Though Jay Washington ’72 would say he has not “officially” retired, he and his wife, Katrina Lyons, made a life changing decision in 2022 to leave the states and spend the next five years living and experiencing life in different countries and cultures. Previously, Jay worked in architectural planning, design, engineering, and construction for over 30 years, including 20 years as an in-house corporate architect for several Fortune 500 companies. In 2007, he opened his own firm, John Emerson Washington Architect.
Some of Jay’s interest in experiencing an array of cultures stems from his love of learning. He earned a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. He also completed coursework at the California College of the Arts, Harvard University, Ventura College and most recently at the University of Oxford where he studied the English Arts & Crafts movement in manor house and garden design. His latest coursework included learning how to weld at Otis Art Institute and voice lessons at LA Harbor College. Jay and Katrina lived in Southern California before their travels. The couple's blended family includes Jay’s children, Andrew (34) and Amanda (29), and Katrina’s children, Kristen (26) and Kyra (24).
Jay is still committed to returning to his roots in architecture after his journeys wind down, but for now, he is always thinking, “Where should we go next?”
Please read more about Jay’s global experiences as a veteran traveler in the Q and A below.
You and your wife have fulfilled a dream of many, to travel the world. What inspired you to move forward with this long-term adventure?
What inspired my wife and I to travel the world unencumbered with “stuff” was our desire to live in other places, to truly experience new and different people, foreign and exciting cultures, and idyllic natural and built environments. A mere vacation would not have afforded the depth we desired. We felt that the best way for us to travel was to “stay” as long-term as possible in foreign cities and regions. Economically and logistically, we realized that we had to sell our home, cars and get rid of most of our possessions. Last August we did just that and put our essential belongings and a few other miscellaneous items in a rental storage unit in Los Angeles. Since our four kids are grown up and out on their own, it made it an easier task. We grew tired of the responsibilities that came with home ownership and being tied to Southern California—a place that I’ve come to call home over the past 38 years. I’ve come to realize from an early age that I was happiest when wheels are turning beneath me. In addition, the availability of “homes” on such platforms as Airbnb and VRBO helps make our itinerant vagabond lifestyle as retirees more palatable. We became envious of how the internet and then Covid gave the younger generation freedom to live, work and play just about anywhere in the world so we thought, why not? As retirees, we're grateful to be able to do this "journey” without work getting in the way and fortunate to be in fairly good health.
Can you highlight a few of your favorite countries that you have visited and some of your best experiences in those countries?
Our most favorite “stays” and “excursions" were in Costa Del Sol, Spain, and South Africa. When it got too cold for us in Basque Country late last fall, we hopped a train to Malaga. Our “stay” in nearby Torremolinos, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea in the South of Spain, was absolute perfection. Since we’re beach people the sun and proximity to the sea was a good fit. It was truly amazing to wake up each morning and lie in bed watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean Sea. It was amazing and breathtaking. Coupled with the fact that the less crowded off-season enhanced our time there. The local shopkeepers greeted us like regulars and our favorite barista had Katrina’s Cafe de leche and pastry prepared as she approached his restaurant on the promenade. We met people from all over Europe either on holiday or permanently residing in Torremolinos. We also took several excursions from Torremolinos. Among them were day trips to Malaga, Ronda, and the Alhambra in Granada. Andalusia is so different from the rest of Spain mainly due to the influence of the Moors who invaded and dominated this region for many centuries.
Our long weekend excursion to Marrakech, Morocco over the Thanksgiving holiday was the biggest highlight. It was our first time in a Muslim city where we got used to being awakened at dawn each morning by the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer from the many minarets that dotted the city. The tasty foods enhanced by exotic spices, culture influenced by Islamic customs and practices, and crowded environment in the souks was so very different to us that it jolted our senses to the point of intoxication.
Our next stay was in South Africa. Our rental homes in Johannesburg and Cape Town for over three months were sort of unplanned and a very welcomed experience. One of my bucket list items is to attend the ten top jazz festivals in the world. I heard on one of the streaming jazz radio stations that the deejay was planning a trip to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on my birthday in March. As a result, we booked a flight to South Africa to attend it. Unfortunately, the festival was canceled but we had a wonderful time there. Our son, Andrew, was able to take his first trip abroad and visit with us. It’s a real treat to be able to share our global experiences with our kids. South Africa is such a beautiful country–pastoral countryside, amazing mountains, gorgeous coastlines, and nice warm and friendly people make a blissful setting. It was so good to experience the indigenous black people and other minorities who make up more than 92% of the population rejoice in no longer being under control of an apartheid government. It’s hard to believe that apartheid only ended less than 30 years ago. The industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit of the people, especially the younger generation, was awe-inspiring. They can realize their dreams unlike the bulk of the older generation who toil at menial jobs day-in and day-out. The disparity in income and wealth at times became unbearable to witness. It made us humble and appreciate what we have and the progress that has been made in the States.
The highlight of our experience in South Africa was going on a Buddhist writer’s retreat for a week in the enchanted Drakensberg (escarpment). My writing has improved dramatically from the experience of being in the stillness of the Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain. Also, our safari in Kruger National Park, driving along the coast of the Western Cape, and visits to historical museums and sites like Mandela’s home in Soweto were truly amazing.
Is there a country or region that you have not been to yet that you are eager to visit?
Yes, there are so many places I'd love to see and explore. Among the top choices are the rest of the African continent, Brazil/South America, and Southeast Asia. We’re going to Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia in September. A highlight of this trip will be hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We’re also hoping to find a place to settle after our “journey” is over and we’ve heard a lot of good things about Quito, Ecuador. Travel plans for next year include West Africa to visit countries where our ancestors may have originated and/or embarked from on the Middle Passage to the Americas. My bucket list of places to visit are any country in the African diaspora in general. I want to talk to people of African descent to gain insights about what their lives and experiences are like living in other countries besides the States as a result of the slave trade. I’m also interested in safeguarding underrepresented world cultural heritage sites. As an architect, I’m hoping to do more work in this area through my affiliation with the World Monuments Fund. I understand, for instance, that there’s a community of escaped slaves from Brazil in the mountains of Uruguay. I want to visit this community and learn how their African cultural heritage has basically stayed intact without Western influence for all these years. There are similar areas in Brazil like Bahia which is a fabulous blend of African, Amerindian, and European cultures that is also appealing to me. Brazil's capital, Brasilia, a planned city distinguished by its modern architecture chiefly designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is a futuristic city that I’ve dreamed of experiencing. Florianopolis, Brazil is also an option to see if it might be our future home. I also want to visit southeast Asia. Places like Thailand, Viet Nam, and Myanmar (not particularly now due to heightened civil unrest and armed conflict). Exploring the Buddhist religion in this area is a major influence for me. If this all sounds like “work" let me assure you it won’t be. I'm looking to tango with Katrina in a lively plaza in Buenos Aires, downhill ski in summer (here) in the Andes, and frolic with her in the surf and sand along the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar!
As a world traveler, what travel advice can you pass on to those who are interested in traveling abroad?
I’d advise anyone who wants to travel abroad to spend as much time as possible at a locale so that you can really get the feel of the people, place, and culture. Most countries have visitor visas that last three months. A work around is getting a student visit to extend a stay. I stayed in the UK prior to our “journey” by taking a course on English manor houses and gardens at Oxford. Katrina joined me after my course was over and we toured England, Wales, and Scotland at length. I also recommend trying not to visit as just a tourist. You’ll see and experience so much more. For me it’s also helpful to be socially conscious when traveling by having goals such as supporting indigenous peoples and causes. It makes it so much more worthwhile, and you come away with a sense of moving mankind forward. If one can have goals for traveling that helps as well. One can learn so much about history, better understand and appreciate others’ circumstances, and at the same time learn more about oneself.
One word of caution when traveling with a companion or significant other is to be open to sharing where you want to go. Mediation is key and it opens you up to experiencing something that you’d never considered. An experience that most likely will be welcomed and worth it. Also, if you have to de-couple, do so and go to places that you can’t agree to go to together. No hard feelings.
What are your fondest memories of Berkshire School?
My fondest memories of Berkshire are the lifelong friends that I made there. I think boarding school creates bonds between students that one typically does not find in high school. Oftentimes, lifelong friends come along during college years when most of us have come into our own as adults and are more relatable to each other. I also think that the isolation and remoteness at Berkshire fostered a certain kind of bond that is unbreakable. This accompanied by a beautiful natural setting and an exceptional education served me well. Blessed be the ties that bond!
You can follow Jay and his wife Katrina’s world journeys on Instagram below: