A career continuing through retirement: Be a collector-cum-traveller | Sunday Observer

A career continuing through retirement: Be a collector-cum-traveller

There are travellers and tourists. Tourists see the sights and miss the country. Travellers see both the country and the sights. Travellers go with a special interest, tourists go with curiosity only.

One of the wisest travellers I know is a chef, specializing in soups. He goes all over the world dipping his beak into the particular potage of each country, comparing, collecting recipes. On and off, he works in hotels for short spells to earn his travel expenses.

Another is an excellent gardener. Passionate gardeners in every country took him to see their gardens. En route he saw the temples, palaces and shrines. He didn’t miss them. But if he went only to see the sights he would have missed the gardens - and the delightful people who lived in them.

Everybody collects something, even if they don’t realize it. My grandfather always used to put down people who collected things until he met a friend who collected (and used) old tools - the exact same thing my grandfather did.

Collecting is one of the oldest and most popular of hobbies. The idea of amassing items just for the enjoyment of it started as far back as 4,000 B.C., when primitive men created collections of non-functional stone tools. When civilization progressed, collecting became a hobby almost exclusively of the rich who spent millions to obtain unique art objects.

I have a friend who goes everywhere looking for playing cards - the smallest, the largest, cards made from wood, bone or alligator hide. He says, “In every city, you’ll find a fellow collector, whether it’s stamps or coins, old books or old bottles. If he doesn’t speak English, he has friends who do. Through him you’ll see and hear more than will, the most travelled tourist.”

A Christian priest I know calls on jail wardens. When he spoke to me recently, he had just returned from a visit to Rikers Island, New York, the largest jail colony in the world.

He told me his interest in penology had made it possible for him to travel everywhere, meet people neglected by society and pray with them. He is a very happy man.

Lovers everywhere

Likewise, if you are a musician or a music lover, you will find music makers everywhere. If you are interested in art, you can dig out a few artists, and you will unearth the most interesting parts of the country, the best food at the cheapest prices, and a treasury of information.

A college mate, a retired company director told me this story: “In a trip to Japan, I concentrated on the theatre, the popular Kabuki, the classical Japanese dance-drama, where a traveller is as much of an attraction to the audience as any of the stage numbers.

I went to the Puppet Theatre in Osaka, the only show of its kind in the world, and to the Takarazuka school near Kobe, where hundreds of Japanese girls are taught to sing, dance and act. I learnt a lot about the theatre, but I learnt even more about Japan. I saw no tourists in any of these places, but I did meet some interesting travellers.”

Another business colleague said, “I made a trip to France looking for handmade paper and special ribbon. I found villages in France where they made nothing but ribbon, and every household, a different kind. I found one family that had been making the same exquisite paper since before Columbus discovered America.”

Travel with design

You must never travel to “get away from it all.” Think of your interest, hobby, skill. Take it with you. Travel with design and you broaden your knowledge. If you tour with idle curiosity, you flatten your arches.

Don’t be a tourist. Throw away your guidebook, and follow an interest. Whether your passion is architecture or orchids, child welfare or rock gardens, fishing or folk dancing, butterflies or bridge, you will find devotees everywhere.


If you want to be collector cum traveller, let me give a few tips.

First, decide what you’re going to collect. This isn’t necessarily a conscious choice, but maybe something handed down through your family, or a random item that catches your eye on a trip.

Make sure your choice is broad enough to make the searching fairly easy at first, but niche enough as to not be overwhelming. For instance, if you’re delving into book collecting, don’t be like Sir Thomas Philipps, who in the 19th century decided to have every single printed book in the world. (He didn’t quite accomplish that feat, but managed to get his hands on about 40,000 printed books) Instead, narrow it down to first editions, or every edition of the works of some author.

You have to cast a wide net when starting your collection. You need to start with common pieces that are low-value, but will build your collection’s foundation.

As you do your homework, you’ll come to identify those common pieces. Think of it like a pyramid - there has to be a foundation before you can move up into rarer pieces.

Do some research on what you’re collecting. No matter the item, it’s almost guaranteed there are fellow collectors out there. Talk to them and go and see them.

They will broaden your mind and give you more hints, tips and contacts. And now, your pyramid is beginning to build up. You are in the game – the most pleasant and challenging game in life.

But start slow. It’s tempting for many people who start a collection to jump in a little too far right. They spend a ton of money, end up with a ton of stuff, and ultimately run out of steam. The beauty of having a collection is that it should be something like “a career continuing through retirement”

Most important of all, learn the history and stories of your collection as much as you can, and you’ll have much more fun telling your friends, children and grandchildren about them.