Well-traveled Villagers have seen all parts of the world.
Story: Chris Gerbasi
Dubai? Check. Machu Picchu? Yes, of course. New Zealand? Been there, done that.
When Villagers gather to swap travel tales, they cover the globe. Just ask Robert Paluszak, leader of the Worldwide Foreign Travel Club in The Villages. Robert and his wife, Marilyn, once went around the world in 400 days with 155 different stops. They’ve journeyed to about 40 countries overall—and they’re one of the least-traveled couples in the club, he says.
“It’s humbling. My family thinks I’m a big adventurous person. But there isn’t a place on the planet that somebody in our group hasn’t been to,” Robert says.
Like all Villages clubs, the Worldwide Foreign Travel Club is a social venue for people with similar interests. The club meets at 4pm the first and third Thursdays of each month at Laurel Manor Recreation Center, 1985 Laurel Manor Drive. Everyone is welcome, and meetings attract anywhere from 40 to 120 people. About 450 Villagers are on the club’s mailing list.
Robert has taken over leadership of the club in recent years from Charlie Jacobson, who founded the club in 2008 to encourage Villagers to explore different countries and cultures and to provide a forum for travelers.
“The club is all about sharing stories, experiences, and your adventures of traveling overseas,” Robert says.
Each meeting features a travelogue from a member who presents information, photos, and memorabilia from a foreign trip. These destinations are everywhere and anywhere around the world. For example, Charlie and his wife, Diane, gave a presentation on the Trans-Siberian Railway through Mongolia and Russia. Member Dianne Zalewski spoke about her month-long cruise to Australia by way of the South Pacific with stops at Fiji and New Caledonia. France, India, and “the five Stans”—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan—also have been highlighted in recent travelogues. In short, the club’s agenda reads like an atlas.
The meetings also have segments such as “Where in the World?” in which photos are shown and members identify the location and relate any travel stories connected to the photo, as well as travel quotes, travel tips, and travel humor.
But Robert and Marilyn particularly enjoy what comes after the meetings: dinner with up to 16 fellow club members where the conversation is like their travel—all over the place. A mention of the Suez Canal may lead to memories of the Panama Canal, and so on, as the friends share anecdotes about trips.
“It’s a fascinating group of people,” Robert says.
Ask Robert about his favorite place in the world and he likens it to picking a favorite child. His favorite depends on what he’s looking for in a vacation, from the beaches of Cook Islands in the South Pacific, to a mountain resort in Queenstown, New Zealand, to the food of Germany.
Shirley Bevan also gets asked that question a lot.
“My favorite place is the place I’ve never been to,” says the globe-trotting founder of the Traveling Villagers.
Shirley unwittingly kick-started the club in 2017 when she asked neighbors if they enjoyed traveling as much as she did, and soon a club was born. Now it has about 220 members who meet at 6pm the second Monday of each month, except July and August, at Moyer Recreation Center, 3000 Moyer Loop.
Members with similar travel interests get together to plan trips. For example, some members recently went to Australia and New Zealand, and another group is heading to national parks.
“It’s a social club where people who like to travel meet other people who like to travel,” Shirley says. “We have the perfect venue, because if you want to travel with another person, you can go to lunch or go golfing and spend time with each other before going on a trip with each other.”
Shirley curbed her club duties this year because, naturally, she’s too busy traveling. Earlier this year, she and about 500 other Villagers took a Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Epic—where Shirley won a dance competition—and she’s booked trips to Arizona, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Spain, Africa, and other locales. Last year, she went with fellow club member Ellen Cora on an Asian cruise that included stops in Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China.
“I would’ve never done that if I hadn’t met her,” Shirley says.
Shirley’s traveling increased four years ago after she and her husband, James, retired to The Villages. Now a widow, she’s found an easy way to fund her fun. During The Villages’ peak season, she rents out her villa—which nets a pretty peso—and hits the road.
“I rent my villa for an absurd amount of money,” she says. “I pack up my stuff and take off for five months on their money. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
When she’s visiting another country, Shirley likes to immerse herself in the culture by taking public transportation, shopping where the locals shop, and dining at neighborhood restaurants.
“I love meeting people and I love to see how other people live,” she says.
For many Villagers, the fun is less in the journey and more in the destination, such as locales for outdoor adventures.
This year’s itinerary for The Villages Scuba Club includes a Caribbean cruise with dives off the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao; the Rainbow Reef Diving Center in Key Largo; the Jupiter Dive Center; Cayman Brac, one of the Cayman Islands; as well as the Mexican island of Cozumel for scuba diving and whale shark snorkeling.
The club has 166 members, some of whom, like Madeline Helbock, never dived until they retired to The Villages. She was one of the original members when the club formed in 2002 and now is co-president. The sport provides exercise, and the club provides camaraderie, she says.
“We have great people, we go to great places, and everybody likes everybody,” says Madeline, speaking by phone from a boat after a dive off Key Largo.
Villagers obviously don’t need to travel far to enjoy other worlds. On water and on land, clubs cover the state of Florida.
The Deep Sea Fishing Club offers monthly saltwater fishing charters that include Atlantic and Gulf deep sea fishing and flats fishing on the Gulf, while the Freshwater Fishing Club organizes eight fishing and picnic outings a year.
Both The Villages Goldwing Club and The Villages Nomads schedule extended motorcycle road trips throughout the year to cities around the state.
The Barefoot Beachcombers Club travels to beaches within one to three hours’ travel time of The Villages, and occasionally to farther spots for overnight trips. This year, Homasassa Springs and Crystal River, New Smyrna Beach, and St. Pete Beach are on the agenda.
Reef Rovers, a beach travel club, enables Villagers to enjoy sand and surf while forming new friendships, according to its website. Among this year’s destinations are Nokomis Beach and Treasure Island.
The Reef Rovers’ motto extends good wishes to Villagers no matter where they may travel across the globe: “May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand in your shoes.”