John and Sally Akridge And Exploring The Final Frontier

First image...
John and Sally in northern Ethiopia...

A Traveler's Tale

The Akridges have been all over the world, and space might await. Here's their advice.

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... exploring the rock churches of Ethiopia ...
... and dancing with the Daasanach.

By David Hochman
Originally appeared in October 2015 issue of Virtuoso Traveler

They call themselves farmers, but John “Chip” Akridge III, who’s also a real estate developer, and his wife, Sally, mostly use their 500-acre Maryland home and nature conservancy as a base for travels around the globe. Both in their late 60s, they have seats booked with Virgin Galactic, which may let them glimpse the poles they’ve visited (both North and South), the peaks they’ve admired (from Everest’s base camp), and a planet they care passionately about protecting. Atlanta-based Virtuoso travel advisor Emmy L. Brawley helps them soar and explore. 

We travel because …

Sally: You never want life to be boring, right? If you have some money and some time, and patient children and grandchildren, why not go to places like Antarctica or touch down on the North Pole in a Russian helicopter? We’ve traveled to Africa three times, and it keeps getting more interesting. We went to Iceland for the weekend because we lost a football bet. God gave us a great big earth, and there’s a lot to participate in.

Why space travel?

Chip: It’s not quite like flying with the Wright brothers, but Sir Richard’s venture does have that pioneering spirit. Years from now, when space tourism reaches Mars, we’ll look back and see Virgin Galactic as the first big step in that direction. 

Any reservations after the test-flight tragedy last October?

Sally: It wasn’t a tough decision to stay the course. Not only did the company display a great sense of sorrow and deflation, it also demonstrated conviction of purpose. That confidence keeps us focused and excited about space exploration. We’re committed to taking these early baby steps for Earth’s citizens to gain access to the endless frontiers beyond.

The one thing you can’t wait to experience on the spacecraft ...

Sally: I’m excited to get a look at that blue curve and the spectacular void beyond. The more I travel, the more I recognize how small our world is. It’s poignant, really. As humans, we’re all in this together, just floating in space. 

Chip: Sally and I are active in many environmental causes, and I’m eager to see the rain forests and seas from high above.

… and your biggest challenge as a space tourist:

Chip: Packing – we don’t pack light for anything! A pilot once saw how many bags we were carrying and said, ‘I just can’t fly with all that,’ and the plane left. 

I never leave home without …

Chip: My Iridium satellite phone and a condensed Navy prayer book. It has prayers for marriages, funerals, and burials, and you never know where you’ll need those.

Sally: Vodka – I’m very popular with fellow travelers. 

Most memorable travel blunder:

Sally: On our first tented safari with Abercrombie & Kent, I used Ziploc bags to keep out the red dust. Huge mistake. I left the bag with all my underwear at a hotel and spent three weeks in Africa with one black bra. 

Lesson learned from 45 years of travel:

Sally: I’m an extrovert. He’s an introvert. Our third night somewhere, I’m best friends with the people at the next table. 

Chip: Which is fine – I can just sit quietly. 

A great travel advisor is …

Sally: Level-headed and adaptable. We’ve missed connections in India, had to cancel a trip to Morocco last minute, and planned multigenerational vacations with our grandkids. If she’s flummoxed, Emmy never shows it. We love that. 

… and their most important attribute:

Sally: Major connections. We get upgrades, welcome gifts, phenomenal treatment, and zero hassle wherever we go. 

Travel rule of thumb:

Sally: Go where the French go. You know the food will be good and it’s always elegant. We spend five weeks a year at rented villas on Saint Bart’s. 

Favorite hotel:

Sally: Claridge’s in London: They know your name and it feels like home – even with all the Russian girls and their mothers having tea in the afternoon.

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