Wendy and Michelle are from the United States and have been bitten by the travel bug. Talking with them is exceptionally entertaining, as you truly get the impression they are one person – the sentence that Michelle starts, Wendy completes, and vice versa. These identical twins were born in Florida in the late ‘70s, raised initially in Louisiana and then in California; they went to college in New York and Massachusetts and then both moved to Washington DC. Michelle still lives in the U.S. capital working as a Grants Management Specialist in the Department of Justice, while Wendy now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and works at the Office of the President of the University of California. They also have their own textile and surface design firm called ‘Lulet’ (it means ‘flowers’ in Albanian and ‘pearl’ in Amharic) and are artists.
How did your interest in travel develop?
Wendy: When we were seven years old, we took our first international trip to Canada with our family. That sparked our interest in travel even though we would not go abroad again until much later. Throughout high school we would see our classmates go abroad and always wished we could do the same.
Michelle: Finally, I went to Italy in 1998 as part of my university course. I travelled to Florence where I stayed for a few months, and then Wendy met me in London for a theatre workshop there. That’s when we realised we wanted to travel.
Wendy: In 2000 we decided to go to Austria, where I had originally wanted to study abroad but didn’t.
Michelle: We spent a while in Austria and really enjoyed it. But if we could have done that trip again, we would have seen so many more countries in that time span. We were inexperienced at the time.
And how did you gain more travel experience?
Michelle: In 2007, we both quit our jobs and decided that we were going to travel…
Wendy: …which we did for three years on and off. We were together almost the whole time – we separated only for 3 months. It was during our travels that we heard of the Travelers Century Club.
Michelle: …when we came back, we had no houses and no jobs, but we had so much travel experience then.
Wendy: We started that trip in Turkey, and decided to head for the stans (editor’s note: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan…) and we were so apprehensive and afraid of where we would be going. That’s when we learned our first lesson – never take advice about a country from a person who has never been there. We were told it would be dangerous, but it was fantastic. It is still one of our favourite trips.
Michelle: Through travel you learn so much about yourself, others, and the world around you. You learn that the world is bigger than you.
Wendy: Every culture is different and fascinating, and the world is full of friendly people.
So, do you always travel together?
Michelle: Not always, but we really travel the best together, we are like one person. We think each other’s thoughts.
Wendy: I am the planner before we travel.
Michelle: I just show up… but, once we are on the ground, I am the leader. I am also the list-maker of the things we want to see once we are there.
Wendy: I get ideas in my head sometimes about where to go… I want to see everything – Dracula’s castle, Easter Island, Papua New Guinea. And we both really love local festivals. Our last trip together was to Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos.
Michelle: Yeah, Wendy decides where we will go next. We try to go to new places but we love Mexico so much. We’re really looking forward to going back to see the butterfly migration – one of our bucket list items.
Wendy: Michelle takes care of the currency, tickets, updates the travelogue…
You have a travelogue?
Michelle: It’s just for us, it’s a big file, very neatly archived, which notes our countries visited and the dates, our experiences, highlights and achievements. We also take pictures on our travels, and are compiling them for a personal coffee table photo book.
What are some memorable highlights and achievements?
Wendy: We were the only non-locals (as far as we know) at an indigenous festival in Bolivia and a helicopter appeared above, it was Evo Morales (the Bolivian president) waving down at us in the crowd!
Michelle: We went to the Waitomo glow-worm grotto in New Zealand. Another memorable experience was flying close to an active volcano in a helicopter in Montserrat.
Wendy: We went dune bashing in Qatar in 2008.
Michelle: Horseback riding in Tibet and Mongolia.
Wendy: The first time we passed through the Bermuda Triangle the year changed on its own on my mobile phone, and then corrected itself once we left the Triangle. That was weird. Another time my phone shut itself off and never worked again. Is that an achievement?
Michelle: In Maryland I rode the longest set of single-span escalators in the Western Hemisphere (ed: said with a huge laugh).
Wendy: In reality we don’t talk much about travel. Some people like to boast, and we generally try to be quiet about where we have been.
Do you buy things in your travels? Maybe gifts for your mother?
Wendy: Our mother can’t fathom why we travel. She supports our decisions but she doesn’t like hearing about any close calls.
Michelle: I enjoy finding unique postcards, and Wendy gets magnets wherever we go.
Wendy: We also love all sorts of crafts and especially local masks, which we hang on the wall. We joke that we buy small items to be conservative and then ruin our light packing by buying one really big, cumbersome thing (like a rug that used to reside in a yurt) that we have to ship home. On almost every big trip we end up shipping a box, so we always bring Sharpie markers and shipping tape on our travels. We also joke that we buy something for $10 and spend $50 to ship it. Half the fun is going to the local post office, though!
Michelle: Sometimes we will split up in a local market with $20 and say we will meet in an hour, and try to buy something for each other in that time. It’s always a fun surprise to see what we’ve bought for each other.
Wendy: In Ecuador I got Michelle a t-shirt with a blue-footed booby (ed’s. note: that’s a local bird in the Galapagos) that read ‘I love boobies’ and made her wear that on the trip. She still wears it!
Michelle: In Hong Kong I bought a happy face clock with a super silly expression and hands that go and up and down all the time.
What are your favourite places in the United States and internationally?
Michelle: I love New York City and Arizona.
Wendy: Sanibel Island in Florida, there are seashells all over the beach.
Michelle: I love India, the people are so nice there, and there is so much architecture and history. And the food is delicious, of course.
Wendy: Luang Prabang in Laos. Some places in Thailand can feel overly touristy, but Laos is so calm, and feels so untouched.
If you could invite four people to dinner, who would they be?
(Wendy is more decisive in her selection, while Michelle is a little more hesitant at first.)
Wendy: That is a great question. Janis Joplin would have a lot of interesting things to say. And Abraham Lincoln, he seemed really authentic.
Michelle: Yes, Abraham Lincoln for me, too. Also Gustav Klimt, the artist, since I also paint. I love his art because it speaks to me and his technical ability was astounding.
Wendy: The Captain of the Titanic.
Michelle: …anybody on the Titanic! I am fascinated by the Edwardian era.
Wendy: An African chief maybe. No, wait – Gustave Flaubert, the author. He would make a quirky addition to the group. I guess we find Gustav(e)s interesting!
Michelle: A psychic. I want to know the future but also the past, the world’s past and my past. I would like to have someone who can provide insights and answers into things we will never know.
The photos in this article are from Wendy and Michelle’s personal collection and shows them getting their Antarctic expedition certificates, on the Cayman islands, in the Galapagos, in Peru, at Orcadas base on the South Orkneys, in Bermuda, at Goree island (Senegal) and of course in London. You can read more about their textile firm at www.lulet.com and view Wendy’s fine art at www.wendyarbeit.com