Tripper of the Week: Isabel Guzman-Velasco

Isabel Guzman-Velasco is a retired Tripper who spends half the year in Mexico and half the year in California. She is our Tripper of the Week....

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was born in Mexico and lived there the first decade of my life. I then came to the U.S. with my family, through a program in which agricultural laborers from Mexico were allowed to travel to the U.S. to work (a legacy of World War II). My brothers and sisters and I grew up picking oranges, grapes, tomatoes and a few other crops. We were migrant farm workers which meant we traveled to other states to pick crops that were in season there. So in that sense, I guess I was a traveler from a young age. But most of the year we did stay in the San Joaquin Valley, so I definitely had roots.

[caption id="attachment_4139" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="San Joaquin Valley (Photo credit: Airborne2009)"][/caption]

What was it like re-locating to a new country as a child?

I was always very curious about the world beyond the borders of my small village. I grew up hearing stories about the land up North ("El Norte") from my grandfather who had worked in the United States in the 1940s. His mother, who lived to be well over 100, also had amazing tales of the northern lands. She had actually traveled around Texas and the American West and Southwest back when those states were still part of Mexico.

When did you first discover a passion for travel?

As long as I can remember I was fascinated with travel. As I mentioned, my great-grandmother did a good deal of travel around the U.S. and had all these stories about the American West. As a child and adolescent the only travel I really did was as a migrant farm worker. When I got to high school, I wanted to be a flight attendant. Back then it was still a glamorous job - and the only real way for a young woman with my background to see the world.

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I did not become a flight attendant. My father, who was never given the opportunity to get an education, insisted I pursue my education and attend university and grad school. I did, however, do something virtually unheard of for a young woman from a traditional Mexican family back then; I went to Brazil for an exchange year. I have wonderful memories from my time there - the new rhythm of the language, the different foods, the friends I made there. I even got to see Pelé play at the Maracanã Stadium.

[caption id="attachment_3994" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo credit: Digo_Souza"][/caption]

What is your favorite place that you've traveled?

I'm just beginning to really travel. After high school I focused almost exclusively on my studies. I went to grad school and started a family. Christmases we spent in Mexico and Easters in Hawaii, swimming in the warm waters of Manzanillo and Hanauma Bay. My first trip to Europe was a trip to Stockholm with my family. For a while that was my favorite overseas destination. Then I returned with my daughter on a trip with her high school and Lucerne became my favorite spot abroad. Recently I went on a more extensive trip to Europe and discovered a love for Spain, particularly for the food and culture. That's what I love about travel - each place has its own set of attractions to fall in love with.

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You spend half the year in Mexico and half the year in California - do you have any tips for anyone considering splitting their time between two countries?

Don't do it. Just kidding. It's wonderful, but challenging. In Mexico, my husband and I have our extended families, the warm weather and the amazing food - not just prepared food, but also the produce (tree-ripened bananas, guavas, mangoes, coconuts). In California we live in a beautiful coastal area with equally fabulous California cuisine - and our kids are there. So both of our worlds are wonderful but for me the hardest part is the inevitability of missing important events - birthdays, baptisms, weddings; I often wish I could be in two places at once. That said, if you plan ahead, it's manageable.

Where do you dream of traveling next?

I would like to return to Brazil, for World Cup in 2014. I also am really looking forward to visiting my son-in-law's family in Norway. And my son is spending some time in South Africa this fall, so we're considering visiting him.

Brazil, Norway and South Africa are all amazing destinations. Happy travels Isabel!

For tips on splitting your time between two countries or visiting Central Mexico or Central California, connect with Isabel via her profile and via the AARP Abroad Network.

Photo credits (Flickr):

Photo 1: Airborne2009

Photo 2: Cheelah

Photo 3: Digo_Souza

Photo 4: spettacolopuro