Laura Schlangen has globe-trotted roughly 80 times. That’s just in the past 26 years.
Schlangen, who turns 88 next week, isn’t planning to sit still any time soon. She recently returned from Panama. Next is a trip to Arizona, then Iceland this fall.
She caught the travel bug in 1992, after she walked into Spokane’s Corbin Senior Activity Center to volunteer. Someone suggested she train as a volunteer tour leader, a role she’s held since, helping Corbin members sign up and then going along.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Schlangen said. “I think you just have to keep busy, be around people, and have a good attitude.”
Schlangen figures she’s averaged three trips a year through Corbin during nearly three decades, most as a tour leader but occasionally just being a passenger. This year, she has a total of five trips.
“In 26 years, I’ve been a lot of places. The most memorable probably is Ireland and Scotland. I celebrated my 85th birthday on a cruise from Prague to Budapest on the Danube River. I love Switzerland and Austria, too.”
Some travel took her to different corners of the United States, sometimes to regional destinations, but many trips were overseas.
It’s all far-flung from her days growing up in the small town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon. Right after high school gradation, she and three classmates came to Spokane to attend the Kinman Business University. Schlangen has lived in Spokane ever since.
She did insurance claims work, then landed a job as secretary in the Mead School District for 27 years. Her own family grew, and she has a son and daughter. Schlangen retired from the district at age 62, when she walked through the doors of Corbin thinking she’d help at the reception desk.
At the same time, the center was offering to train people as tour leaders.
“A lady who set up trips talked me into taking the training,” Schlangen recalled. “When I finished, there happened to be a trip to New Orleans. I was the second leader. The lady who led it handled the money and had me do all the work, so it was the best training I could have.”
That tour started in New Orleans and the group journeyed from there up the coast to Savannah, Georgia, and then Charleston, South Carolina. Schlangen was hooked, and she thinks travel has kept her young.
“When we get to certain place and meet up with people, we have a tour guide from there on,” Schlangen said. “For me, it’s mainly taking care of people from Corbin. I keep an eye on my people to make sure they’re having a good time on the trip.”
Most of the long excursion trips offered to Corbin members are set up through different professional tour companies, she said. Schlangen helps handle the paperwork for Corbin members, who receive a group discount. A small percentage of the tour payments goes to Corbin, she said.
Corbin also offers a number of day trips that are popular, she said. The upcoming longer excursion trip to Iceland is a first for her.
“Apparently, it’s the place to go,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of our members who have been in Iceland when they were in the Air Force. They’ve talked about what a neat place it is.”
Typically for the long trips, if Schlangen books at least 10 Corbin members per travel destination, that pays her way. However, recently the bigger travel tours in haven’t drawn as many people as in the past, she said. In those cases, she just pays her own way to travel.
People don’t have to be a Corbin member to go on a tour, but “it’s cheaper if you are,” she said. A Corbin membership costs $26 a year for a single person, and $36 annually for a couple, though specials are sometimes available.
Even if she pays her own way, Schlangen plans to continue hopping on buses, planes and ships. Her best travel tips are to stay positive and pack light. She typically travels with one carry-on suitcase.
“I’m amazed I can still do it and enjoy it,” she said. “The more I travel, the better I like Spokane. It’s just a wonderful place.”