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The wanderer

Northeast native Robert Mellin has been traveling for decades and has taken multiple worldwide trips. He’s visited nearly 60 countries.

Robert Mellin is enjoying a parade somewhere in Peru when he notices the lack of pressure in his pocket.

Turning around, he makes eye contact with a man staring at him, and immediately knows this is the person who stole his wallet. The man throws the wallet to another man, and they attempt to hasten through the crowd with their plunder.

But the crowd doesn’t let them move. They’re densely packed and not willing to let two crooks get away.

The crowd helps Mellin march the two crooks to the courthouse. When they arrive, Mellin promptly punches them in the face to cheers from the crowd.

The story may sound exaggerated at first, but after spending a few hours talking to Mellin (who also goes by Rocky), no outlandish story would be surprising.

Since he was around the age of 40, Mellin has been traveling the world, experiencing stories such as this. He’s taken multiple worldwide trips, and has visited nearly 60 countries in his travels.

Now, he plans to take another. This summer, Mellin will visit Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in what is currently planned to be a three-month backpacking trip.

Oh yeah. He’s 87, by the way.

On the road again: This summer, Robert Mellin will visit Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in what is currently planned to be a three-month backpacking trip. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS

For someone of his age and experience, the only sign of wear and tear on him is his hearing — you might have to speak up a bit around him. He sports a grown-out beard halfway down his neck he takes pride in, based on its prominent feature in the painted self-portrait hanging in his living room.

“Does it look like me?” he asked.

He has an iPad packed to the brim with photos of his travels, though he prefers to print out photographs and attach them to a poster board.

Mellin is an economic traveler, but backpacking expenses can still run high. He created a GoFundMe to help support funds for the trip.

In return for donations, he will be sharing as much of the trip as possible via photos and maybe even watercolor paintings.

Mellin wasn’t always an avid traveler — he didn’t take his first trip until he was almost 40. He owned a furniture repair business and handled claims for a moving company.

“Maybe I was looking for something,” he said. “I wasn’t married, and my friends were telling me about their travels. There was nothing holding me back.”

So when he was around 40, he bought a one-way ticket to Europe, unsure how long he would be away.

He didn’t return to the United States for two years.

“There was no reason to come back,” he said.

The trip began with Mellin exploring Europe with the aid of Europe on 5 Dollars A Day. The guide tipped off travelers to bargains such as $2-a-night lodging and 42 cents for roast veal dinners. (Such a trip would be impossible now — $5 had the same buying power of $41.59 in 1957, when the book was first published, and copies of the book now go for upward of $70).

Once he exhausted the book, Mellin’s travels eventually took him through the Middle East (he spent seven weeks in Israel) and down through Indian countries — the farthest east he’s ever been. He then traveled up Africa’s east coast until he got back to Europe.

“I went maybe a year away from civilization,” he said.

Once he got back to the States, the traveling bug never left him. It was a matter of months until he was back out exploring, this time South America.

“Philly ain’t a bad place,” he said. “But I gotta get out.”

Mellin currently lives in Center City, though for how long is anyone’s guess.

His travels have taken him to Venezuela the day former president Hugo Chávez was elected (“lots of celebrating, but with a nervous undercurrent”) and Sikkim, India, where the queen was from Bryn Mawr.

“I’ve been thinking about it lately and it boils down to this,” he said. “This old guy, me, going weird, exotic places all by himself with a backpack.”

Here’s to many more trips. ••

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