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Professor emeritus Winifred Creamer retired and went globetrotting

March 29, 2021

If you haven’t heard from retired NIU Anthropology Professor Winifred Creamer in a few years, well, you’ve got some catching up to do.

Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer in front of a wall painting of a buddha in Mancora, Peru, 2018.

Creamer, an archaeologist, and her husband, Jonathan Haas, the former MacArthur curator of the Americas at the Field Museum in Chicago, retired more than five years ago. Instead of settling down, they sold their home in Wheaton and set off to see the world.

As Creamer puts it, they’re living life as “international nomads.” While the pandemic forced the couple to stay somewhat rooted this past year, it also gave them time to write and publish a new e-book on their adventures, “Two Suitcases: A Travelling Retirement.”

“I blog regularly about our travels, and we get a lot of questions about how we make it work,” Creamer says. “So we thought we’d write the book to share our experiences.”

Prior to the pandemic, Creamer and Haas had been traveling regularly for three seasons of the year, while wintering at their home in Peru, which they previously used as an archaeological research station. “I think we had a big advantage having a house in Peru,” Creamer says. “We could sell our house in Wheaton and still have a place to go in the winter.”

The list of countries they’ve visited is impressive. It includes Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, England, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scotland and Spain.

“We picked places we have wanted to see,” Creamer says. “Though we picked Norway because of a great house above the Arctic Circle. We had a really good time, but it’s different there. Because it’s remote, they have a distinct culture of independence. We were in the middle of nowhere and asked our landlord where we could buy fish. He pointed to two fishing poles in the garage.”

At Byron Bay, the easternmost point in Australia, 2019.

Each chapter of “Two Suitcases” shares how the couple makes a traveling retirement work, combining the details of budgeting, travel planning, and what life is like in new settings. The authors, who usually stay in one place for a month or more, also provide a glimpse into the ups and downs of driving in other countries. (It might make you want to take a taxi.) A chapter is devoted to Airbnb and similar platforms, showing how to read between the lines of listings and find the right rental.

“There actually are quite a few people who do traveling retirements on different levels,” Creamer says. “Some combine it with house sitting; others camp or use RVs. It is doable, if both partners agree.”

And the rewards can be great. Creamer and Haas have done more than their share of beachcombing, and they’ve even been invited for tea at an estate in Scotland. The avid birders have enjoyed watching cassowaries in Australia and visiting a parrot sanctuary in Bolivia, where they also caught breathtaking views on Mi Teleférico, the aerial cable car transit system serving the capital city of La Paz.

The couple’s three grown daughters often visit during their parents’ travels. But even when alone, the extended stays abroad allow time to make new friends. “I now have a good friend in Scotland, one in southern England and another in Australia,” Creamer says. “It’s fun.”

During the pandemic, the couple has limited their travels to the United States. They came back to their old haunts near Wheaton, while Jonathan rehabbed a shoulder injury, and discovered there was much to see there, too.

“We found all kinds of places to walk,” Creamer says. “We realized we lived in the same neighborhood for 24 years and had not seen all these great parks. The U.S. has everything that everywhere else has, but it’s home, so you tend to value it a little less than it deserves.”

The couple made their way west for a daughter’s wedding in California, and they are currently staying in Pacific Grove, near Monterey, “until further notice.” They hope to resume their international adventures in the post-pandemic era, at least for a couple years before truly settling down.

Cambodia, and the archaeological site of Angkor, are high on the bucket list.

“After the pandemic, nobody knows what’s going to happen to travel,” Creamer says. “Our story might end up being an archival piece, but I hope not. There is light on the horizon.”