Winging It Around the World
Since catching the travel bug at Loyola, retired banker Charles Kloch, '64, has visited 110 countries
July 23, 2012
As a fresh Loyola graduate in 1964, he embarked on an 18-month around-the-world trip that sent him to 45 countries before he turned 25. He has been stopped at gunpoint while crossing the Iron Curtain, slept in jails to keep travel expenses down, and toured Mexico aboard third-class buses that accepted chickens and pigs as passengers.
Yet Charles Kloch got his 15 minutes of fame for a much shorter journey.
It was a late-night trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and a 12-hour vigil on a sidewalk as Kloch waited for the National Aquarium to open its doors for the first time. Kloch, who arrived hours ahead of the other 8,000 people that queued up for the opening celebrations, became the Aquarium’s very first visitor. Media outlets interviewed him and Aquarium officials honored him with one of just three lifetime memberships. The other two went to Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and President Ronald Reagan.
Kloch recalls his famous vigil with a chuckle. “The wait gave me enough time to read a whole tour book about the part of Germany that we were getting ready to visit.”
A retired banker who met his wife on an American Express tour in Beijing, Kloch came by his passion for travel honestly. In the 1950s, his father often used his two-week vacation to take the family on excursions across the continent, such as a 7,000-mile trip to Acapulco and back.
“This was in 1955. There were no fast foods, so you sat down for every meal. There were no interstate highways, so you drove through every huge city and Podunk town. There were no credit cards, so you had to make sure you had enough cash. And the car was not air-conditioned.”
While a Loyola student majoring in economics and business, Kloch began spending summers traveling to Mexico. He learned that he could bus from Baltimore to Laredo, Texas, for just $60 and cut his accommodation costs by renting three pillows at 25 cents apiece, laying them end-to-end, and creating a makeshift bed in the back of the bus. During a three-week trip to Mexico, he would stop in a dozen American cities to tour major businesses. On one summer trip, he enrolled in courses in Spanish and Mexican history—and Loyola gave him credit for the classes.
Kloch quickly developed a raft of low-cost travel habits, such as asking jailers in small European towns if he could sleep in an empty cell for the night and eating on just $1 a day by taking advantage of thrifty opportunities, such as a discarded potato he found by an Irish roadside.
“I just winged it everywhere I went,” he said.
Sometimes that left him cold, hungry, and walking along Arctic roads with pieces of milk cartons lining his worn shoes.
Sometimes it made him the recipient of generosity or luck. Finnish drivers, he said, would not only eagerly pick up hitchhikers, but often take them home for a hot meal and night in a spare bed. A ticket agent, he remembered, once rectified the lack of a stand-by seat for him by putting him in first class. “It was an early morning flight and the steward comes over in his summer tux and says, ‘How would you like your breakfast steak?’ Here I was practically starving and I was being treated to this class act from Pan Am.”
Kloch, who has visited more than 110 countries including four he added this year—Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Cape Verde Islands—offers simple advice to other would-be travelers: “Start today. Don’t say, ‘I am going to travel when I retire.’ I have never said, ‘I can’t afford to go there.’ I decide where I want to go and then I worry about how I’m going to pay for it.”