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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Gary Schempp’s travels have taken him to 70 different countries and 47 of America’s states. Traveling to 30 percent of the world’s countries would appear to be an expensive proposition, but Schempp, a beekeeper in the Dias Creek section of Middle Township, has found a way to go almost anywhere for almost nothing.
His modus operandi: He travels mostly to underdeveloped and developing countries.
Nicaragua, his most recent destination, proved imminently affordable as Schempp redeemed airline miles to fly to his destination and then sheltered with native families or stayed in hostels to remain within his budget.
“What inspired me to do Third Worlds and to backpack and stay in hostels was my divorce,” said Schempp, 58, whose 20-year marriage to his first wife and mother of his two adult children ended in 1998. “Rather than give in to fate and say ‘I’ve got no money,’ I decided to find the funds and find a way. I didn’t want to stop traveling, so the way I traveled was transformed.”
For his 2013 adventure, which took place from mid-January to mid-February, Schempp flew virtually free to Granada, Nicaragua, where for $90 a week for the first two weeks he had a room and three meals a day through a “home stay.” The accommodations in a native family's home were sparse but adequate for Schempp, who travels light no matter the length of the trip.
He splurged and spent $150 for a week’s worth of daily, one-on-one lessons at a Spanish-language school, then idled away his afternoons following the four-hour morning sessions by sightseeing and indulging his hobby for photography.
He has an eye for the artistically, well-framed shot as well as the mundane. Nothing escapes the camera lens, including bathrooms and stray animals in the street.
“I show everything, not just the pretty stuff,” Schempp says of his photos, which he posts at http://public.fotki.com/GaryGS1/travel_albums/. “I want to give people an idea of what it’s really like, not just the museums and fluff. People would be shocked if they went there and didn’t know that’s the way it is.”
While in Granada, one of four port cities located along the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater body of water in Central America, Schempp and a guide did some kayaking. He then overnighted at hostels and farms as he moved toward Ometepe, an island formed from two volcanoes in Lake Nicaragua, where a $14-a-night tree house served as his accommodations during his four-day stay at a permaculture farm/retreat.
“If I like a town or city, I stay a few days,” Schempp said of his travel philosophy. “When I’m done, I move on. When I’m tired, I nap. When I’m hungry, I eat.”
A saying he found carved into the kitchen wall of a hostel in Cork, Ireland, sums up his approach to world travel: "The fewer are my needs, the greater is my home."
One of two other excursions he has scheduled this year is a Route 66 road trip from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. He and a travel acquaintance named Peter Molenaar, whom Schempp met online a few years ago and has since visited in Holland, plan to spend three weeks exploring national parks in the west and southwest in September.
“Two times a year I try to do a trip,” he said. “If I can sneak in a third one, I do.”
His second wife, Erin, whom he married in September, encourages him to continue the international travels he began in 1998 following his divorce.
“Third Worlds and backpacking are not her thing,” said Schempp, who will take his first trip with Erin this May. Somehow, he has found a way for two to travel almost as cheaply as one: Their two-week stay at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic will cost $183 and their airfare will be free.
Past and future travels
If things go as planned, January 2014 should find him in Panama for a month, with Erin joining him for one of the four weeks he is there.
Last year, he spent three weeks in Guatemala, learning Spanish and spending time with local beekeepers. In February 2011, he took what he calls “the Route of the Maya” tour in Central America, starting in El Salvador and traveling through Guatemala and Honduras before ending two weeks later in Belize.
The winter of 2010-11 he visited Western Europe, spending Christmas Day in Amsterdam. Highlights of that trip included the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. In February of 2009, he traveled to India and Singapore, and in February 2008, he went to Vietnam. In February 2006, he toured Southeast Asia, stopping in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
As the dates of his trips indicate, Schmepp mostly travels in colder weather.
“I’m not a winter person,” he said. “That’s why I always went someplace. The Third Worlds are in the sun belt. There are places you can go where you can have summer all the time.”
Although that’s no guarantee the weather will cooperate, Schmepp said, citing a backpacking trip he took through Scandanavia when it rained every day.
“A good travel experience a lot of times is very weather dependent,” he said.
He learned that lesson long ago, in the late 1970s, when he and his first wife took a three-month, cross-country trip on a $1,000 budget and woke one night in Montana to find their tent surrounded by three feet of snow and an elk sauntering through their camp site. They visited central and northern states as they drove westward, and returned through southern states on the drive back to Cape May County. To date, Schempp has not visited North Dakota, Louisana and Alaska in the United States.
Marriage and family life shaped the tone of his travels through the 1980s and 1990s, as trips to Disney World were traditional at Easter time. Schempp himself has been to Mickey Mouse’s kingdom 17 times, his children 11 times. The family also took trips to ski in Colorado, and to Hawaii, California, Chicago, New England and cultural centers along the East Coast, including Williamsburg, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore Harbor, Md.
When his son, Gary Jr., an events photographer, graduated college, Schempp took him for three weeks to Australia. He’s backpacked with his daughter, Alaina, who recently earned her master's degree in film and media studies in Amsterdam. Those experiences, he said, are “the most memorable times, sharing common goals of looking for food, looking for a hostel, sharing activities and making friends.”
Schempp wanted to give his children experiences he had been denied as a child, the youngest of four children being raised by a widow in Philadelphia row house. His first real taste of travel, other than weeklong summer vacations in Wildwood that his mother financed with her Social Security checks, was a road trip that his oldest brother arranged.
The brother, 19 years older than Schempp, took his first teaching job in South Dakota and wanted his mother to see where he was living. So the summer Schempp was 10, his brother drove him and his mother across the country.
“I was amazed,” said Schempp, who remembers seeing the Badlands and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and experiencing a snowstorm on Pike’s Peak in Colorado in July. “That 1965 road trip made a big impression on me.”
Life on the farm
After 30 years of owning a pest management company, during which he took trips to escape the stress of owning the business, Schempp sold it and started Busy Bees NJ. He sells pure, raw local wildflower honey from an honor box on the porch at his Dias Creek business, and has plans to open a store on the site this summer.
In addition to beekeeping and giving educational talks on the subject, Schempp offers bee removal services, and will extract hives, bees and organic matter from the walls of infested homes using infrared heat technology to detect the insects’ whereabouts.
His 18-acre farm has been his home since he was 12 years old. His widowed mother married a widower with 14 children, and she and Schempp moved from Philadelphia to the man’s farm in Cape May County. None of his stepfather’s children wanted the farm when their father died, so Schempp purchased it from the estate.
In the kitchen at his Busy Bees NJ office, Schempp is surrounded by computer monitors that continually flash photos from his extensive travels, many of which are archived online and available for viewing at the above-mentioned web site. Earlier photos are organized into albums that date from 1954, the year he was born.
Boxes of jarred honey are stacked on the kitchen floor, half-way obscuring a supersize wall calendar that is noted with Schempp’s travel plans for the year. Bookshelves in the living room hold the guide books Schempp has collected over the years, with Lonely Planets publications his Bible for international travel and Rick Steves’ guides his trusted source for European travel.
Although he plans his trips to make the most of them, Schempp has no set order in mind or number of countries he eventually wants to visit.
“I don’t have a goal,” he said. “Wherever I get to, I get to.”
Spoken just like the practitioner of yoga and transcendental meditation he is.