Sun City’s Ed Williams has the secret to a long, happy life.

Ed Williams at home in his “China Room.”

If you asked Ed Williams to share his secret to a long, healthy, happy life, he’d probably sum it up in three words: Never stop learning.

Then he’d add a fourth: Travel.

Williams often cites the wisdom of Confucius, who lived to be 74 while his contemporaries all died around the age of 40.

“Confucius explained that in his enthusiasm for learning and travel, he often forgot to eat, and was unaware he was growing old.”

Williams says that many aging Americans, too, find that when they continue to learn and travel, “the clock slows down and their lives keep expanding.”

At 82, he’s one of them.

Early in his career as a college professor, Ed figured out a way to merge his two passions – education and travel – into a successful business called Travelearn. Through that business, he escorted more than 200 adult travelers on “learning vacations” to Kenya and East Africa, and more than 700 directors of continuing education on tours to Egypt, Morocco, the Galapagos Islands, East Africa, and China.

When asked about the difference between a “travel learner” and a tourist, Ed explains that travel learners want to understand a little more about the places and cultures they’re exploring. They want to go a bit deeper.

“We actually sent prospective travelers a reading list to help them prepare for the trip,” he says.

Ed got the travel bug early on, when he began collecting stamps as a young boy. His uncle gave him some stamps from foreign countries, and he became intrigued. Next came a subscription to National Geographic, and young Ed was hooked for life.

After graduating from Duke, he spent two years in Kenya on the recommendation of his African Politics professor, then went to grad school at Columbia, where he studied both Education and International Affairs.

“I’d been thinking of going into the foreign service,” he says, “but decided to become a college professor instead.”

Ed founded Travelearn early in his teaching career at Kean University, in Union NJ. He was teaching International Education, so it was almost a natural extension of his job.

He says the company was a bit like Elderhostel, but with a couple of essential differences.

“Elderhostel started in the early 70s. They used college dormitories in the US, and provided wonderful learning experiences, but it was only later that they began to take people abroad. And even then, they went to places like England and Scandinavia.

“It was always very important to me that Travelearn provide experiences in non-Western destinations. Places like Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, China. Also, while Elderhostel used dorms, we used upscale accommodations. We found that older people traveling in developing countries wanted their creature comforts.”

Eventually Ed and his son – his partner in the company – created a network of travel destinations all over the world. One of the most significant was China.

“Our first trip to China was in the 1980s,” he says. “I really wanted to get to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, because I wanted to connect his emphasis on education with the modern China that was emerging at the time. I wanted to make that connection in the minds of our travel learners.”

Ed often took his travelers off the beaten path. Though they’d visit places like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City – places first time visitors to China certainly wanted to see – he’d take them to places tourists wouldn’t normally visit, as well.

“We selected guides who truly understood China’s past and present,” he says. “They weren’t just ‘names and dates’ people. They were great storytellers. We made lifelong friends of some of our guides. Most of our travelers were struck by how curious and genuinely welcoming the Chinese people were. They were fascinated by Westerners.”

Eventually, Ed would visit China 17 times and become a sought-after lecturer on the subject.

“I developed this lecture called ‘China: The Sleeping Giant Wakes’ and I gave it all over the country,” he says. “I talked a lot about Confucius – his thoughts on learning, travel, and aging. It really struck a chord with the audiences I spoke to.”

On the 2,500th anniversary of Confucius’ birth, Ed was invited to a ceremony in the birthplace of Qufu, where he was honored as an ambassador of international and cultural understanding.

Eventually, Ed retired from teaching and closed Travelearn, and for the last 20-plus years, he has made the SC Lowcountry his part-time home.

But he never stopped traveling, and he never stopped teaching. For many years, he lectured and taught at

Ed Williams at Pat Conroy’s writing desk at the Pat Conroy Literary Center

USCB through their popular continuing education program, OLLI. He taught courses on China, Africa, and other Travelearn destinations.

And then, this Pat Conroy fan decided to make himself an expert on that subject, too, and began teaching an OLLI course on Conroy and his writings.

“I realized that Pat and I had a lot in common,” says Ed. “We were both college basketball players, for instance. And I went to Africa to teach after college, while Pat went to teach on Daufuskie.”

Ed so enjoyed learning and teaching about Pat Conroy, that when he finally gave up OLLI around 2017, he started serving as a docent at the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort. You can still catch him there most Saturdays.

“It’s just great interacting with the people who come to the Conroy Center,” he says. “They’re so eager to learn. And they come all over! A year ago, a couple comes in, I say, ‘Welcome… Where you guys from?’ ‘Norway,’ he says! ‘I’m a surgeon, she’s nurse. The Pat Conroy Center brought us here. I’ve read every book that Pat has written…”

Along with Confucius and Pat Conroy, Ed likes to quote Mark Twain, who famously said: “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness.”

“It’s so crucial to understanding,” Ed says. “Especially the kind of understanding sorely needed in our troubling times.”

“Life is short. The world is wide,” he continues. “Sometime has a way of becoming never. If you have an inclination to travel, do it now. Don’t wait.”

Ed believes traveling to Africa as a young man completely changed the trajectory of his life – a life that’s been happy, healthy, and long.

“Before that, I was highly competitive, very ambitious. I was completely changed by that trip,” he says. “I gained a respect for time, as opposed to money. I learned to value experiences over material things. I learned to slow down and smell the roses.”

At age 82, Ed Williams may be “slowing down,” but he’s not about to stop.

Listen to an interview with Ed Williams on the Harmony TALK podcast here.