I know a lot of women who absolutely love the movie Under The Tuscan Sun.
And after watching it, I could see why they would fall in love with the place.
So of course I was very excited to take my first ever trip overseas to the Tuscany area of Italy in 2015. I was blessed to go with an incredible fellow traveler, Daphne Horvath who had been there before, so she knew where to go and how to get to many of its great sites. And as anyone who has ever been there will tell you, it is hard to adequately explain all the enchanting beauty, epic history, charming people, stunning art and tremendous flavors that are there to enjoy. So need-Les to say, the two week trip there was something I will never forget and will always cherish.
However, it wasn’t until I returned that I realized something about that trip.
I missed being welcomed by friendly faces.
You see, I have road tripped most of my life. I started hitchhiking around the US when I was a teenager and the main highway across the US was Route 66 – AKA the “Main Street of America”. When I got older and got a car that would actually make it across country, I made it a point of heading out as often as I could. Because for me there is nothing more thrilling to me than setting out on that open road at O Dark 30 to go see friends and family. And I always hoped and prayed that they were just as happy to see me as I was to see them.
When people learn that I was a guest in over 50 homes all across America, they typically ask me how I have come to know so many gracious hosts. The answer has three parts.
First, I have always thought that relationships were the real riches in life. So long before the internet made it relatively easy to connect, I would search out old friends and call them up to remind them of how much I valued them. To stay connected I would go out of my way to visit them while on the road or invite them to visit me wherever I was living. (I moved around so much that when someone asked my then-young daughter where our new place was and she said, “I’m not sure, but I think it’s called 'Now Leasing' ”.) I liked hosting people so much I often did my homework and had their favorite treats waiting for them on their guestroom bed. It was such a blast to watch their eyes light up and see their inner child on Christmas morning come out. And all of that was usually followed by guided tours of the cool places I thought they’d love experiencing, which was a bonus for me because they only time I seemed to get to them was when company came in town.
Secondly, when social media exploded on the scene, it made it easier to find old friends and make new ones. Since I’ve already talked about reconnecting with old friends above, here’s a couple of stories from this trip that illustrate how things happened with new friends.
I had just arrived at Eileen Mankin's home in Wilmington, North Carolina (link here). It was raining cats and dogs and we were sitting at her kitchen table eating the home baked pie she had made for my arrival. After a few minutes I worked up the nerve to ask her, “I am embarrassed to ask you this, but have we ever met before?” She laughed and said, “No. We have only met through Facebook.” Then she added, “And that’s the same way you met my daughter, Amy Shelton.” (That story here.) When I realized that she was right, that I met both of them online without so much as a phone call introduction, I realized that social media can actually be used to bring like minded people together.
I met Debbie Majerik on Facebook through some mutual friends. When I was looking for some advice, she was kind enough to pick up the phone and offer me some much appreciated wisdom. Since many people only call when they want something from you, her rare kindness stuck with me. So when I realized I would be driving past her town, I told her I’d like to buy her lunch. That conversation led to me staying with her and her son for two days and having a blast seeing amazing places (link here) and comparing life’s journeys.
Thirdly, I discovered there are a lot of people who are fellow travelers or those who appreciate travelers who will open their hearts and homes to make sojourners feel welcome. I learned this as soon as I published my blog and got invites to come visit from everywhere. And I did my best to say “Yes” to all those who were kind enough to invite me.
In closing, I realize that not everyone can – or would want to – travel this way for many reasons. However, I will tell you that there are a lot who do. In fact there are entire websites like Airbnb (for air mattress bed and breakfast) and Couch Surfing dedicated to helping people stay in people’s homes. I haven’t used these services yet, but I probably will when I travel outside the US. Why?...
Because nothing is more welcoming than being greeted by friendly faces.
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