As a 70-something solo female traveler, Deborah Graves challenges preconceptions and stereotypes regularly. To top it off, she is certainly not your average leisure traveler taking the occasional vacation to familiar places. Deborah has visited all 7 continents and each of the 50 U.S. states, and she’s an accomplished SCUBA diver. She travels the world on land and underwater to see more of this planet than many people have ever dreamed of seeing.

She is an inspiration and offers endless motivation to get out there and challenge ourselves. I dare you to not feel energized and ready to travel after hearing her story!

Getting Scuba Certified After a Big Life Change

It was March of 2002 when Deborah first learned how to SCUBA dive. She had been interested in diving for quite some time, but it took a major life change to push her to take the plunge. “My mother had just passed away,” she explains. Her mother’s neighbor suggested that she take some private diving lessons. “At the time, I wanted some adventure and excitement in my life, so I decided to give it a try.”

That inexplicable, intrinsic need for adventure is one that many of us in the Wanderful community feel! Once Deborah got started blowing bubbles, she never slowed down.

She got certified as a SCUBA diver in Laguna Beach, California, and followed that up with her Advanced Open Water Diver certification in 2004. “I went on a night dive that was quite challenging while working on my Advanced Diving certificate,” she says. “And, as if night diving wasn’t challenging enough, it was in the middle of a kelp forest. Divers were getting all tangled up in it and lost from their partners, which certainly made it interesting. Despite the challenges, I was hooked.”

With that spirit of adventure and innate need to challenge herself, Deborah joined the Burbank Dive Club to be part of a community of divers and travelers.

Deborah Graves in Roatan Honduras on a dive boat in full scuba gear
Deborah Graves in Roatan, Honduras

“In 2005 I reached my goal of going scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands,” Deborah says. “The dive club I was a part of sent out a newsletter advertising a trip to the Galapagos with Aggressor Adventures, which is when I first got introduced to that travel brand. Galapagos was the first big dive trip of mine outside of the United States and, since it is a notoriously hard diving site, I certainly kept up my streak of tackling difficult circumstances head-on!”

Raise a Daughter Who Travels

Learning the importance of travel at such a young age spurred me to want to keep doing it for the rest of my life!

When I ask Deborah what drives her to travel so much and so far, she proves just how much travel is a part of her very essence.

“I was raised traveling,” she says. “The best way for my family to travel was in a Volkswagen bus that my Dad had taken the seats out of the back to make room for a double bed of sorts. Back then, wearing seatbelts wasn’t really enforced. He pulled a little trailer behind the VW bus that had a little kitchen and extra space for us to use as well.”

“There were four of us,” she continues, “I had two brothers and a sister. We didn’t care to eat out at restaurants much, so we’d cook everything that we needed, oftentimes above a campfire. We saw pretty much the whole United States in the VW van, not counting Alaska or Hawaii.”

While the past year has kept us all closer to home, Deborah’s upbringing proves that there are plenty of adventures to be had without ever needing to board a plane.

Read next: Road trip tips to get out there as a solo traveler!

“We mainly stayed in state parks and national parks,” she says. “We loved visiting the state capitals and museums to learn as much as we could about the history of our country. We didn’t do the typical family trips of going to Disney World, especially since all six of my family members would be quite expensive to get into Disney. We’d just pile into the van and travel around the States. Learning the importance of travel at such a young age spurred me to want to keep doing it for the rest of my life!”

Deborah’s love of travel continued as she spent a year in Antwerp, Belgium, on a study abroad program in college. “All of us in the program traveled while we were there,” she says. “We toured through Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, Monaco, Germany, and a few other countries.”

Deborah earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Organ Performance. She is an accomplished organist and continues to play to this day.

Deborah Graves at the American Guild of Organists
Deborah Graves at the American Guild of Organists

Since her early days in the back of a VW van, Deborah has journeyed far and wide. “Throughout my life,” she says, “I’ve traveled to all seven continents and visited the seven wonders of the world!”

If ever a woman could inspire you to get up and go travel, no matter how far or by what means, it surely must be Deborah.

Solo Travel Offers Unique Opportunities

“Typically, I enjoy traveling alone in a varied group of people,” Deborah says of her preferred style of travel. “I really like hearing about fellow travelers’ different backgrounds and all the diverse interests that they have. These kinds of interactions put a lot into perspective for me, especially when their interests are different than mine! You really do learn a lot when you really listen to what others have to say.”

For those who are looking to do some diving while traveling solo, Deborah sings the praises of Aggressor Adventures. “Traveling with the Aggressor fleet is the best I’ve experienced,” she offers. “The other guests are friendly and welcoming, and the service is fabulous! The staff is very educated in what they do, so you’ll always feel secure during your dives and on the boat.”

Deborah Graves in Antarctica
Deborah Graves in Antarctica

Read next: Antarctica Travel Guide for Your Trip-of-a-Lifetime

Deborah’s love of travel knows no bounds. “In addition to going on international dive trips, I’ve traveled to all 50 states in the USA and I do a lot of camping in my Roadtrek — a 19-foot van conversion RV,” she explains. “I love to go on zip-lining and white-water rafting excursions when I get the chance, as well as travel to historical sites to soak up as much knowledge as I can.”

As if all those places and sites weren’t enough, she makes it a point to talk about the incredible wildlife she’s seen during her adventures. “When diving in the Galapagos, the group I was in got to swim alongside a group of Whale Sharks for a long period of time,” she gushes. “In case you didn’t know, these creatures are absolutely giant, yet move slowly and gracefully through the water. We also saw hundreds of Hammerhead sharks swim right by us as we would hang onto the reefs about 60-100 feet underwater. Not to mention, I also saw my first seahorse while diving in the Galapagos!”

Rather than being blasé about her depth and breadth of global travels, she is still in awe and has countless stories to tell. There is something so contagious about a woman who expresses such joy and wonder about the world around her!

Memorable Scuba Diving Experiences Around the World

I ask Deborah where she’s traveled to specifically for diving adventures. As a diver myself, I’m always curious about where others have been and what the conditions were like.

But while my diving experiences have been extraordinary, Deborah’s list makes me realize how much more there is to see. She’s been to the Galapagos, Turks & Caicos, Hawaii, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Maldives, Palau, Indonesia, Honduras, Red Sea, Bahamas, Cocos Island, and Oman.

But who’s counting, right?

“One of my favorite trips was the Red Sea Aggressor Liveaboard dive trip I went on in 2016,” she tells me. “At that time, tourism was extremely low in Egypt… but how could I travel all the way to Egypt and not go visit the pyramids?! So, I spoke with the team to arrange for a private tour guide and hotel room that faced the pyramids. I spent three nights in Giza and wandered around touring the pyramids, which was a truly surreal experience. Honestly, I could not believe the amount of history I got to witness with my own eyes. Trying to take in the hundreds of years of humanity, as well as the structures that were built so long ago, was a dreamlike experience.”

She adds, “Also, oddly enough, the pyramids are not as smooth as they seem in pictures! The closer you get, the more you see the huge, irregular steps that lead to the top, with small, sporadic openings to the interior.”

Deborah’s stories are always shared with enthusiasm and wonder. To maintain that sense of awe after having seen so much and done so many activities is a reflection of her true sense of adventure.

She tells me about another special dive trip she took with — again — sheer joy and excitement! “I became a part of the Aggressor Seven Seas Club, which is a VIP membership for guests who have traveled with them to seven of the nine seas. I got to dive with Wayne Brown, Aggressor’s CEO! I remember on my last dive of the trip, the ocean walls were lined with colorful coral, housing more clownfish than I could even count and as we were swimming up to the top of the water, we saw a bunch of oceanic sharks skimming the surface of the sea,” she says. “I’m not sure if you know anything about oceanic sharks, but they swim around cleaning the surface of the ocean, which was an experience to see.”

Any woman who loves sharks is absolutely a friend of mine.

Deborah Graves in Sydney, Australia with the Sydney Opera House in the background
Deborah Graves in Sydney, Australia

Deborah’s Advice for Solo Travelers

With so many years of traveling around the entire world — both by land and underwater — Deborah has accumulated ample experience worthy of sharing. She has some helpful tips for other travelers as they get started with their own life adventures.

1. Do your research

“It is crucial that you take the time to genuinely learn everything you can about a culture you are visiting and the area you will be staying in,” says Deborah. “I always am eager to explore a country a few days before I take off on a liveaboard adventure and I’ll make a list of things I want to see and places I want to visit so I have a guideline for what I want to do.”

Doing the research allows you to really take advantage of this exceptional experience in this unique place. “It gets really easy to get lost in all the commotion and lose track of what you really want to do in a country when traveling, unless you have your thoughts organized and clear goals,” Deborah says. “Also, take opportunities and don’t be fearful, so long as it’s well thought out.”

2. Be open-minded

“Another piece of advice would be to be open-minded when socializing and communicating with others, especially if you’re going to start traveling on your own,” Deborah offers. “Don’t be afraid to be friendly and engage in conversation with others. Also, be sure to not judge others too quickly and, of all things, be a good listener! Asking others questions, listening, and being open-minded is key.”

Deborah Graves at the Great Wall of China
Deborah Graves at the Great Wall of China

3. Feeling Nervous is Normal!

“I’ve been traveling for as long as I can remember, but when I started taking on traveling alone, I’d get nervous about a week before the trip,” Deborah admits. “Until I got going, whether it was in my RV, on a flight, or in the car: as soon as I started my journey, the nervous feeling just washed away. I recently just realized that the only thing I was nervous about was the feeling of being afraid, so I learned to get over that nervous feeling.”

She continues, “Women that are new to traveling or diving should have confidence in their decisions along the way, so long as they are making smart ones and sticking to their intuition. Like Franklin Roosevelt once said, ‘There is nothing to fear except fear itself!’

Speaking about her own travels, Deborah says, “There is too much in life to experience to be scared of what will happen if you try to go and experience it. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and trust in your intuition!”

Related: Read these stories of other Women to Watch in travel

4. Learn about local life

“Above all, do what the locals do!” Deborah says. “Becoming ingrained in the culture and learning more about the people who live in different parts of the world are some of the biggest gifts that traveling can offer! Take the time to see how the rest of the world lives.”

As a woman who often travels solo, who loves SCUBA diving, and who aspires to see so much more of this world, Deborah Graves easily became an incredibly inspiring woman for me. I hope she also encourages you to get out there and see the whole world — on land and underwater!

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