As Montclair State University's first woman president, Susan A. Cole ’62 led the institution through two decades of impressive growth
The wanderlust that comes upon Frances (Fran) Abramowitz ’48 has taken her from the Andes mountains in Patagonia to the sidewalks of Barcelona. Abramowitz may divide her time between her homes in northern New Jersey and Boca Raton, Florida, but her heart belongs to travel.
With her husband, Larry Abramowitz, she trekked all around the United States on extensive road trips throughout their 35-year marriage, visiting every state in the continental U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico. But he had no interest in overseas travel. Since becoming a widow, Abramowitz has expanded her itinerary to include international destinations. Her son Mark is supportive of her explorations, and as Abramowitz says, he often asks, “Where are you going next?” He has even joined her on a few trips, to such far-off locales as the Galápagos, Tanzania, and India (his photographs are featured on these pages).
Abramowitz, a Manhattan native, attended the Nightingale-Bamford School before entering Barnard. She majored in history and went on to earn a master’s degree in American history, with a focus on colonial history, from Columbia.
She spent more than 40 years in publishing as a business and professional texts editor for Prentice-Hall, ultimately specializing in human relations and labor law. Abramowitz has also been a dedicated and active alumna volunteer. She served on the AABC’s Nominating Committee and has been her class correspondent for the past 20 years.
Fran most recently came back from Costa Rica and Panama with Road Scholar this winter, and though her busy travel schedule might be on hold for now, she’s looking forward to packing her bags for her next adventure.
What’s your philosophy of travel?
I don’t have one. I go to places that I’ve never been. I select the location rather than a theme. I have revisited the same countries but not the same places — like going to Portugal and Spain and then going to Madrid and other parts of Spain. I always go by myself [in groups], but after the first dinner, I’m never alone.
One of my favorite walkabout destinations is to check out the local grocery stores or, say, a fabric shop in France.
Do you have any advice for someone who has a travel bucket list but is afraid or unsure about booking a trip?
They should take hold of themselves. If you’re not going to do it next year, you’re not going to do it in five years. Don’t be fearful of going by yourself. You won’t be alone. You don’t need to go with another person. That can be limiting. Give yourself permission to do what you enjoy. Don’t do anything stupid.
What are your top destinations, and what makes them special?
It’s hard to answer. They’ve all been places I’ve wanted to see. I’ve enjoyed trips that have a cruise with a land component. I like Road Scholar [formerly ElderHostel]. Usually it’s groups of 20-40 people, with our own activities, who share the amenities of a small ship. Highlights were South Africa, with Johannesburg and Cape Town, where we sailed up the Indian Ocean to Durban and back to Cape Town. It was a fascinating and beautiful part of the world. In Spain, we sailed around the west coast of Portugal and the west coast of France, going upriver to Burgundy and its vineyards. One of my favorites was going from Brittany to the coast of England, and Falmouth, and London. That was very enjoyable. Next summer, I’ll go to Genoa along the Mediterranean and wind up in Barcelona, which is one of my favorite cities because of its architecture. I also like San Francisco, with its hills and the sea, although I don’t do mountain hiking anymore.
I’m also discovering South America. I had a wonderful trip to Patagonia, Chile, and Argentina. It was so beautiful. That’s where I’ve traveled now that I have the freedom to make my own arrangements.
How does Barnard inform your travels? Have you ever traveled with other alumnae or met any on your travels?
I was bold before Barnard had that in their motto. I’m interested in seeing a world outside my comfort zone. I carry a Barnard tote bag or something with Barnard on it, and people always ask, “What’s that?” It’s part of what I do. Or people come up to me when I’m sitting on the steps of the Met [Museum] eating a sandwich and say “Barnard!”
There were two Barnard alumnae on one of my trips. They noticed me because I had my Barnard notebook. We were two groups of 20 going to the same places in separate buses [on different tours]. We were at several meals and lectures together. There’s always a conversation if you went to Barnard, no matter what year or decade. I’m delighted when that happens.
Do you have an especially memorable story from your travels?
There was one that went off the program. Instead of landing at the airport, we landed two miles away because there was a threat of a bomb in the luggage. It was the middle of India, and we landed in a field. We went down the chutes — it’s important to keep your money and passport on your body when you’re traveling — and when we were off the plane, we ran like hell to the buses. We were contained in what serves as an airport lounge, an open shed with no air at high noon. We were there two hours until they loaded our luggage. That was my first trip to India, 15 years ago.
What is it like to travel now that you’re in your 90s?
People in the group come up and say, “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?” I tell them that’s my business. One time on the bus to the airport, I wanted to have some fun, so I got on the mike and told them how old I was. There were lots of gasps. I get that at Barnard, too, when I go to Reunion.
I get a good night’s sleep. I know I’m one of the older tourists, so I want to make sure I can keep up. I never want to be the last one on the trail. I’m at the head of the line. It’s a point
Fran’s Travel Tips
Food is very important. Even in our good hotels and vetted restaurants, I never eat raw salads, fresh fruits, or drinks with ice cubes. I choose beer, and wine’s okay. Only bottled water. Salads and fruits are okay in England, northern Europe, and Australia. I always bring snacks from home: baggies of dried apricots and walnuts, and a knife to peel an apple or pear. Make sure the knife goes in the checked luggage.
I like having my stuff. I never take anything that I can’t pack or carry myself. I take drip-dry shirts and tops. I always take a skirt in hot climates like India. My attire tends to be casual, although I have one indulgence outfit. I’m big on scarves, and take about 10. I mix and match. If it fits, it goes. I take one suitcase and one carry-on.
Never be late when the group bus is scheduled to depart. And actually watch them put your bag on the bus.