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World's most traveled gather for the Travelers' Century Club

by Alana Rinicella | Off-Ramp®

Elisa and her guide make their way towards the jungles of Uganda. Elisa Kotin

Most people only talk or dream of visiting other countries. But members of the Travelers' Century Club (TCC) have visited hundreds of countries. 

Bert Hemphill founded this exclusive social club sixty years ago in the L.A. offices of his travel service. Known as the "Dean of Travel," he wanted to give explorers a place to swap stories and knowledge. The only qualification? Members must have visited one hundred or more countries. 

Event planner Elisa Kotin gave a presentation at a recent meeting for the L.A. chapter. She's traveled for over twenty-five years and visited eighty-two countries, making her a provisional member.

"I remember thinking when I heard about Travelers' Century Club, 'How fascinating would it be to go to a luncheon and sit at a table with nine other people who had been to over one hundred countries each?'" Kotin says. "Where else are you going to get that kind of global knowledge with people that are so involved in knowing more about the world?"

Filmmaker and member Craig Forrest says he learned the importance of humility throughout his travels. "I got sick in the country of Senegal, and we had to travel to Casablanca, Morocco that day," says Forrest. "I was so sick that when we stood in front of the check-in desk at the Hyatt Regency in Casablanca, Morocco, I completely soiled myself."

(Scans of one of the first TCC country lists. Image: Travelers' Century Club)

Kotin researches her destinations before traveling but she still likes to keep things open-ended. "Part of travel is leaving it to chance," says Kotin. "Just the days when you meet someone who's so fascinating that you stop and stay in their village for hours on end. And by then the sun's going down so you don't even go back to the hotel you paid for. You stay in the village of the hut of the matriarch who invites you into her home."

Past TCC president Pamela Barrus makes a point of visiting historic sites she read about as a kid. "One of the last big trips I did was going down the length of Africa for two and a half months," Barrus says. "I was fascinated with the old British explorers and explorations and I wanted to stand on the spots, like Ujiji, where Stanley and Livingstone met."

Inspired by the travels of primatologist Dian Fossey, Kotin took a month-long journey through Uganda and Rwanda.  She got more than she bargained for when she met a blackback gorilla.

"While I was on the Uganda gorilla trek, I was hit by a seven-year-old male blackback," says Kotin. "Like you would tap someone on the shoulder, he flicked his fingers across my shoulder and I flew in the air and he almost dislocated my shoulder."

Kotin plans to take a break from gorillas and spend her birthday in Antarctica. "My dream is to celebrate my fiftieth birthday in Antarctica, sleeping on an iceberg."

To learn more about the TCC, including where to find your local chapter, visit their website.

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