My Life as a Traveler

A Different Perspective

In Amsterdam, touring the neighborhoods with Bram and Trudy Elsenaar, by motorboat, with dog.

Two weeks from yesterday Susie and I are going to be touching down in Naples. Not that I’m counting the days or anything. 🙂

So, what have I been doing to prepare for this journey?

Well, first, I start with the people.

Funny, in my rough draft of this post I wrote the word “itinerary” instead of the word “people.” I was going to write about airfares, tourist sights, and how to get from one place to another. However, since I walked the Camino last year, I realize that I have an entirely different perspective on travel now. Where before, the focus was on “what do you want to see?” now it’s on “who shall we meet?”

Frank, Suzanne, Leo, and Georgie, on a great walk through the park in Braunschweig. Radler!

Not that it’s so strange, I mean, many trips are aligned toward meeting up with people – visiting family members and friends out of the area. Often this is the starting point for many a vacation. For example, Susie and I decided to go to Switzerland a couple of years ago because we wanted to visit Jean-Pierre and Patrizia, who we met in Costa Rica two years before. That was a great trip and staying with them was truly unforgettable (in the best way!)

Here’s a lesson I learned a long time ago: it’s always a better trip if you can connect with people who live there. There are four corollaries to this:

  1. if you know someone in a city/country/area where you are visiting, even if you don’t know them well, let them know you are coming and see if you can at least meet up for dinner. My family has done this when George has had meetings in Germany. If we’re nearby (within 3 hours drive!) of Frank and Suzanne, who now live in Bonn, we arrive in Germany a day or two earlier or later than George’s meeting so we can connect with them. It’s always a great visit, not just for the adults, but they have two boys around Morgan’s age and he has a great time as well. Usually a visit like that is the best part of the trip – better than the cathedral visits and zoo excursions, which we also enjoy.
  2. If you don’t know anybody, ask your friends and family members if they know anybody. When George had a meeting in Trondheim, Norway, we connected with my friend Mary’s friends who live there. They invited us for dinner in their home and gave us a small sightseeing tour of their town. I didn’t know them before, I haven’t become friends with them since (hmmm… maybe I should see if they are on Facebook?), and don’t anticipate ever seeing them again. However, that visit was a highlight of the Norway trip. Speaking of Facebook, it’s a great tool for seeing if your friends know anybody who lives where you are going. Next time you’re planning a trip, throw it out there and see if anybody knows someone living in London, Montego Bay, or Beijing. Usually people are happy to at least meet up for dinner, although you might parlay that connection into a place to stay as well.
  3. If you don’t know anybody, or your friends don’t know anybody at your destination, try Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is not just for flopping on someone’s sofa for the night, you can also arrange meetings for coffee or drinks with someone with whom you have something in common. I recommend only arranging meetings with someone with lots of references, photos, a variety of information in their profile, and be sure to meet in a public, populated place. I’m looking forward to meeting with a couple of people in Ireland – we’re staying with one couple whose kids are in college and gone for the summer in Galway for one night, and I’m looking forward to coffee with Tricia, an artist in her 40’s in Dingle.
  4. Be open to all possibilities. While bored waiting for my Words With Friends opponents to make a move (love you guys!!!!), I started a new game with a random person, something I had never done before. Turns out that Nicky has 3 kids, is a killer WWF player, and lives close to Axebridge in Somerset, where we have reserved a cottage. We plan to meet at least for coffee – should be fun!

Meeting my marketing friend, Shawna Bowen in Sedona, with Mom.

So, for the Italian part of the trip, we are working around visits to Lucy in Naples and Amedeo in Bergamo. In Ireland, I will meet with some Couchsurfers, hopefully WWF Nicky, and, well, who knows who else? We’ll be staying in hostels some of the time, so we’ll definitely meet people there, and the other times, we are using Airbnb.com, where we stay in people’s apartments/cottages/condos where the people live nearby. More connections.

For me, this is a huge change in perspective. Normally, when traveling, it’s all been about the sights and experiences, either by myself or with my travel companions. Now, my experiences will include building relationships, even if it’s just a coffee date.

Mom makes friends wherever she goes!

Readers don’t worry, though, you will see pics of the spectacular Italian coastline, ancient Roman ruins, gorgeous castles, amazing art, and the good food that comes with being a tourist. But I’m hoping that these connections will add a bit more!

Friends from the Camino

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