Marcelle: I love various dishes from all over the world. South Africa has surprised me however with a variety of Cape Dutch, Indian and Cape Malay cuisine and offers most of all delicacies. I love to start the morning with a Rusk (something similar to Italian biscotti). In the 19th century, South Africans perfected the drying of meat (biltong) to cope with long distances by horse and cart. In each case we buy a whole piece of biltong and cut it later so that the meat remains juicy. A can of Chakalaka (seasoning sauce or vegetable relish from mild to super hot for meat dishes and stews) is always brought to the campsite. Not to forget the delicately marinated, grilled meat skewers from Malay cuisine (sosaties) and bobotie, a Malay mince casserole with egg, minced beef or lamb, raisins, yellow turmeric rice (geelrys) and lots of curry spice. George loves Droeworst, a traditional, well-seasoned and air-dried sausage and is always and mostly in vain looking for similar sausages abroad. Last but not least, my favourite dessert may not be forgotten, which I once ate fresh, still warm in Cape Town: Malva Pudding, a creamy, soft cake with a light apricot taste and vanilla sauce.
TA: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to travelers your age?
Marcelle: Often I hear from people who mean well, you can’t go there, it is too dangerous. If I had listened to these people I wouldn’t have traveled and discovered most beautiful places. Ask always back: „Have you been there?” and „on what information do you rely your assessment of that place?
You will be surprised how many people judge by hearsay without ever having been there. On the other hand, it is important to obtain basic information about the risks of a destination and to assess the situation with regard to reliable references.
The older I get, the less risky I become. Nevertheless, I don’t want to fall into the trap of staying at home for safety reasons. I think it’s important to always be open to adventure and to deal constructively with the anxieties that come with it. If you allow them to gain the upper hand, you will soon be unable to overcome your fear.