Linda Yuen finds her way to remote villages and always visits sites that are off the beaten path. She has visited all of the continents. So it’s no wonder that the 85-year-old Honolulu resident was named one of National Geographic’s Travelers of the Year in 2012.
Although Yuen is intrigued by new places, it’s the people and culture that capture her attention. "We’ve made friends and connection over the world. We stay in touch with people, and sometimes they come to Hawaii for a visit. So much kindness has been shown to me. I’ve been surrounded by good people."
One of her favorite places to visit is Punta Arenas in Chile’s southernmost region. "I would love to go back again and again," she said.
"Bhutan is an absolute feast for the eyes. The people are so friendly," said Yuen, who recalls trekking up a steep hill in Bhutan with the assistance of a couple of children. "The kids just popped up and helped me, held onto my hands and pointed out sights along the trail," Yuen said. She also enjoyed the remote villages in South China, Thailand and Vietnam. "We were the first outsiders to visit some of the villages."
Dune sliding, searching for petroglyphs, sailing on chartered vessels, taking weeklong mountain treks and going river rafting are among her adventures. Most of her traveling happened after retirement. "Mesa Verde in Colorado and Haleakala in Maui are two places that are very precious to me," she said.
Yuen has been traveling with her husband, Heeny, a retired marine biologist, since the pair got married after meeting at the University of Michigan. "We started traveling with the kids when they were small. It seemed like we were always traveling," she said.
"We had a magical trip to Europe with the kids in the ’70s," she said. They started in Copenhagen, spent three weeks in France, made friends in Austria and visited the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland while traveling in a Volkswagen bus.
Yuen came from a family of six kids and was raised on Kauai. "I’ve always been active. As a kid we hiked a lot, gathering mountain apples and guavas. I was about 5 years old at the time. Those are happy childhood memories," she said. "We were swimming all of the time. We grew up in the ocean."
Her active lifestyle didn’t cease as she aged. "As a teenager we’d hike for three miles in the hills just to go to our favorite swimming holes." She also was interested in roller skating, swimming and dancing. "Roller skating was my passion. … I could dance on those skates."
Yuen believes that maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle early on has helped her maintain the level of fitness needed to continue her travels.
She still exercises at the YMCA four to five times per week and attends classes at the University of Hawaii. Last semester she took two religion classes and one on the architecture of Asia and Pacific. She also volunteers at various organizations including Honolulu Theatre for Youth.
Yuen raised her children and later worked in the school system as a teacher and counselor, retiring at age 62 to pursue a volunteer docent position at The Contemporary Museum.
She doesn’t like to go on organized trips. "People always comment on the uniqueness of my itinerary. I don’t want to go to the ordinary places. I feel like that’s wasting my time." She spends countless hours, sometimes taking an entire year to research and plan a trip.
Last November she went to Egypt, Jordan and around the Red Sea on a cruise, typically her choice of travel these days. She always flies in several days early to check out the place. "I don’t do a lot of hiking anymore, but I’ll still go if I really want to see something," she said.
"I’ve been able to make meaningful contact with people during my travels. I appreciate the friendliness. It’s the way that Hawaii used to be."