Hilary, Liz and The Ghan
Interview Words : Peter Moore | 04 July

How to grow old and travel outrageously

Liz and Hilly have travelled together in each of the 16 past years since retiring. They reveal the secrets of remaining friends... and remaining mobile

Since retiring 16 years ago, long-term friends Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth (Liz) Davies have been meeting up each year and travelling together. From Patagonia to Botswana, Morocco to Italy, they've shown that age is no barrier to travelling the world and having a good time.

Together they have written a memoir of their experiences called Growing Old Outrageously. They met with Peter Moore and explained to him the secrets of travelling together and remaining friends. And the unexpected joy of riding in a buggy at Heathrow Airport.

Most people have really bad experiences travelling with friends and families but you two have travelled together in each of the past 16 years. You seem two very different people. What's the secret to your success?

Hilary: Lizzie loves buses and trains and walking. Walking is a real problem now for me because I’ve got dud knees. And because I live in Australia, therefore coming to the other side of the world, I necessarily want to do as much as possible. Liz here is a gypsy and has been travelling all her life, constantly.

To cut a long story short, I tend to take planes and get to the place, whereas Lizzie likes the journey.

Liz: But that doesn’t explain why we get on, does it? (Laughs) It sounds like we don’t travel together at all. You’re in a plane and I’m walking!

Hilary: OK. We’ve had to compromise. How's that? And there’s a learning to be had. In my case, I learned that travelling by train and bus is good. It’s taken 15 years to get me on trains properly. Also, we don’t see each other most of the year. We only see each other for six weeks and that makes a hell of a difference as to whether you can travel well together.

Liz: Well I think the secret is that it is incredibly tightly organised. As Hilly says, she hasn’t got much time, so it’s very highly planned. Even if we’re away for six weeks together, we only spend about three nights in the same place. So there’s no time really. We’re not idling on a beach wondering where to have supper or something like that. We’re in and out of museums or seeing things or meeting people.

Hilary: Or I’m asleep.

Liz: Or Hilly’s asleep. And everything is hunky-dory like that. So I think the secret is to cut down on choices. Because once you start saying, ‘Are we going to do this or are we going to that?’ then conflict arises. So if you have no choices, you know what you are going to do, it’s fine.

Hilary: That’s right. And all the obvious things. You’ve got to find out pretty quickly who’s a night owl and who isn’t, who’s the one who likes the light on all the time and who’s the one who wants to be in darkness. And who wants the television if there is one and who doesn’t. You’ve got to sort that one out.

How do you sort that? Separate rooms. Simply accept that in the other person?

Liz: I just go mad. I hate television. I just fume.

So to me that would suggest that Hillary has to compromise and not put the television on.

Liz: No, not at all. She puts the television on anyway. She’s got a coat of armour on, so fuming has absolutely no effect on her. The television is on full belt…

Hilary: That’s bollocks!

Liz: Then ten minutes later she is fast asleep with the television full on and the lights still on.

Hilary: That is complete bollocks.

Liz: Then I switch everything off, there’s silence and she starts snoring.

Hilary: It’s just as well I don’t take her too seriously! My truth is that if I turn the television on – and most times I don’t – I have to turn it very low. CNN and BBC World is quite nice to watch before you go to sleep. Having said that, I recommend earplugs and eye masks. That way you can sort out who wants to be in silence and darkness and who doesn’t.

So you’re in control of your environment even when you’re not. If someone’s got the lights on you can effectively turn them off by putting on an eye mask.

Hilary: Exactly! I'll admit, the snoring is bad, so I say put the earplugs in, because we share the room to economise. If we can get separate rooms cheaply, great. (Turns to Liz) Wouldn’t you say?

Liz: I don’t know my dear, you do the money.

Hilary: If it is possible to get a lovely place and get a separate room, my choice would be to do that.

Liz just said that you do the money. Is there a division of responsibilities? Is there an area where you defer to Liz’s expertise?

Hilary: Oh yes. Everything to do with what we see. Museums, galleries, the history of the place, the things we should have a look at, or Liz is interested in having a look at, or wants me to have a look at, absolutely, that is Liz’s territory.

One of the stories in the book I was interested in was when you were in Istanbul. You were travelling with another friend and that seemed to upset the equilibrium. Hillary was able to handle it but the other person couldn’t.

Liz: They weren’t willing to accept my expertise and enthusiasm for the Ottoman Empire and I didn’t realise. I’m totally insensitive to people, I’m focused and I assumed they would want to know about the Ottoman Empire. They didn’t. And they were very cross and angry and they told Hilly that they didn’t like me and that I should back off. Now, there’s an example of travelling and having problems. I’d never had that ever with Hilly.

So what was the difference there? Why was she a problem where Hilary wasn’t?

Liz: Well, because they wouldn’t accept my expertise. They didn’t want to know about the Ottoman Empire and I was going on and on and on and on, assuming they would want to know about it. Or if they didn’t, they’d say. But they didn’t. They were just fuming inside. 

I think that’s one of the problems of travelling with people. They should say, there and then, immediately, rather than let it fester. As Hilly would say – she’s a bit of a bully actually – I’m fed up, I don’t want to do that, shut up Liz. And I pull my forelock and say OK. In this case it didn’t work. They didn’t say. They spent a whole day fuming. Then they told Hillary. And then she had to tell me to back off. Hilly tells me absolutely straight up and immediately.

And I imagine that you do too.

Hilary: You’re absolutely right! (Turns to Lizzie) I was just thinking, Lizzie if you don’t want to do something, you don’t do it. It happens all the time. ‘I’m not interested in this’, ‘I don’t want that’, ‘I don’t want to eat from this blister pack’, ‘I’m not going to do that’...

Liz: But that’s not when we’re on holiday. That’s when you’re here staying with me.

Hilary: You’re not a little blushing violet. You’re not a creature who’s quietly sitting there and accepting what’s going on. In you’re own way you’re a determined creature.

Liz: Well, I do have views. I hate popular entertainment and Hilly likes going to musicals and things. She knows that so we don’t go. She knows I don’t like eating non-organic food so we don’t go to non-organic restaurants.

And you know the things she doesn’t like and you avoid those?

Liz: I don’t know. Other people don’t concern me at all. Unless they tell me. They’ve got to tell me. And they probably have to tell me quite a lot of times for it to sink in! (Laughs) I wouldn’t try to persuade anybody, actually. I think that’s where people don’t get on. When you try to persuade them about your viewpoint. Either they take it or they leave it.

Hilary: It would be true to say, that over 15 years, my interests have expanded as a result of knowing Liz. Without a shadow of a doubt.

Liz: Well, that’s because you spent 35 years, blinkered at work, not looking out at anything. Whoever you travelled with, whatever you did after work you’d have learned a lot.

But it happened organically as you travelled rather than Liz trying to convince you?

Liz and Hillary together: Yes!

Who plans the trips?

Liz: Hilly plans where we are going – South America or whatever – and where we are staying. She gets that organised. The day, more or less, is planned by me. She stays in bed in the morning. I go and see what’s going on, or I’ve read the guidebook, and make a plan.

So it takes a bit of trust on Hilary’s part?

Hilary: Well, she’s very bright and she’s very funny. So I trust her to pick out all the good stuff. I may disagree, but it doesn’t matter. It’s always very interesting. She finds the quirky stuff, she’ll find the funny little place where we’ll both have a laugh. The glue of laughter is very important.

Liz: That is essential. A similar sense of humour. Having fun and enjoying yourself. And taking pleasure and delight in the odd and unusual.

Your book is called Growing Old Outrageously. What makes your travels ‘outrageous’?

Hilary: The thing about being older is that it tends to make one even more outrageous because you don’t really care what people think because they don’t notice you anyway. Once you’re over 60 nobody knows whether you’re alive or dead and couldn’t care less. A beautiful freedom emerges so that you can actually do things that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of doing when you were younger because you were hemmed in by various tugs coming from parents, relatives or more staid friends. So why not? Be as wild as you like. Liz is incredibly outrageous. Often. She doesn’t care. A little bit of alcohol helps ease things along. That does help. It tends to grease the wheels.

You say as you get older you lose that inhibition. But there still seems to be a reluctance with a lot of people to take that first step, to go out and see the world.

Liz: I don’t think people actually like travelling. I think they work 48 weeks of the year, they have a routine set and then they go off for a holiday. And they don’t enjoy it. They’re ripped out of their normal routine, they’re eating strange food. In fact, research shows that people only enjoy the last two days of their holidays, when they think they’re going home. I think the message of our book is ‘Don’t be like that. It’s worth making the effort, even if you don’t really want to get out of your routine. Just go, relax and enjoy.’

What are the rewards?

Liz: Well the rewards are that when your actually do enjoy and relax and see things, you see things far differently, you are exposed to new ideas and new things which people don’t really want because they are set in routine, they’re worried about new things and new ideas, what’s around this corner. When you do relax and enjoy, it can be great fun. But for most people it is a difficult experience.

Hilary: I think the thing of getting out of your comfort zone, to go into another culture, and to think ‘Oh my goodness, none of this is familiar to me, none of the way people are doing things are the same.' That can be a bit discombobulating.’ But why not just flip the coin, see what these people are doing. The interesting thing is that, a very simple level, you find a huge amount of interaction is the same right around the world, doesn’t change.

How has your travel changed over the 16 years you’ve been doing it, as you’ve aged?

Liz: (Indicating to Hillary with her thumb) We always get taxis. We have to.

Hilary: I’ve had two knee replacements, but I’ll be honest and say I’ve never been a great walker in my life. I’ve been a reasonable walker. I am now NOT a reasonable walker. I don’t like walking too far, because it hurts. It is limiting and it is maddening for Liz because she’s a walker. It’s difficult.

There are other things too. Like losing one’s memory. When you’ve had a memory that was incredibly good all your working life and suddenly you’ve not got a good memory.

Liz: Just to give you an example, we were going to Ireland the other day, Hillary had about 500 bags, I had one, and we were going down the road to get a taxi and when we reached the bridge there she said, ‘I’ve left my handbag in the house.’

Well, at least you were still close to the house.

(Raucous laugh)

Hilary: Things like that happen all the time. And Liz has become seriously more intolerant as she gets older.

Liz: In the old days I would have screamed with laughter. Hillary would have had incontinence and we would have caught the train because she would have had to come back to get changed.

Hilary: There are the things that do change over the years. People become less tolerant. And health issues do impact. I try to ignore them but I’m not allowed to ignore anything because Liz will shout and I just have to cope with that.

You can still get insurance, you can still do all those kinds of things.

Hilary: Of course. I’m just not as nimble as I used to be. And I was really nimble. And in my mind I was really, really nimble.

Liz: I think it’s very important to take proper rests just after lunch and not to do too much everyday. Not over do it. Then it’s fun.

Hilary: I agree with that.

Hilary’s granddaughter, Scarlett, joined you on the last journey in your book.

Hilary: Liz very kindly agreed to let her come along and it was just great. I think that’s the other great thing about travelling, if you’re lucky enough to have grandchildren, to take a young person and open their eyes to what is out there is a great thing to do. Travels With My Aunt is one of my favourite books. And I just thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to do that for a grandchild. A lovely thing to do. And Scarlet was the perfect person. She enjoyed it enormously.

And it didn’t throw the dynamic out of kilter?

Liz: Good heavens, no!

Hilary: It worked really, really well.

Liz: We were on our best behaviour because she was a very conservative child. We didn’t break out for three days.

Hilary: She’s a sponge. She absolutely absorbs everything. She’s now having a gap year and will go to university next year.

Will that become a rite of passage now for your family? Granny takes you off and introduces you to the world?

Hilary: Well, yes if I can still walk. My grandson is just six.

Liz: You can go in a wheelchair.

Hilary: I don’t mind the idea of a wheelchair. I went on one of those buggies at Heathrow once and it was fabulous. Scattering people out of the way, getting through security first. It was wonderful. I thought, ‘This is the way to travel!’

So there are benefits to travelling when you’re older.

Hilary: Absolutely. I think you’re more observant. There’s a tiny bit of wisdom and a lot more acceptance of the differences in people rather than wanting everyone to be the same as you are or operate in the same way.

Growing Old OutrageouslyGrowing Old Outrageously, described as a 'memoir of travel, food and friendship,' is available on Amazon now.