In the video above, hear from Nancy Scott firsthand about finding the courage to travel after losing her husband, and how her early career as a flight attendant inspired her to see the world.
We caught up with 13-time traveler Nancy Scott of Newport Rhode Island, who graciously appeared in our recent Onward video. In it, Nancy shared a story that resonated with many of you, about taking her first solo journey to Bhutan and India, where she returned her late husband’s ashes back to the land of his birth. Nancy described that experience as bringing him “full circle.” But as it turned out, it was a full circle for her, too: an ending, a new beginning, and the continuation of a dream, all at once.
In 1965, when most of her classmates were looking at summer jobs as cashiers or ice cream scoopers, college junior Nancy (née Rolfs) got the chance of a lifetime: working as a stewardess-trainee for what was then billed as “the world’s most experienced airline,” Pan Am. Having just invested in a fleet of shiny new Boeing 747s, the all-American airline wanted new all-American girls to serve them. They chose six U.S. colleges (including Nancy’s school, Wheaton College) from which to recruit. “All the flight attendants then tended to be European,” said Nancy, “and they had a completely different attitude about the job.”
Despite the glamour attached to being a stewardess back then, Nancy’s attitude about her coveted job was not what you’d call over the moon. When she was invited back to Pan Am upon her graduation the following spring, she was about to pass. “I told my father, ‘I didn’t go to four years of college to become a flight attendant,’” she recalled. But her father had a different perspective. “There’s no better education than traveling the world, and understanding how other people live,” he told Nancy. “So do it.” And do it she did, flying for four years, then working on the ground in an administrative capacity for six more, for Pan Am, Eastern, and Northeastern.
Working for the airlines whetted Nancy’s appetite for discovery. “In those days,” she said, “The world wasn’t so flat. There were definitely cultural differences between Europe and Africa and the Far East and here. So for me, it was an eye-opening experience.” But as with many women of that era, Nancy’s travel dreams took a back seat to parenting after she married and had kids.
Years later, she picked up where she left off with her second husband, Ronald Barr, an avid world traveler who had been born in India. “We were wonderful travelers together.” said Nancy, “We would plan the winter so we would do 2 trips back to back. You could be gone for almost 2 months, which got rid of the winter in New England.” As their wanderlust led them further and further off the beaten path, they began traveling with O.A.T. Nancy had sworn that “I’m never going to be one of those people who travels in a giant group, following the guide with the flag, and all that.” So it was another eye-opener when she found herself on O.A.T. trips with as few as six people. “That’s why I love O.A.T. so much. You don’t feel like you’re one of the herd.”
Nancy has many memories of her 13 trips—digging for tarantulas in Cambodia . . . the time Ronald (an accomplished sailor) piloted their small ship along the Mekong . . . getting caught in a snowstorm in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains . . . sharing dinner at the home of Orthodox Israeli Jews, and more. “Doing it on your own, those things would never happen. And doing it in a big group, those things would never happen.” But she cannot say which was the best adventure. “I honestly don’t have a favorite. I get home from every trip, and say, ‘That was my favorite trip.’”
After her husband Ronald died, Nancy was on the fence about traveling alone. Still, she wanted to bring Ronald’s ashes back to a place that had meaning to them both. Nancy had always dreamed of visiting Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan. Her husband deeply admired many tenets of Buddhist philosophy. He had also been born in nearby India. So her path seemed clear. She booked O.A.T.’s Heart of India adventure with the Bhutan pre-trip extension.
Ronald’s ashes were scattered at a waterfall on the path to Tiger’s Nest, and in the Ganges River at Varanasi. “I brought one of the prayer flags from Tiger’s Nest back home, and put it in our garden. So I’d brought him full circle.” When asked how this affected her, Nancy mused that “I didn’t come home with this sudden feeling that I’m a different person. But I did come home with this sense that I’ve put him to rest in a place where he belonged, and I’ve also brought his spirit home with me. That trip made me realize he will be with me always, yet at the same time, it taught me that life is for the living. I wasn’t wallowing. I realized, ‘You can go on. You can continue to travel. You can have other people in your life.’”
Since then Nancy has taken two other solo adventures: Crossroads of the Adriatic, and Machu Picchu & the Galapagos, and added extensions to both of them. “Now, I’m having a good time by myself, and he would’ve been happy for me.” What’s next? “I’ve always wanted to do the Turquoise Coast in a gulet, so it will be Turkey’s Magical Hideways. And hopefully, also Sicily, maybe in 2022 or even late 2021. We’ll see,” she says, “But it’s gonna happen.”
Nancy will be making those journeys with a new special friend, and maybe a couple that she had introduced to O.A.T. as a Vacation Ambassador. So her full circle is ever widening.
Discover the spiritual pull of Varanasi and perhaps honor the memories of your own loved ones and ancestors during our Heart of India adventure.