Alumni “Flying Longhorns” travel the world

Eleni Theodoropoulos

School spirit may peak at football games with a rousing rendition of “The Eyes of Texas,” but groups of Longhorns have “hooked ‘em” everywhere from the Iguazu Falls in Argentina to the icy pole of Antarctica. 

Through Flying Longhorns, alumni can rejoin the UT community at any time to travel with fellow UT graduates. Started in 1961, the group organizes adventures on all seven continents and runs roughly 70 trips for 1,200 UT alumni annually. 

Shelly Norton, the Flying Longhorns’ director of travel, said the program is the largest and longest-running of its kind in the country. 

“Flying Longhorns connects people back to the University and strengthens their involvement with the UT community,” Norton said. “It brings a lot of happiness to a lot of people.”

The program organizes tours and activities suitable to each vacation. In the past, travelers have taken safaris in the Serengeti and traced the Strait of Magellan, where the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth took place in 1519. In many instances, travelers can also partake in more extreme activities such as kayaking and water rafting.

Married alumni Kelly and Carmela Frels, who have traveled with the group multiple times, said their Longhorn pride builds a natural camaraderie among other vacationers during travel.

“It really helps make the trip,” Kelly said. “You don’t know them, but you have UT in common, and it gives you a commonality without it being overbearing. In some cases, it even creates long-lasting friendships.”

With Flying Longhorns, the couple has traveled to Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Italy, Russia and Antarctica, as well as to cities within the United States. Once, on a safari, they saw a pride of lions, a group of hyenas and vultures fight over and feast on a Cape buffalo.

“We saw an entire cycle of life unfold in 48 hours,” Carmela said. “Suddenly, you’re in the cage, and they’re the onlookers.”

At the end of each travel day, the group swaps stories and photos from the day’s adventures over dinner and a glass of wine. Kelly said the diversity of the group ensures that travelers will get along.

“There’s always a variety of people,” Kelly said. “There’s always someone to relate to and there’s always someone who speaks the native language.”

Wherever they go, the Longhorns make sure to reach out to natives and other tourists, as well as to take photos with their horns up.

“People sense the friendliness,” Kelly said. “Maybe it’s the natural Texas inclination to be friendly, but whatever it is, it breaks down barriers.”