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Want to go explore Iceland or journey to Japan? Head to Prague for a week of music and museum-hopping?

monks blowing conch shell horns in Sakata, Japan

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.]

Tracey and Shinobu melting in Tokyo's July heat About SERVAS
How it Works
My SERVAS Experience

First, a word about SERVAS: 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.

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 the house
  • 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 stays)
  • 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; telephone (212)267-0252.

My SERVAS Experience
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 years.

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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