The Impressive And Inspiring Travels Of Luisa Yu And Joy Ryan

79-year-old Filipino-American Luisa Yu has visited 193 countries, while 93-year-old American Joy Ryan traveled to all national parks in the U.S., proving that one can really see it all. 

In the world, there are casual travelers who enjoy going from place to place, and then there are adventurers. In the case of Luisa Yu and Joy Ryan, it’s really more of the latter than the former. While many people want to see and experience as much as they can, it’s not every day where one actually gets to do just that. Yet Yu and Ryan both prove that it’s more than possible, with enough determination, bravery, and open-mindedness. 

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Yu got the internet buzzing with news of her travels: recently, various news outlets revealed that the 79-year-old has visited an impressive 193 countries throughout her life, a long-term goal that she finally got to accomplish when she traveled to Serbia on November 9, 2023, reports Yi-Jin Yu of ABC News. Meanwhile, 93-year-old Ryan managed to visit every national park in the United States with the help of her grandson Brad, who extensively recorded the journey through their Instagram account, @grandmajoysroadtrip

Read on to learn more about the stories of these incredible travelers, including how their grand adventures came to be: 

Luisa Yu

Luisa Yu had always wanted to see the world ever since she was a young girl in the Philippines’ island of Leyte, writes Emma Bowman of NPR. She grew up on old Westerns and admired the various landscapes from the movies, which inspired her to set out and see as much as she could. 

Luisa Yu in Oceania
Luisa Yu in Oceania/Photo via Instagram @luisa_yu14

When she was 23 years old, doors began to open as she earned a spot at an exchange student program in the United States, according to Marielle Descalsota of Business Insider. After finishing school, Yu got a job as a medical technologist, working shifts at various hospitals. 

Fruits of Her Labor

It would take a lot of time and effort for Yu to begin her dream of seeing the world. NPR adds that she had to wait more than a decade to receive a green card that would enable her to travel abroad. Until then, she would work two to three jobs, saving up enough money to go sight-seeing around America (there are only two states she hasn’t visited yet, Oklahoma and Kentucky). 

At some point, Yu began working as a part-time travel agent, which brought in more opportunities for her to travel to places that were normally hard for other people to visit. She then went on to start her own travel agency, before eventually selling it and using the profits to invest in properties in her hometown of Miami, reports Business Insider.

Seizing Every Opportunity

Her globetrotting journey continued, as she made it a point to visit all 193 countries that the United Nations officially recognizes. Though some warned her about the dangers of certain territories, Yu didn’t let it stop her from visiting them, as she wanted to learn more about the places that not many have dared to see for themselves. 

Luisa Yu with members of the Asmat tribes in New Guinea
Luisa Yu with members of the Asmat tribes in New Guinea/Photo via Instagram @luisa_yu14

It was Yu’s love for learning and steely determination that enabled her to explore the beaches of Somalia, visit a volcano in Vanuatu, try North Korea’s dog meat delicacies, and skydive in Dubai, according to NPR and Business Insider

Luisa Yu in the mountains of Lubango, Angola
Luisa Yu in the mountains of Lubango, Angola/Photo via Instagram @luisa_yu14

Of course, Yu isn’t the first person to visit 193 countries, as others have also done the same. However, her long journey is an admirable one that shows there’s no limit—be it financial or age-related—that can stop a person from seeing the world. 

Luisa Yu in the waters of Santorini’s Aegean Sea
Luisa Yu in the waters of Santorini’s Aegean Sea/Photos via Instagram @luisa_yu14

So after setting foot on every continent, what has Yu learned from it all? “I find that everybody is like us. They have a dream for a better job and a better opportunity, and most of them are very, very kind and very helpful,” she tells ABC News. She also encourages aspiring globetrotters to “take the leap,” because not every opportunity will present itself again. 

Joy Ryan

Joy Ryan doesn’t hold a record for trekking across the globe, but she certainly impressed many people when she managed to visit all 63 national parks across the United States. Her story is also a heartwarming one, as her 41-year-old grandson Brad had accompanied her all throughout the journey. The quest to visit every national park in the country came in 2015, after a then-85-year-old Ryan expressed regret for not traveling enough throughout her life, reports Rebekah Riess of CNN

In fact, Ryan hadn’t seen many things during her younger years, which makes her trek all the more meaningful and eye-opening. “Every winter, my husband took me to Okeechobee and we fished. That was about the extent of my wandering,” she tells Caitlin O’Kane of CBS News

The Path to Healing

Brad did what any caring grandson would do: he took her to Smoky Mountains National Park. For some, this is just an ordinary trip; but for the pair, it was the beginning of something new and ultimately the key to healing a fractured relationship. The two had been estranged for years, but reconnected later in life, according to Ari Daniel of NPR. At the time of their first trip, Brad wanted to catch a break from the stresses of being a veterinary student and reconnect with his grandmother—who was also not in the best shape due to her age. 

Safe to say, the first trip was a success, and the two had many more journeys to look forward to. CNN adds that Brad had set up a GoFundMe to raise more money for succeeding trips, and the rest is history. The two have done everything together, like zip-lining, rafting, whale watching, and hiking. Through it all Ryan began to grow stronger, and never lost her daring spirit, even during activities that most senior citizens don’t normally do. 

The Essence of Travel

Ryan and Brad finished their comprehensive tour with a tour of the National Park of American Samoa in May 2023. “We defied erroneous assumptions about the limitations of aging. […] I accidentally made Grandma Joy the superstar I always knew her to be,” wrote Brad in an Instagram post

Brad and Joy Ryan at the National Park of American Samoa
Brad and Joy Ryan at the National Park of American Samoa/Photo via Instagram @grandmajoysroadtrip

At present, Ryan is the oldest person to have ever visited every national park in the country, adds NPR. The 93-year-old doesn’t just prove that it’s never too late to do what one has always wanted to do. She also showcased the real power of travel: its ability to enrich human connection, and ultimately help people learn and grow into better versions of themselves. 

Banner photo via Instagram @luisa_yu14. 

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