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The world beckons

Hollidaysburg couple explores foreign lands through independent travel

March 21, 2008
By Jimmy Mincin,
Reese Oberteuffer and Kathy Morgan became world travelers by a fluke.

A little more than 10 years ago, the couple came across an ad in USA Today offering a trip to England — only $99 each way. They exploited the opportunity, and have been globetrotting at least once a year, every year since.

‘‘After that, we became kind of hooked,’’ said Oberteuffer, 51, of Hollidaysburg. ‘‘We went to England on the cheap, and ever since we’ve been finding cost-effective ways to travel. People think you have to spend a ton of money to visit a foreign country, and that’s just not the case.’’

Morgan, 50, also of Hollidaysburg, said the couple always “budget travels.” This entails doing lots of Internet research to find the best air fare rates, finding the cheapest location to visit at any given time, narrowing the focus of the trip and flying out of big hub airports such as John F. Kennedy International Airport, N.Y., instead of local airports.

“That’s where you find the cheapest rates,” she said.

“We’re just two ordinary people with two ordinary jobs,” Morgan, a meter reader at Penelec — A FirstEnergyCompany, Altoona, said. “A lot of our friends probably wonder how we can afford to do this, but it really just comes down to doing your homework to find the best bargains. Some-times, as you get older, you start wanting a little more out of life — you’re not as cheap.”

Oberteuffer, a self-employed truck driver, doesn’t like the term world traveler. To him, it sounds a bit egotistic.

“It’s not something that’s pretentious, it’s just more of being a travel junkie,” he said. “We just love to explore.”

Their go-to destination: India.

“It’s a very bizarre, kind of strange experience — a sensory overload,” he said. “The sights, the sounds, we love everything about it. A lot of people love it; a lot of people hate it — but everyone should see it.”

Whether people are coming into or going out of the United States, the travel industry is a growing force in U.S. and international commerce.

The World Travel Association’s 2008 Econonomic Review of Travel in America report reveals that domestic and international travelers spent an estimated $699 billion in the United States in 2006, nearly 7 percent more than the year before. In 2007, total traveler spending is expected to reach $740 billion, an increase of 5.7 percent from the previous year.

The number of international travelers in Altoona has increased steadily over the past five years, said Judy Damico, manager of AAA Travel Agency, Altoona.

“Because of high fuel costs, some people are actually saying that the price of an airline ticket doesn’t sound so bad next to the price of fueling a car,” she said. “They’d prefer that to driving.”

She also said the specter of Sept. 11 is no longer a factor in domestic or international travel.

“Most people who’ve said they won’t travel because of 9/11 are people who’ve never traveled anyway,” she said.

Oberteuffer and Morgan’s favorite travel mode is the the “fly drive holiday,” by which you pay for a flight and a rental car, then drive yourself on your holiday. You can either follow a pre-planned itinerary or see where the road takes you and find accommodations on the way, Morgan said.

“Organized guided tours are a good deal, but they rob you of all challenges and spontaneity,” she said. “They can be nice, but you’re not free to do and go where you want. You’re on someone else’s schedule.”

Fly drives can be done in most places of the world, although some will be more challenging than others, especially where there are language barriers, cultural differences and intricate road systems, Oberteuffer said. However, the classic destinations are North America, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand and Europe.

The couple’s proudest traveling accomplishments include fly drive trips to Turkey, Buenos Aires, Chile, Australia, North and South New Zealand and Italy, he said. Their biggest splurge was paying $145 for a $300-a-night hotel room in Bangkok, Thailand (they stayed for three days). Their most expensive excursion was a three-week trip to Australia, in which air fare was $1,300 each way; and their least expensive was the aforementioned trip to England, which totaled $1, 800 and included food, lodging and a rental car.

Both travelers want to dispell the myth that fly drives are an unsafe travel practice.

“A travel agent once said that, for security and safety reasons, you should always travel with a crowd,” Oberteuffer said. “That’s patently untrue. It completely counters our mentality toward this. That’s the challenge about this — it’s a shared adventure.”

Morgan agrees.

“When you’re in a rental car — that’s the real experience of seeing how people really live,” she said. “You’re just throwing yourself out there.”

Together since 1983, both see world travel as a common thread that’s helped to strengthen their relationship.

“Being that it’s just the two of us, relying on each other becomes part of the challenge,” Morgan said. “It takes two people to drive and get around and make decisions. It’s truly a joint-effort success.”

Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.

Article Photos

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Reese Oberteuffer and Kathy Morgan show some of the guide books they’ve accumulated from their travels.

Fact Box

Five world travel tips
1. Travel lightly — Only carry one luggage bag/backpack per person.
2. Take cash instead of traveler’s checks — Traveler’s checks are time consuming and in most cases, include exchange fees.
3. Buy some travel books — tThese are a real investment for independent travelers because they provide useful information such as things to see, places to stay and suggested itineraries..
4. Travel on a budget — Be flexible in choosing your destination — go where your dollar buys the most.
5. Go now — The sooner you go on a trip, the longer you carry the experience, memories and education of your travels through your life.

—Reese Oberteuffer and Kathy Morgan, Hollidaysburg

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