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A woman aimed to visit 80 countries by 50 after a near-death experience. She did it — and then some.


A woman holds a piece of paper that says "76" on a cobblestone road wth colorful buildings in the background.Pamela Holt, pictured here in Warsaw, Poland, is a solo traveler who visited 80 countries by her 50th birthday.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

  • Pamela Holt lost her entertainment career after two car accidents.
  • Before having surgery, she promised that she’d visit 80 countries by her 50th if she lived.
  • More than two decades later, she’s done it. And now she shares her experiences with the world.

Pamela Holt, then 36, was on her way to a final callback for her first-ever Broadway tour when a car crashed into hers in 2005. She flew over her seatbelt, broke an arm, and slammed her head so hard against the windshield that the glass broke.

“I lost everything,” Holt, now 54, told Business Insider. “I went from performing 110 minutes worth of material weekly to not knowing my best friend’s name.”

For the next 30 days, Holt was asleep in the hospital. And when she woke up, life was all about remembering loved ones and getting through the everyday tasks with a brain injury.

“If I took a shower and washed my hair, that was like my big day,” she said.

A woman sings on a stage in a dark roomPamela Holt performs before her accident.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

Roughly five years after the crash, just as Holt was beginning to feel like herself again, she was stopped in traffic when a car going 40 miles an hour hit hers, causing a spinal injury that required surgery, she said.

“I hit rock bottom on that second accident,” Holt told BI. “I was finally getting on my feet again. And this just took me down.”

After a year and a half of searching for the issue and two MRIs, Holt said her doctor called her on a Thursday at 4 p.m. in 2013 to tell her she’d need to have surgery on the upcoming Monday.

“You need to spend the weekend getting your life in order because there are no guarantees,” Holt recalled him saying.

While shocked by the call, Holt said she had “the best weekend,” knowing it could be her last.

“All I wanted was to feel normal again and do what I loved despite being in pain,” she said.

That weekend, Holt wrote her will, went race-car driving, and came up with future travel plans if she survived the surgery.

“I called American Airlines, and I said, ‘I want to go backpacking in the Middle East in six months, but I don’t want pay for this in case I don’t live or I can’t walk,'” Holt told BI. “They said, ‘If you can say the word ‘yes’ when you wake up, we’ll press enter on your credit card.'”

Needing something to look forward to

A woman poses in front of pillars and a beachy mountain scenePamela Holt poses for a shot in Mexico.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

Without her health and career to hold onto, Holt said she felt like she had nothing left.

“When they were wheeling me in, I came up with the idea to hit my 80th country by my 50th birthday,” Holt said. “I made it a priority in my life. And it gave me purpose.”

Holt had enjoyed traveling to 50 countries before the accidents. So she had six years to squeeze in 30 more countries.

After a successful surgery, Holt woke up to her mom, who was already on the phone with American Airlines.

“Are you ready?” Holt recalls her mom saying.

After booking the trip, Holt told her doctors she planned to lug around a 40-pound backpack just half a year later. She said they gave her a shot before the trip to relieve the remaining pain.

“Six months later, I was backpacking in the Middle East,” she told BI.

Keeping the promise

A woman stands with her arms out on a trail overlooking mountains on a cloudy dayPamela Holt stands on Putucusi Peak overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

Holt’s 80-by-50 adventure began in the Middle East to see the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, a bucket-list trip for the mostly-recovered solo traveler.

“Walking on this path through the rock and all of a sudden coming out to see the Treasury at Petra — that was worth every moment, even the pain I was still in,” Holt said.

Over the next decade, Holt planned her trips around places she longed to explore. She spent her 40th birthday in South America to see Machu Picchu and thought, “If I’m already down in Peru, what can I add to it?”

She ended up walking the Salkantay Trail and wandering deep into the Amazon as well as the Galapagos.

One of her favorite destinations was Rome.

“It’s a traveler’s paradise because you have everything from cuisine to history, to friendly people, to constant discoveries,” Holt said. “You could go to Rome a hundred times and not see everything.”

In February 2020, she traveled to the Italian city with no agenda.

A woman stands in front of a renaissance buildingPamela Holt at Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

“I filled my days by going to all of the off-the-beaten-path experiences, like sitting at cafés, walking around the grocery store, and talking to people,” Holt said.

When visiting hot spots like ruins, Holt explored at her own pace.

“Instead of being in a tour group, I just sat and soaked up the essence of those places that people have walked on for thousands of years,” she said.

Some other standout destinations for Holt were Thailand, Vietnam, and Iceland.

Succeeding and sharing with other travelers

On the day she turned 50 in 2019, Holt landed in her 80th country — Bhutan — where she explored lush jungles and historic sites.

“Bhutan blew me away because it’s so picturesque and so untouched,” Holt said. “When I arrived, I had a view of Tiger’s Nest, a monastery built into the rocks. It was mind-boggling to me that somebody was able to build this monastery literally on a cliff in sheer rock.”

A white cake with blue text and a 50th Birthday napkin on a carboard boxPamela Holt’s 50th birthday cake in Bhutan.

Courtesy of Pamela Holt

Since meeting her goal, Holt has traveled to 12 more countries and territories. In 2023, she began hosting “Me, Myself & The World: The Art of Solo Travel” on Amazon Prime and GoTraveler, where she shares her wisdom and experiences with fellow travelers.

“The soul of travel was my saving grace when I had nothing, but my love has always been storytelling,” she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider