by Neil J. Woulfe
Radar News Director
Most of us wish we could travel the world — to lay on the crystal white sanded beaches in sun-kissed Bali to seeing up close the awe-inspiring pyramids of ancient Egypt to trekking up the Himalayas in breathtaking Nepal — but who has the time, and the money?!?
If you’ve ever dreamed of circling the globe, look no further than Regina Fraser and Pat Johnson for ‘international inspiration’.
Fraser and Johnson — two sixtysomething grandmothers from Chicago who both survived battles with breast cancer — didn’t let a little thing like retirement to slow them down. Instead of hitting the knitting store, these two spirited ladies decided to hit the road, and take TV cameras along!
On Sunday, May 15, Fraser and Johnson launch their third season of Grannies on Safari on PBS, a show that airs all over the world. So, in honor of their new season of adventures (and antics), RadarOnline.com gets up close and personal with two globe-trotting grandmas.
Radar: You’re really living most people’s dream: traveling the world, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures; how did it happen for you?
Regina: I have been traveling since I was 8 years old. The bug to travel comes from my father who was a jazz musician with Duke Ellington for 15 years. I would seek out the stickers on his suitcase and dream about the places he had been. It seemed only natural that I would work for an airline and travel and when I retired take that desire further with a dream to bring my experiences to TV for others and have them maybe get the travel bug too.
Pat: I was working in San Francisco as the founding director of a new museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD), and when Regina called and prodded me to join her on this adventure or producing a TV show I couldn’t say no. I have always traveled and my former position before the museum job was with the city of Chicago as a Assistant Commissioner with the responsibility of managing a program that involved cultural exchanges between Chicago and the world. Being an art major myself this job was perfect for me – I had the chance to travel to more than 60 countries and to meet and work with a varied amount of artists too! So when Regina called it just seemed a natural progression.
Radar: How many countries have you traveled to?
Regina: I have been to 35 countries.
Pat: In total 76, and to six of the seven continents. I keep looking for an opportunity for us to do a show about the top of the world and the bottom of the world – then I would have been in all seven of the continents.
Radar: What was the very first foreign country you traveled to? Describe the experience.
Regina: Besides Mexico (I was born in Los Angeles and visited Tijuana and Ensenada all the time), Jamaica was the first foreign country that made an immediate impression on me. The music, the people and their accents… the food and the beautiful beaches. Funny thing my husband ‘s family is from Jamaica. Hmmmmmm.
Pat: Canada. I don’t remember much because I was quite but I do remember the experience of going to a “foreign” country, although being from Chicago that meant it was truly just around the corner. From then on I have never stopped traveling and consider Canada more like a country I know as it is close to home. Although there are several parts of Canada I would like to discover — their Great Northwest for instance.
Radar: What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever traveled to?
Regina: Each city and country has a beautiful or several beautiful spots but if I had to pick one it would be Paris. There is something about this city that to me no other city captures — history, romance, and good food.
Pat: Hard to pick out just one but if I had to pick I would say Zanzibar because of its extraordinary scenery and beauty, Morocco – because of the colors and variety of terrain. In fact, for one of my milestone birthday’s friends of mine invited me to Morocco for the celebration and I couldn’t have been in a better place than there for the party!
Radar: What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled to?
Regina: Zanzibar!!!!! Wow what an Island. I want to go back again. It’s a spice island off the coast of Tanzania and really makes you feel as if you are in another era. Can I say India too. Incredible is not an over statement. It has the highs and lows of humanity but a city like Varanasi is so spiritual and Bangalore so modern. Fascinating place.
Pat: Probably Zanzibar and India – I know Zanzibar again! But I think India has it all… monuments, rich colors, good food, mysterious palaces, very, very rich people and very, very poor people. It’s a country indeed filled with contrasts. I could back over and over to India and never get tired. And Zanzibar… the capital city of Stone Town is a wonder. High white stucco walls line narrow winding streets. The women are beautiful and wear scented kanga wraps and when they walk by you smell something wonderful and wonder what secrets they have. Zanzibar has lots of greenery, beautiful beaches and a hotel called Baraza to die for – on the beach… you feel like you are in a sultans private beach villa.
Radar: What’s the most exotic — or bizarre — food you’ve tried while traveling?
Regina: I was in South Africa, outside of Johannesburg and visited a cultural village – Lesedi – and ate a slug that had been roasted on the fire. Actually, it tasted like a bar-b-qued potato chip.
Pat: When I was in Ghana a friend and I traveled to many remote places. One of the meals I was served was monkey. Of course I didn’t know it was money until I ate it but it continues to be the most exotic. I am not the adventuresome one of our team for new kinds of food. Regina is and will eat almost anything!
Radar: When most of us go on vacation, there’s always that one place we visit where we have that momentary fantasy of running away from our lives and staying there. Where is that one place for you?
Regina: Name just one place – no fair! Hmm… has to be Cape Town.
Pat: As mentioned earlier Ghana is one of my most favorite places. It has history, art and beauty. I feel at home there and have been there 10 times. I have a lot of friends and colleagues in Ghana and if I go live there that would be fantastic!
Radar: What’s your favorite memory while traveling?
Regina: Arriving into a city or country I did not know and feeling instantly at home. I felt that way when I arrived in Istanbul and Peru.
Pat: I have many, but one of my favorites is walking through the gardens of the Louisiana Museum outside Copenhagen Denmark and taking in the fabulous Moore and Giocometti sculptures inside and outside. It was a spiritual experience.
Radar: Is there one country where you’ve found the people to be especially friendly?
Regina: Poland! They treated me like I belonged and they couldn’t do enough for me.
Pat: Ghana again! But I think people are friendly and kind not mater where you go. Each country has its own culture and the differences are what make them unique and exciting to travel too.
Radar: On the flip side, what’s the most dangerous place you’ve ever traveled to?
Regina: Hmmmmm. Maybe my recent trip to Egypt during the revolution.
Pat: I guess Egypt this past January since we arrived there on the day the civil unrest broke out and so it became a little dangerous. But I had been there before and felt quite safe except for the high roads and deep canyons in the more remote areas which felt a little dangerous during the time we were there.
Radar: Have you ever felt in danger while traveling? If so, what happened?
Regina: Not really, I guess the time we were driving for hours through the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco and it was getting dark and the roads were really narrow and big rigs were behind and in front of us on s-curve roads.
Pat: I guess Egypt this past January since we arrived there on the day the civil unrest broke out and so it became a little dangerous. But I had been there before and felt quite safe.
Radar: Every country has their own customs and traditions. Have you ever made a ‘cultural faux pas’ in your travels?
Regina: If I did, no one said anything. I am usually very aware of respecting other cultures and most times err on the conservative side
Pat: I probably have made many and didn’t realize it at the time. I try to do research on cultures before I travel to a new country. But because I am left-handed I sometimes forget in some cultures it is considered not ‘Kosher” to eat with your left hand. I do try to be aware.
Radar: In most areas of the world, Americans are fortunate in that you can usually find someone who speak English — but have you ever been in a remote spot where no one spoke your language?
Regina: Tagala Ferry, South Africa in a Zulu village, Morocco in a Berber village, are two places where there was a lot of smiling and hand gestures. We usually have a local guide who translates for us.
Pat: Many times. Sign language helps and a big smile with gestures always works.
Radar: Do you ever see yourself moving to another country?
Regina: If I could move my entire family, especially my grand children, it would be to Durban, South Africa, or anywhere in Italy.
Pat: Yes, often and as mentioned, I love Ghana. But I must say that moving away from my grand children would be a stretch. No, San Diego, California is more like it.
Radar: Along that line, you’ve traveled all over the world, but live in Chicago. What’s so special about the Windy City that keeps you there?
Regina: You know if people ask me where I am from I now say Chicago. It wasn’t always that way. This city really grows on you. I love the theater scene, the restaurants, the lakes and the people. People here are so helpful, friendly and family oriented. I also think Chicago is a beautiful city and has strong architectural presence. I believe it has been and continues to be the moral center of this country.
Pat: I was born in Chicago and members of my family live here, my work with the tv show is here. Chicago has such a vibrant art scene. I have spent most of my life involved in the museum world, the cultural world and Chicago has it
Radar: What do your grand kids think about their globe-trotting grandmas?
Regina: Ahhhhhh. Now you asked a question I really like to answer. I have two gandkids – a seven year old girl and a 18 month boy. In September I will have another grandchild. But my seven year old girl is a “traveling kid.” She is proud of me and thinks all 68 year old grandmothers travel – that is what they do! I try to bring her a flag from every country I travel too, I call her from each country and we look on her globe to pinpoint the country I plan to vi st or have visited. At 4 she could name all seven continents… really she could! Also, I appear during the school year at her classroom and talk about the country I have visited with her classmates. I always bring her class something from each country. Her class even wrote letters and collected school supplies for an orphanage I visited in India and exchanged pen pal letters. It is important to me that my granddaughter learns the world is not centered in the US and that there are other cultures, and people who are just as important as Americans. I want her to respect differences and recognize our similarities.
Pat: They live in California and each time I travel I bring them something back from that country. They appreciate that I think of them and to me it’s great to see them wearing the native clothing I bring during Halloween or at other times. The older grand child is into video games and sports so he now doesn’t think much about where I am going – but he does like the gifts I bring back!
Radar: Since you’re travel experts, lets get some travel tips. Most people over pack when they travel overseas. If you were traveling to Europe for a week, what essential clothes/items would you bring?
Regina: ONE suitcase only!!!! Wear a ScottEvest, My Kindle, LA Fresh travel wipes, two pair of slacks, one skirt, five matching or coordinating t-shirts, two jackets or sweaters that can be dressed up with a scarf one pair of comfortable heels and one pair of good walking shoes and one pair of walking shoes that slip on and off (clogs).Five pair of socks and maybe disposable underwear.
Pat: Most people overpack when they travel overseas. If you were traveling to Europe for a week, what essential clothes/items would you bring? This is where Regina and I are on he same wave link – one bag of mix and match clothing, two pair of really good walking shoes and if you have too buy as you go!
Radar: What’s your favorite resource for finding the best deal for an airline ticket or hotel in another country?
Regina: Cheap Hotels.com ; Travelocity. Johnny Jett is pretty good too he knows his stuff.
Pat: I really do surf the web. Expedia, Orbitz are all on my radar…no pun intended!
Radar: What’s your best tip for getting thru airport security as fast as possible?
Regina: No tie shoes, loose no “need for belt” slacks, and a ScottEVest – you gotta have one because you can carry everything close at hand in the 22 hidden pockets. I live in my ScottEvest.
Pat: Wear shoes that you can slip off and on while traveling in the US – other countries don’t require you to remove your shoes. and I I usually wear my ScotteVest so that I can put all essential portable things in it.
Radar: What’s your best tip for avoiding altitude sickness?
Regina: In Peru, especially in Cusco, drink Coca tea right away and keep drinking it along with lots of water. Take it easy; don’t do a lot of physical stuff for at least one evening.
Pat: Drink lots of coca tea in Bolivia and Peru and lots of water. Lay-off the alcohol as it hinders acclimation to the altitude. Know your own physical limitations and take it easy.
Radar: Is there a place where you haven’t yet traveled to that you can’t wait to visit?
Regina: Brazil, and Wyoming. I have been to all the states in the US except Maine and Wyoming.
Pat: Antartica — my final continent! Now if I can only convince Regina that we have to have film a show there, wow!
Radar: What’s in store for the new season of your show? Where do you travel to?
Regina: India (2 shows) , Peru (2 shows) , Western Cape, South Africa , and Zanzibar .
Pat: Our new series debuts May15, and we are showing two shows on Peru and India, one each on Zanzibar and South Africa.
Radar: Why did you start Grannies on Safari? Was one of the reasons to encourage more African Americans to travel?
Regina: The show was not started to encourage African American people to travel, it was started to encourage all people to travel. Because we are African American women we believe that that encourages other African American people to travel to places out of their normal comfort zone. A large majority of American American people travel to the Caribbean, or Mexico or places near by. If they travel out of the country, they usually go to Europe or Ghana/ Nigeria as these countries have done a lot of advertising to the African American community.
Pat: The most important message we want to get out with our shows is that the world is culturally is exciting and accessable; it cost just as much to go to Latin America as it does to Europe. The African American community usually travels with their familes too. There are a lot of family reunions every year in the u.s. and many African American families travel on cruise ships. It’s all inclusive and a good rate. Many aa people still drive or take the train. I personally think that the majority of aa people are not aware of the opportunites to travel outside the us.
Radar: As two survivors of breast cancer, what would you tell older people who believe it’s too late to travel or to experience things they’ve never done before?
Regina: I think that because I am a breast cancer survivor I travel. I would tell anyone who asks that having cancer doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. There are so many new treatments today that have increased the survival rate. If you don’t follow your passions you miss out on what life is all about. BTW, I had cancer 40 years ago and am still here.
Pat: As a breast cancer survivor, I would like to believe we inspire all ages to travel and take advantage of opportunities.
The third season of Grannies on Safari launches on Chicago’s public broadcasting station WTTW on Sunday, May 15 , and then will be shown on most PBS stations nationwide, so check your local listings for time.
Regina and Pat invite you to join their “Grannies Travel Club” to get the latest tips and special vendor discounts.