Want to go explore Iceland or journey to Japan? Head to
Prague for a week of music and museum-hopping?
How about coming with me on the ferry
to a folk festival in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland?
Or maybe you'd take a turn behind the
wheel of my trusty Toyota for a cross-country jaunt that covers the backwoods
of Montana and Glacier National Park, all the way down the Pacific Coast
highway, and back east through the stark glories of New Mexico and the
wheatfields of Kansas.
Good travelling companions are hard to come by--up
til now, I've done all these trips on my own.
[Why is there
a section on travel and on my journeys in a professional web site? What's
that got to do with anything?]
I believe that my journeys have genuinely
changed me and the way I see the world. That's why I've included this little
segment--and it gives me an opportunity to tell you about a marvelous organization
designed for people who enjoy traveling, connecting with other people and
learning about foreign cultures, but who may not have pots of money to
subsidize a world tour.
[Find out more
more about me and what I might be like as a travel companion by going
back to the home page and clicking on my photograph.]
First, a word about
Perhaps best described as
an international friendship organization, SERVAS was founded by a couple
of Quakers right after World War II. Its premise is simple: in order to
work toward world peace, we must first build friendships among individuals.
Today, with hosts in more than 130
countries, SERVAS is a global program with more than 14,000 hosts and
thousands of travelers. As the U.S. guidebook introduction says, "Travelers
who make the effort to slow down and get off the beaten path, who try
to understand the communities they visit on a deeper level, can have an
experience that will change their view of life."
(Or, as Mark Twain succinctly stated,
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness.")
Here's how SERVAS works: You
interview with a local coordinator, get recommendations from a couple
of folks you know through work or the community (they want to make sure
you're not an ax murderer, after all), and then ask for the lists of hosts
in the countries you're traveling to.
My SERVAS Experience
The booklet of host lists tells you:
- what they do for a living
(mostly professionals, with lots of teachers and architects and
lawyers and quite a few creative types)
- how old they are (and the
kids' ages, too, if they have any)
- what organizations they belong
to (in the U.S., everything from peace organizations and Habitat
for Humanity to the AMA and PTA)
- where they've traveled and
what languages they speak
- how many cats and dogs in
- what the accommodation's like
(sometimes a sleeping bag is advisable)
- how many days you can stay
(the general rule is two, though some folks offer extended
- how much advance notice you
need to give them (it can range from two weeks to none at all)
Warning: SERVAS will change the
way you travel forever! Check out the details: U.S. SERVAS, 11 John
Street, Room 407, New York, NY 10038-4009;
My first SERVAS experience
was in 1989, back when I was living in Washington, D.C., and quit my senior
writer position at the American Association of Museums to spend four months
traveling in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England and France. Staying with
SERVAS families made the trip a wonderful experience: I trekked in five
miles to a remote community of crofters in the Scottish Highlands where
I stayed with a Hungarian emigre and his family; enjoyed all that Paris
has to offer as I made friends with a woman my age who is an architect
(now married with two kids--we continue to correspond); I stayed with a
Welsh miner's family in government-sponsored housing and learned more about
the unromantic side of that green-valed country. When I first toured the
States on my own, I found occasion to stay with SERVAS families in several
states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota when I took a road trip following
the Mississippi River.
Other trips throughout the past few
years to places like Czech Republic and Japan were highlighted by SERVAS
visits; I sing the praises of the organization as I describe to folks what
a marvelous vehicle it is for making friends and seeing new places.
Especially in places where language is a barrier to genuine communication,
seeking out SERVAS members has resulted in marvelous experiences.
But even before I discovered SERVAS,
I'd always enjoyed long road trips: after the classic cross-country journey
I made with a friend after I graduated from Oberlin, I explored much of
French Canada on my own, up past Montreal and Quebec to circle the Gaspe
Peninsula and on to Nova Scotia and P.E.I. I have followed the southeastern
coastline down through the Florida Keys; on the west coast I have been
up through British Columbia past Vancouver and, on separate trips, covered
all of Highway 1 down into Baja Mexico.
In grad school, my first spring-break
trip pointed me toward Amsterdam, by way of Reykjavik, Iceland, a place
that'd always intrigued me. An internship out in Seattle provided an
excuse for yet another wonderful cross-country adventure, this time
across Canada, down the Pacific Coast again, and back along the Southern
route. (See Letter to a Friend,
in WORDS for a chatty summary of my trip.) And last month, I finally
made it down to Louisiana for the first time, enjoying the best New
Orleans has to offer in the way of music and food.
Maybe later this year I can get to
Sweden, where I have a friend who plays horn in the orchestra in Gayle.
And I hope to make visits to mainland China and Greece in the next few
My house here in Ithaca is open to
fellow travelers, and is becoming a place for musicians to stay as they
pass through on their road trips from venue to venue. Whether on the road
or here in Ithaca, I find that meeting folks who share some similar values
and interests but hold different beliefs and world views makes for always-interesting
interchange. I won't wax eloquent about how my travels relate to the higher
purpose of SERVAS: it just makes sense that by listening to others and
seeing how they live, by fostering friendships among individuals, that
we are working toward world peace.
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