By Sharon Arkin
For the past seven years, I have shared a Road Scholar (aka Elderhostel) inter-generational experience with one or both of my grandsons, now 13 and 16 years old. Together, we marveled at the majesty of the Grand Canyon and cheered each other’s “high ropes” derringdo; wallowed in mud and studied sea critters at a Virginia marine science program, stepped back in time in Pompeii and enjoyed the wonders of ancient and modern Rome, and acquired sailing skills in
Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
In 2010, I had my first “unaccompanied” Road Scholar experiences – a seafood program in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and a horseback camping trip in the High Sierras.
Three of these memorable Road Scholar experiences were enriched by a series of add-on adventures that could be yours.
When in an unfamiliar part of the world for a brief period, it’s difficult to become acquainted and share in the daily lives of local residents. Wouldn’t it be nice to be invited for several days to be guests in the home of an individual or family that has actively sought visitors from other places, such as you?
Here’s how to find such welcoming hosts. Join Servas!
Servas is an international non-profit organization founded in 1948 by an American peace activist. Its purpose is to foster friendship among people by providing home hospitality to travelers and experiencing home hospitality from hosts who are members. The name Servas comes from the Esperanto word that means “to serve.”
Traveling members can obtain directories of host members in whatever cities or countries they plan to visit and may simply email or phone requests for hospitality from persons whose bios suggest common interests. It is NOT an imposition, as directories contain entries only of people who have specifically requested to be listed. One does not have to be a host to be a Servas traveler. However, one does have to complete an application, be interviewed and approved by a local Servas member, and pay an nominal annual fee. To be a U.S. host requires a separate application and a suggested donation.
Following are highlights of some of my post-Road Scholar Servas experiences. In 2005, my son and his family rented a house in Tuscany for the summer.
I arranged for my then 9 year old elder grandson to participate with me in (then) Elderhostel’s Rome/Sorrento inter-generational program before joining the rest of the family in Impruneta, a town outside Florence known for the manufacture of ceramic roof shingles. With my daughter-in-law and two grandsons, I enjoyed Servas hospitality inthe parish house of a young priest in Lucca and in the suburban home of a young married couple outside of Venice. On my own, I traveled with a Servas member I met in Florence to Verona and to her home town of Bolzano, where we stayed in the 4th story walk up apartment of her brother, caretaker of the town’s cathedral which his apartment overlooked.
In 2010, following my horseback camping trip in Bishop, California, I visited several Servas hosts in Nevada. One host family raised alpacas and chickens, in addition to their careers and active involvement with Reno’s Garden club and arts community. Another host couple introduced me to boogie boarding on Reno’s downtown whitewater park.
In 2011, in the week between a Road Scholar inter-generational sailing program at Linekin Bay Resort with my then 12 year old grandson and a bicycle trip with my then 15 year old grandson in Acadia National Park, I enjoyed Servas hospitality with four different Servas hosts in Maine.
First was Julie and Michael who live on a 300 acre farm in New Gloucester. Michael teachers therapeutic horseback riding and volunteers as an English teacher for African refugees and as substitute pastor for his church. Julie works for the University of Maine evaluating housing projects for the elderly. They raise bees and produce maple syrupon their property and have built 40 miles of marked hiking trails and a yurt (round tent-like structure) for the use of their community. They took me horseback riding, to their church on a day when Michael was preaching, to a dinner party at a neighbor’s home, and to the nearby Shaker village.
My next host was Jayme, a web designer, graphic designer, and marketing consultant from South Portland. She took me to Whole Foods, where we each bought our favorite delicacies, and then went to her favorite beach for an early evening picnic. We went to a great bakery the next morning, where we bought bagels and pastries for breakfast and I bought baked goods to bring to my next host. She then took me to a pre-arranged meeting place where my friend Nancy (a newly recruited Servas member) from a town near Boston picked me up and drove us to our next host, Will and Sarah from Bowdoinham and their two great sons, Tristan, 10, and Jonah, 8. They live on 7 acres in a 100+ year old house which they are slowly renovating. Sarah is a psychotherapist and Will, a former art teacher and furniture maker, currently works nights as a caregiver for developmentally disabled adults. Nancy and I spent the day after we arrived at a beach and at the nearby Bath Maritime Museum which displays all aspects of constructing the large wooden sailing schooners that were used in the late 1800s and early1900s to transport coal from mines in Pennsylvania. We also shopped for and prepared dinner for our hard-working hosts and their children.
Our final host was Jewell, a 79 year old widowed free lance writer, who took us to her family’s cabin on a beautiful lake. It was built in 1926 and had no indoor plumbing, telephone, or chlorinated water. (She laughingly pointed out that, nowadays, that doesn’t matter, as everyone has cell phones and drinks bottled water!)
There was an outhouse down a path with a terrific little book on display “Loo with a View”, illustrated with photos of
outhouses and toilets in some of the world’s most beautiful places! We went canoeing for several hours, thrilling to the
sight and sounds of a loon (which are found on lakes, not near salt water). We ate buffalo burgers for dinner,played Scrabble, admired the many antiques and old books that were around and slept on a deliciously cool screened porch.
The next day, Nancy drove me to the Road Scholar program at the Linekin Bay sailing resort and spent one day there before returning to Boston. My final Servas experience that summer was helping two Chinese students who worked at the resort become Servas members and find hosts in New York, Boston, and Washington for their post-summer job vacation before returning to China.
In addition to the above, I have experienced unforgettable Servas hospitality in Turkey, India, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Israel, Denmark,Vancouver, San Diego, Albuquerque, Manhattan, Prescott, Arizona, and several towns in Massachusetts. If you should ever attend one of Arizona’s Road Scholar programs, I hope you will budget time before or after to join the ranks of the many Servas travelers who have enriched my home.
For information about Servas and how to join, go to www.usservas.org. You’ll be glad you did!