Joy Ryan, 89, lived a humble life in Duncan Falls, Ohio, "a small two-traffic light town," said her grandson Brad Ryan. She had left the state before, but hadn't seen much when she did.

 Ryan told CBS News that every winter, his grandparents would travel from Ohio to Okatibbee Lake in Central Florida — meaning they'd drive through the middle of America and avoid the coasts. "I don't know why they never went to the coast. I asked her this, but I never found out," Ryan said.

Not only had Joy avoided seeing an ocean her whole life, Ryan said she never saw mountains or "sand dunes, a cactus a major river or pueblo ruins." That is, until he found a way to show her those things.

Ryan grew up in the same small town as his grandmother and hadn't traveled much either, until he went to college. He's now a wildlife vet at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

His first big trip in college was hiking the Appalachian trail. When he told Grandma Joy about the trip, she was astonished. "She told me at that time that she really, really regretted that she didn't get to do more of that type of thing and have more experiences in life."

Grandma Joy said she would've love going camping, and wished she had seen mountains — she doesn't even know what those look like, except what she's seen on TV, Ryan said.

"She was 85 years old, sitting in this tiny house, widowed for 20 years. Two of her three sons died in their 40s. She worked a minimum wage job until she was in her early 80s to make ends meet," Ryan said. "So, there was definitely no surplus of money for her to go and do these things."

He wanted to help his grandmother experience the world, but it wasn't until a tragedy happened that he was motivated to do so.

When Ryan was finishing up veterinary school, a classmate committed suicide, which devastated the whole university. However, it put things in perspective for him. "I thought, 'You know what, I need something to fill my cup right now. I want my grandma to have this experience.' So, we took a very impromptu three-day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park."

"During that trip, that's when I started to realize how unconventional it is for somebody in their 30s, a grandson, to be traveling around with their grandmother. We definitely stood out like sore thumbs everywhere we went," he said.