After the kids were out of the house, and her husband had successfully survived a double lung transplant, Tam decided to travel the world, indulging in her love of the ocean, diving, photography, and conservation. She continues to go strong!
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio with my parents and brother, Michael. My brother and I were adopted by our parents, two years apart. I had the quintessential Midwest childhood: a big house, large yard, plenty of space to roam in a brand new suburb still being built when we moved in. Our family vacationed every year for two weeks in Ft Lauderdale, and that is where my love for the ocean and its animals began. I loved to travel as a child, and that love has only strengthened throughout my life.
I married shortly after moving to Dallas at age 20, and Randy and I are still together today. I always felt sad that my children wouldn’t know the same type of childhood I had: They couldn’t go out on their own and ride bikes and explore, they had “play dates” and parents watched their children closely.
While my children were little, I went back to college and graduate school, where I earned a Master’s degree in Sociology. My main “act” in life has always been my husband and children. I have loved being a mother to my daughter, Alexandra, and my son, Wes. They are both adults now, and married. Next come grandchildren?
My career has always changed… I worked in a brokerage firm, a bank, became a travel agent. I went back to school then lectured at the University of Texas Dallas; I loved teaching. I went into private practice as a college consultant, working with families and students to help facilitate the college search and application process. I love teens and young adults. Life ran into a wall in 2013, when my husband suddenly had respiratory failure and had a double lung transplant! Obviously, at that point, life took another direction. (Here is that story – start on page 9).
My husband had a long recovery, and we did do some traveling within the USA, but being on anti-rejection medications means a suppressed immune system, and traveling usually ended up with Randy becoming ill. We had had big plans to travel and dive the world before his transplant, but it was clear that Randy could not travel to remote destinations without access to stellar transplant health care. My desire to travel and dive was strong, and Randy encouraged me to go on those trips and have those experiences. I am glad he is supportive, otherwise it would be difficult emotionally to travel as much as I do.
When did you start to think about making a change?
After my children were in college, and the empty nest arrived, I began to want a solo experience, doing volunteer work abroad, doing something completely on my own. My interest in the ocean has always been a part of my life, and I chose a program that took me to Tofo, Mozambique, to help study Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, and do fish surveys on the reefs. I can say that going to Africa in 2012 made a huge impact on my life, and created change. The trip was challenging: At 50+, I was the oldest volunteer, and physically struggled to adapt to tough conditions on land and in the ocean.
I emerged from that trip with confidence in myself, pride in my accomplishments and inner strength, and a hunger to continue. I had seen a documentary, Queen of Mantas, about a woman who studied Manta Rays in Tofo; I met Dr Andrea Marshall on my trip, and I have traveled with her several times since then. She has become a friend as well as an inspiration. (You can read about my incredible trip HERE.) This was before Randy became very ill, so he joined me at the end of my trip, and we continued on to Tanzania and safari!
What is your next act?
I am a travel blogger at Travels with Tam, a midlife, empty nest adventure blog. Most are travel adventures (I have traveled all over the world) but, as we all know, there are plenty of interesting journeys in midlife and I write about those as well, especially the journey of our family to our family to my husband’s double lung transplant!
I have traveled all over the world, and I love it. I began traveling before I was old enough to know that’s what I was doing. My parents loved the beach and we went to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, every single year until I was 20 years old and moved to Dallas. We were beach lovers, and the ocean quickly spoke to me, and it never left.
I write about travel, life events, aging… and scuba diving! I began diving when I was 26, 30 years ago. I was on vacation in Cozumel, Mexico, with girlfriends, and I have little patience for “laying out.” A dive instructor came by asking if we were interested, and since I had always dreamed of being a diver with Jacques Cousteau, I jumped up right away. I was hooked immediately.
I do a lot of photography. I am always encouraging other midlife women to get out there and leave their comfort zone.
Here are some of my most popular posts:
I love what I do. I love taking photos and helping with fish surveys and fish identifications. I am committed to ocean conservation, and my greatest contribution is participating in citizen science trips. If that interests you, check out REEF.org and MarineMegafauna.org. Ray of Hope Expeditions are absolutely wonderful.
How did you decide to start blogging?
It is strange how this act came about… When Randy became so ill, I was still working as a college consultant. He became ill in August of 2013, and the fall is the busiest time for college applications. I worked with my students from the waiting room at the hospital, and made sure that I was on top of every detail. I was an excellent counselor and advisor, and I did not want “my kids” to suffer, so I made sure they had every consideration from me.
After Randy’s homecoming, I had several consultations with new families, but upon finding out that Randy had had a double lung transplant, not one of them signed on with me. Their concern was that I would drop the ball if something happened to Randy. I understood the concern, and I knew that I would work as hard for new students as I had my former students, but only one family took the chance. I am working with her right now, as she is a senior applying for college, but she is my last student.
During my African adventure I kept a journal online for my friends and family. I have always loved writing, and this journal morphed into my travel blog. When Randy became ill, I began to blog about that journey, as it happened, for family and friends. Randy’s illness has been, without a doubt, a long journey. When Randy was recovering, I began adding my photography to the blog, and I met several other 50+ bloggers who were shaking up their lives, and a new career began to take form.
How supportive were your family and friends?
They were very supportive. I think there were some doubts among them, because traveling meant I left Randy behind, most of the time, although we still took trips together. I was fortunate through this entire ordeal to have friends and family who have absolutely been there for me and for my children.
What challenges did you encounter?
One challenge is my physical limitations I have to consider before every trip. I am 56 years old, and have chronic back pain, (my spine is held erect with 4 rods and 8 pedicle screws), psoriatic arthritis, and other various nuisances. I know each trip will bring pain and challenges, but scuba diving is actually very good for my spine, as I am almost weightless in the water, supported, and almost free of pain. It is really the only big physical activity left to me, diving and snorkeling.
Another is more of an emotional challenge. It isn’t easy to leave Randy for long periods of time, even though he is stable and living a mostly normal life. He has had to give up some of his hobbies and activities, and that has not been easy for him. We keep in touch by text, email, and even phone calls; it just depends on how remote my location is. Sometimes, as in Komodo National Park this year, we were unable to communicate for a week.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
Oh yes. Every single trip! On every expedition I have a moment at the beginning when I think, I bit off more than I can chew this time, I’m not going to be able to do this. All I can do is try. So I try…and I do it. I remember my trip to Mozambique to volunteer for All Out Africa, doing fish surveys and whale shark identifications; I thought I would never make it. Our volunteer house was on a hill, and it was physically very difficult to get up and down the “stairs of death” to get to the beach. There are no marinas in Tofo, so we had to push the zodiac out over the surf. The diving was unlike any diving I had done before, with more surge and more current. I truly thought I would have to quit. But every day, I just put one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, I was up and down those stairs without a problem. Every trip has its physical challenges, all you can do it do it. And if you cannot, you can do something else.
I know someday I may not be able to go full speed like I do now (full speed for me), but right now, I can do it, and all we really have is right now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned that I am strong. I am capable. I am talented, and tenacious. Yes, I am starting to age, but who isn’t? I’m going to go as fast as I can as long as I can. As Hillary Clinton said, when there isn’t a roof, the sky is the limit. Though, in my case, probably 120 feet under the ocean is my limit. While I am diving, I have moments of pure bliss. It is another world, another dimension. I love it.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
My advice is do it. If you are afraid, do it. Look deep within yourself and find out, what is it you want? What do you want to do? Maybe you want to help others, or be a caretaker, or travel, or learn to ski, or sky dive or scuba dive, or start a business or write a book… Whatever it is, grit your teeth and take a leap of faith. For some, truly living means getting outside of your comfort zone (that’s me). Perhaps others seek peace and quiet, and others enjoy a simple life. Whatever it is, do it. And take a few risks along the way. What is life without a little risk or adventure?
What advice do you have for those interested in travel and travel blogging? What resources do you recommend?
If you are looking to get monetarily rich, find something else! If you are looking to make your life bigger, richer in experience, and to serve something larger than yourself, travel and consider Voluntourism or Citizen Science. I have personally traveled with All Out Africa; Ray of Hope Expeditions at Marine Megafauna Foundation; and Reef. There are so many others! Check out The Giving Lens, service through photography. GVI has many different types of voluntourism, and Red Travel Mexico, with whom I may be doing a trip next year. You don’t even have to go very far, but get out there in the world and experience something different. And share it with others.
I do work with companies, writing reviews or trying products. I’ve worked with IHG Hotel Group, Hyatt Regency Hotels, Coca Cola, Nestle, Mrs. Fields, Bandaid, Pro Dive Mexico, Occidental Allegra Hotel and Resort, AT&T, Dove, OneSole Shoes, Four Seasons Resorts, Chico’s Clothing Line, Ray of Hope Expeditions, Backscatter Photography, Expedia, Hotels.com, Avis, Allianz Travel Insurance, City Pass, Skyscanner.com, Travelocity and Vayama. I am a Level 5 Reviewer on Trip Advisor. You don’t even have to go very far, but get out there in the world and experience something different. And share it with others.
What about advice re. midlife and solo travel for women?
Helene in Between is a great resource—she teaches people how to blog and how to do it for a living. Other great examples of women who are in midlife and enjoying travel in the empty nest are Suzanne Stavert of Adventures of Empty Nesters, Sara Broers of Travel with Sara, and Melody Pittman of Wherever I May Roam Blog. Also check out Lois Alter Mark of Midlife at the Oasis. There are so many others!
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
I’m sure I do! Last year I became a mother-in-law twice—both my daughter and my son got married in 2015! That was busy! I’m sure grandchildren will come along in due course. Grandma… It sounds unreal to me! I’ll be Tammaw, I think.
Where else would you love to travel?
I am headed to Antarctica in January and that will be all seven continents for me! In February, I am off to Raja Ampat in Indonesia to dive. I want to go to the Galapagos, Cocos Island, Palau, and back to Thailand and Africa and Australia… Basically the globe is on my list!
In December, 2017, I am co-hosting an adventure trip with Red Travel Mexico. Check out the details here and please join me!
Contact Tam Warner Minton at email@example.com