When John Hutton retired in 2002 he and wife Linda sold their home and possessions and headed off to backpack around the world. Fifteen years and 82 countries down, they are still going. The Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka, a bus crash in Poland, and a people's revolution in Nepal are just some of what the ex-Pompallier College mathematics teacher has seen on his adventures. In fact, he has so many stores to tell he has written a couple of self-published travel books and a murder mystery novel. Before he cruised out of Barcelona to Brazil, he answered a few questions.
1. Tell us about yourself

I'm a Taranaki lad, went to uni and secondary teachers' college in Auckland in the early 70s, then taught in New Plymouth, Alexandra (where our children were born) and moved to Whangarei in 1985.

We'd spent the previous summer holidays in Northland and really liked the place, so when the job opportunity cropped up at Pompallier, it was an easy decision for us to head north. And here we stayed for 18 years.

2. What made you decide to sell everything and backpack around the world?


After 30 years of teaching, raising a family, paying off a mortgage, and with our kids having left home, the question was "What do we do with the next 30 years?"

One thing Linda and I particularly enjoyed doing together was travel.

In fact, we met in Australia way back in 1974 while on an outback camping tour - Linda is from Canada - and after our marriage in 1976, we travelled extensively around New Zealand as well as taking a few overseas trips (Australia, North America and some of Southeast Asia) with our children.

So, exploring more of the world was an obvious choice.

However, we felt that regularly popping off to other parts of the world for a spell then returning home wouldn't work for us. We wanted to head off for long periods.

Eventually we decided to completely commit to an international nomadic lifestyle by retiring early, selling our house and possessions, putting our packs on our backs and heading off to wherever, and for however long.

We left NZ early in 2003 and looking back on that decision, I guess it was pretty brave of us as no one we knew had done anything quite so radical.

But we knew that if things didn't pan out well, we could always return.

However we have never, not even for a nanosecond (even after a long, hot, frustrating and exhausting day of rough road travel in dubious transport through the backblocks of some third-world country) regretted our decision or contemplated stopping.

3. Where did you travel to first?

We began in Singapore (flying in during the SARS crisis there) and spent our first few years away only in Asia.

4. You've experienced a tsunami in Sri Lanka, a bus crash in Poland and a people's revolution in Nepal. Tell us more about these experiences.
Boxing Day tsunami

The Asian tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 was perhaps the most dramatic day of our travels. Fortunately our small hotel on a Sri Lankan beachfront withstood the impact of the waves (unlike many buildings around us). But it's quite something to look out the window and see the sea rushing past, demolishing structures in its path.

We stayed on for a further three weeks to help the locals with the huge cleanup task, and we look back on that time as a highlight (if that's the right word) of our travels.

Poland bus crash

We weren't surprised when a bus in which we were travelling in Poland was hit head-on by an out-of-control truck.

We travel by bus so often that an accident was almost inevitable at some stage.

The truck driver was killed, and quite a few passengers were hospitalised, but our injuries were relatively minor so we were able to continue on in a replacement bus - though it was several days before all our bruises, cuts and aches disappeared.

Nepalese people's uprising

The strikes, riots and curfews of the Nepalese people's uprising against their king in 2006 left us stranded in a town for three weeks, but it was quite an education and something of a privilege to witness the demonstrations, see the sometimes heavy-handed army response, and finally feel the national sense of victory when the king acceded to the people's demands for democracy.

Of course, these moments of crisis are just a small part of our journey.

Most of the time we are marvelling at stupendous scenery, or on a trekking adventure high in the mountains, or absorbing the wonders of human achievement and building down through the centuries, or chilling out on a golden-sand beach, or passing a week or two in a quiet town far from the well-beaten tourist trail enjoying being part of normal life in some new part of the world. Absolutely wonderful.

5. You've visited 82 countries in 15 years - where have you been?

We've spent a good amount of time on each of the six populated continents, with a varied selection of countries on each of them.

6. Of those 82 countries, what are your favourites and why?

In no particular order: Thailand (food, friendly people, beaches, tropical climate), Bolivia (quintessential South America), Nepal (fantastic trekking), and Italy (oozes history, beautiful architecture and lovely scenery).

But there are many other countries we also really enjoy.

7. How many more countries would you like to visit? Is it your aim to visit all 195 countries?

We don't have a specific goal in mind, and we definitely don't have any ambition to visit all 195.

Trying to achieve that sort of numerical (and somewhat meaningless) goal misses the whole point of travel.

8. On average how long do you stay in one country before moving on?

That varies a lot.

Some smaller countries barely get a week, while others such as India (six months) and China (11 months over 3 visits) have had considerably more. We've visited some countries, such as Thailand several times. I guess it typically averages out at about two months per country.

10. Have you worked while travelling?

No, absolutely not - I'm retired!

However, we have done a little volunteer work at times, and we belong to an online group, Helpx, through which we can arrange to stay with hosts in their house, farm or whatever, where they provide us with accommodation and food in exchange for some labour, usually gardening and house maintenance.

We tend to use Helpx in expensive developed countries to reduce costs, enjoy the opportunity to be of practical help to the hosts, and experience life in different communities and cultures.

11. Was it always your intention to travel for 15 years, or did you catch the travel bug?

Oh yes. At least 15 years. It's our intention to travel until we drop. Hopefully we'll get into our 80s before old age compels us to stop. I think we were each born with the travel gene rather than merely catching the travel bug later in life.

Speaking of bugs, we have been amazed by how little illness we've experienced while abroad. We are sure the lack of stress has a lot to do with it - just one of the many rewards of this lifestyle.

12. Do you have any intentions of heading back to Whangarei and if so when?

Er, no. Sorry. We enjoyed living in Whangarei, but that chapter has closed. We seem to pass through New Zealand about once every four or five years for a few weeks, and Whangarei gets a week or so. No idea when we'll next be back again.

13. Why did you decide to write books on your travels?

After we'd been travelling for a couple of years, everyone we met along the way said "Wow, you guys have lots of stories to tell. You should write a book."

Eventually I was persuaded to give it a go, and the result was my self-published Off Our Rockers which covers the how-and-why of this retirement adventure along with accounts of our first three and a half years in Asia.

Last year I followed it up with Still Off Our Rockers which covers the next 10 years of "light-hearted travel tales for empty-nesters and those with a penchant for adventure".

I then decided to creatively draw on our travel experiences and write a murder mystery novel involving backpackers. With the title of Dying to Travel it is about a group of young gap-year Australians in Europe who are being progressively murdered as they travel around the continent.

I had a huge amount of fun writing it, and was thrilled when an American publisher decided to produce it. It has just been released in late October.

14. What and when is your next adventure?

We're heading to South America for the summer of 2016-17, after which we ... hmmm ... er ... no idea.

We'll see where whim or circumstance lead us.

One thing for sure is that it will not be anywhere experiencing winter. We don't do winter.

We don't enjoy feeling cold, and having to carry heavy and bulky winter clothing is a real hassle. Travel is far easier in warm, dry weather.

The last complete winter we lived through was in Whangarei in 2002, and the only sustained period of really cold weather was when trekking in the Himalayas in 2006, but we had hired suitable clothing for that period.

I've also got a second mystery novel percolating away in my mind - another backpacker thriller that will be set in South America.

15. What tips would you give to travellers?

Number 1 tip: Have a strong sense of humour! You'll need it.

16. Where can people find your books?

'Off Our Rockers' and 'Still Off Our Rockers' are available in both print and eBook formats at www.lulu.com, and also through Amazon, Apple, etc.

'Dying To Travel' can be ordered from the publisher at www.blackrosewriting.com and also through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. eBook formats are at Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc. The Whangarei Public library also has a copy.