There are three types of people we usually meet when we travel. First of all, there are the locals. In our case, these are usually hotel and restaurant employees and bus drivers and taxi drivers. Oh, and vendors and retail clerks. And, of course, the tour guides.
We usually reach out to strike up a conversation with a local in order to understand a little more about how people live in their country. Lots of times we are surprised with their ethnicity. Lots of them aren’t locals at all. The receptionist at our hotel in Rome was from Romania. The market vendor in Madrid was from Peru. The hotel employees we conversed with recently in Auckland were from Iran, Chile, Samoa, South Africa and New Zealand. Our tour guide on Waiheke Island was from England. The Sydney shuttle driver was from Tonga and the hotel receptionist in Sydney was from France. Hey, it’s like going on an around-the-world trip!
The second group of people we usually meet on our travels are fellow tourists. We have been on extended tours, mostly cruises, where we met the same people every day but we usually prefer to travel on our own and choose one-day tours here and there every now and then. It’s easy to bond with fellow tourists who have the same interests you do. In our Wellington Lord of the Rings Tour we met a retired gentleman from Maine and a family of three from Sydney, all fans of the Tolkien trilogy that was filmed in New Zealand. There were nine of us on our Blue Mountains tour in Australia: a woman from Sao Paulo, Brazil; a retired geologist from Cologne, Germany; a threesome from Colorado; a couple from Tiburon in Marin County north of San Francisco, about 75 miles from our residence in Alameda County, east of San Francisco; and ourselves. All nine of us shared one major interest: the love of traveling — and we swapped stories all day. We also have enjoyed the chance meeting with other tourists in restaurants and hotels. We partied with an Australian couple at our hotel in Rome a couple of times and met an interesting couple from Ireland while dining one evening in Madrid.
Some of our trips are planned specifically to meet a third type of people: family members. Most of my immediate family live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I just have to drive over a bridge to get to their homes. But one sister moved to Alaska more than 30 years ago and so we travel there every few years. My wife is from Guam and she still has a sister and several nieces and nephews living there and so we usually visit them every few years, too. Last year we tried something different: taking our grandson along to visit family in Nevada and Texas. It worked out so well that we are going to do this again this year, flying to Colorado in a couple of weeks for a family wedding.
Some of our trips in the last few years are somewhat unusual in that we traveled to places we had never been before in order to meet family members that we had never met before. About 20 years ago I got interested in genealogy and soon began to compile a list of relatives that I had discovered while researching my family history. We didn’t have to travel far to meet some second cousins on my mother’s side, most of whom are still living in the neighborhood of Carson City, Nevada. We also met several cousins on my father’s side who were living in various parts of southern California. Then we traveled to Ireland in 2002 and met some more cousins and a couple of them have become close friends who have visited us twice and we went back to Ireland in 2009 to see them again. In my research I also found branches of my mother’s family who migrated to different places all over the world. One went to western New York in 1825 and we found one of his descendants in 2007. So we planned a trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto around meeting her. Other members of this family moved to New Zealand and Australia and we were fortunate in meeting some of them this year.
I also make good use of my photography hobby in our travels, usually coming home with more than 2000 photos from every trip. So I have found a way to combine my three major interests: travel, family history and photography. Here are a few pictures from some of our travels in the last ten years.
I treasure some of my travel photos and have produced a few books showing the best of them. We will always remember the great works of art we saw in Italy and Spain — even the ones we weren’t allowed to photograph. We also have lingering memories of some of the great food and wine we have come across during our travels. The gelato one warm day in Florence and the port wine during our last night in Lisbon come to mind. More recently, I remember that first cup of flat white that I ordered in a Devonport cafe on our first day in New Zealand. But I would have to say that without a doubt the best part of our travels is meeting people, whether they be locals, fellow tourists and/or family members.