Sitting in a Quality Inn in Pasadena, California, drinking Fess Parker Chardonnay, watching Tony Bourdain on my iPad I relaize how fortunate I am. My gift in life is that I can talk, it drives some people nuts, but it has enabled me to travel the world, with someone else paying the tab. What I know is that the locals people have it right.
The Windsor Hotel in Melbourne is where the queen stays, I stayed there too. I have stayed at the Mandarin in Bangkok, and many other first class hotels. Yet, after 22 years on the road, it is the simple places I remember with the most fondness.
In South Africa people took me into their homes. I made a friend in Melbourne, that has been so special. My first night in London, at the hotel pub, a man went to his room and brought me back a pen with the Rolls Royce logo that I still use today.
One night in England, after landing at Gatwick, I took a train to South End on Sea. There was nothing nor was their anyone at the train station, and it was late in the afternoon, sunset was approaching. I walked in the direction that I thought was toward the inn I was staying at. (No GPS on cell phones in those days)
One advantage of cities in the West of the USA is that they are laid out in grids, not so in Europe. So the numbers and the streets were confusing as I pulled my roller along the uneven sidewalks. It was growing dark and I had not found the inn. A man on a bicycle stopped, I asked him if he knew the place I was looking for, unfortunately he did not. We parted and I walked on, in what I was to find was the wrong direction.
Some time later i heard a frantic bicycle bell ringing, it was the man I had met. He had found the inn I was to stay at and rode back some distance to give me directions. It was dark now, I was so grateful. I asked if I could do anything for him, he asked if I could send him a keychain from Seattle, I do hope he got it.
People like that man are what travel is all about. Not the resorts or cruise ships, but people from one part of the world connecting with people from another part of the world. I really am not thrilled to check some icon off my list, but am excited to talk with a local in that city.
Though I fear Rick Steves has commercialized “common travel” I must agree with him that the secret is to get out of the tourist mode and connect with the people; with their food, their wine, their culture. We are more alike than different.
So travel, talk, eat and drink, but do it always with the goal to understand the locals, wether a hundred miles or 5,000 miles from where you live.