A Passion to Travel, And Retiring Won't Slow Her Down
By Kevin Westrick
One of Linda Claycamp’s co-workers told her wherever she is, she wants to be somewhere else.
That couldn’t be more true of Claycamp, who sees her life adventure just beginning, with endless possibilities of future travel.
Claycamp has been traveling the rural roads of Lewis County for 30 years. She doesn’t know what road she will take now, but whatever post-retirement path she chooses, it will lead her to foreign territory.
As a rural route carrier, Claycamp delivered mail for the U.S. Post Office to the outskirts of Centralia north of Seminary Hill with her right-hand-steering Jeep Cherokee she purchased in 1999 specifically to help her pass out mail.
Claycamp officially retired from the post office after 30 years of service last Friday.
The 56-year-old mother of two and step-mother to two more is an avid traveler who has visited more than 22 countries. And when Claycamp and her husband Hank travel, they don’t just stay for a few days or a week. Most of the Claycamp’s travel to foreign countries has been for more than a week, sometimes for months.
“I love to travel,” Claycamp said. “I didn’t get to when I was younger. I got married and started working at the post office at the age of 26. When you have kids, it costs a lot of money to travel. Our first real big vacation was to Disneyland.”
Claycamp started traveling to foreign countries 17 years ago. The first trip she took was to New Zealand, a place Hank had visited with his previous wife. When Hank went to New Zealand a second time, he didn’t like it as much.
But Claycamp’s desire to travel kicked into full gear after that initial trip to New Zealand, when her children were still attending Centralia High School.
Her two daughters - 33-year-old Aileen Lundeen and 36-year-old Tracy Dunning - are both married. Lundeen still lives in Centralia and Dunning has moved to Wenatchee with her husband.
After marrying Hank 17 years ago, Claycamp became stepmother to 29-year-old Gabe and 25-year-old Oliver.
“I like traveling to places and speaking Spanish; talk to others so they understand you,” Claycamp said. “I like to see how people live, their culture and food.”
Claycamp has the attitude of a college-aged backpacker who wants to explore the world for the first time and becomes giddy when talking about her next adventure. Traveling may sound expensive, but Claycamp and her husband are frugal with their money, with the flight being the most expensive part of their journeys.
When possible, the Claycamps stay at hostels in foreign countries. Some hostels cost only $10 per person in American money.
Hostels used to be for the younger backpackers, but more older people are staying. They feature a community room and bathroom, and most guests are tourists.
“I really enjoy hostels,” Claycamp said. “We’ve had nicer ones and crummier ones. You can arrange to have the hostel pick you up. Sometimes you’re tired and you don’t know where you are exactly, so it’s nice to have them pick you up.”
Some of the countries Claycamp has visited include France, Mexico, China, Russia, Argentina, Guatemala, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, Copenhagen, New Zealand and many countries in South America.
Claycamp said she has her favorite places, but she takes valuable memories away from each adventure. In Guatemala, a place she says she would live, Claycamp sponsors a child and went to visit the 11-year-old in his poor sugarcane house.
“One thing I might want to do is volunteer for a yearlong commitment,” Claycamp said. “I’d get free room and board, and I would be helping people.”
At 56, Claycamp, who earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (foreign language and business) in 1998 from The Evergreen State College, said she feels young enough to continue to travel for years to come. Her aspirations may include teaching English as a second language. She has volunteered at Centralia College tutoring ESL students and needs a month to earn a certificate to teach it in foreign countries - perhaps in China, she said.
Claycamp is scheduled to go to Mongolia for three months to stay with her stepson, who married a woman of Mongolian descent. Then she’s hoping to visit eastern Europe, either Bulgaria or Romania or more.
“Eastern Europe is the next on the list of places to go,” Claycamp said. “Thailand is also on the list and then Cambodia.”
Through her journeys to Spanish-speaking countries, Claycamp has learned the Spanish language from classes and culture. She also can speak French, a little Italian, some Chinese, some Japanese and a bit of German.
Claycamp attempted a class to learn Russian, but after missing the first two weeks, dropped out because she said it was very difficult.
“When I took French, out of 26 people only three had not had any French before,” she said. “Now that I’ve been to France and I know what to look for, I think it would be easier now.”
Driving 77 miles on her route in the Centralia area for the post office has made many memories and stories, including finding a dead raccoon in a mailbox, but what Claycamp will remember most about her life is travel.
“I don’t jump out of airplanes,” Claycamp said. “I’m not into scary things. I won’t even get on a motorcycle anymore. But I love to travel. It’s just a blast.”
Claycamp started working at the post office 30 years ago, and said the only part of the job she didn’t like was worrying about her car breaking down along the route.
“I think I’ll miss the people; I’ll miss the customers,” Claycamp said.
Claycamp’s boss John Jackowich, the station manager at the Centralia annex of the post office, said she will be missed.
“There was never a complaint on her route,” Jackowich said. “Everyone on her route loves her.”
As a person who always seems to want to be somewhere else and who has traveled to 46 of the 50 states, Claycamp can’t sit still for too long and said she expects to be out of the country soon. Her adventure isn’t over and she isn’t about to slow down.
“Whatever I do, it will be fun,” Claycamp said. “I just want to go