Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Travel Continuum

Bonnie and I love traveling and meeting new people. Our lives consist of three stages along the travel continuum: 1) Planning our next trip, 2) Taking a trip, and 3) Biding our time until we can forecast having enough time and money saved up so we can start planning our next trip.

The third stage is the most difficult. Planning a trip is almost as much fun as taking a trip, and it lasts longer and costs less, so it can bring a lot of wanderlust satisfaction. But that in-between stage, when we are in no position to do more than thumb through atlases and travel books and sigh wistfully, often seems interminable. We sometimes get the urge to go buy a new suitcase or travel gadget, just to feel some of the residual effects of the travel-related expenditure. We usually are able to resist these urges; I want a day pack that is designed to accommodate a laptop computer and I nearly purchased one a few months ago, but I wisely decided to wait until our next actual trip planning phase arrives.

Sometimes serendipity has its way of providing you with opportunity and delight you hadn't seen coming. In an effort to do something related to travel - something that cost nothing and that would have the only immediate benefit of its immediate engagement of my interest - I signed up with The Hospitality Club. The Hospitality Club is an online organization with thousands of members world wide. The mission of the club is very simple; members provide hospitality to, or are provided hospitality by, fellow members. I joined simply because Bonnie and I love to meet locals in the places we travel, and because one of the central precepts to this club is free accommodation.

I signed us up several months ago. It takes a few weeks after you sign up to become a member (there is some vetting process, presumably in an attempt to weed out the scammers and spammers). After becoming a member I filled out our profile. I provided information such as the fact that we own a cat, permitted smoking only outside, and preferred six week's notice in advance of requesting accommodation at our house. Of course I was really thinking of our accommodation at other member's homes, more than offering our home up, at the time.

And that's when serendipity hit. About a month ago we received a request from another member. She apologized for not providing 6 weeks' notice and then said she would be traveling from California, where she lived, through our area around New Year's, and could we accommodate them. I saw this email briefly as I was leaving work one day, and forgot all about it until about a week later. After quick discussion with Bonnie I responded to the request (the initial contacts, both ways, are facilitated by The Hospitality Club to retain your relative anonymity until you choose to contact each other directly). We sent emails back and forth. Their plans changed and gelled, and eventually five young people showed up on our doorstep this past Thursday evening.

And I have to tell you; they are some of the nicest young people I have ever met. They are all educated (one just passed his bar exams), well-spoken, progressive professionals. They were courteous and respectful; not just with us, but with each other as well. They invited us out to dinner last night and we all enjoyed the local cuisine and chatted about things important and trivial.

Two are teachers of developmentally challenged children, one is a worksite organizer for her local union. The guy who just passed the bar has aspirations of public defense. In other words, they are all very socially responsible young people. And that really gives me hope, because they are also all clearly highly intelligent and could easily make their way quickly up corporate ladders, but have instead chosen lives that enrich society.

We bade them goodbye early this morning. Each of them hugged us and asked us to please visit them when we were out their way. It was a wonderful, if short, experience and one we both want again.

So serendipitously, while setting ourselves up for future travel arrangements, we ran into a fourth stage of the travel continuum; hosting other travelers. We will do this again, and again. And you can be sure we will be every bit as courteous when we eventually visit the homes of fellow club members.

1 comment:

Beth said...

WOW - what a nice story and what nice people you and your wife are. I wish I had you as neighbors! :) Anway, nice story - I could never do such a think. I would never feel comfortable in a strangers home nor would I feel comfortable having them in mine. I admire those who can do it. I'm just not wired that way. My wiring is to distrust folks - for reasons which you know too well. I wish I could be more like you in that regard. I think I need a partner who would push me more in that direction. My ex SO was and still is an organizer and very people oriented. He made new best friends every day. I am so NON relational. He was everything I am not. HAHA the word verification for this post is naucus...the phonetic spelling of nauseous.