Mar 16, 2020

People make travel special; Let's keep them in mind as we plan for the future

Maria in Ariano Irpino

In the little Southern Italian town of Ariano Irpino, our friends Maria and Dante have no heat or hot water. The reason: They warm their home by burning olive pits, and with strict Coronavirus restrictions in place in Italy, deliveries are prohibited.

"Thank God we have an old house where we have a hot water heater, so we can wash," Maria wrote when I checked in with her on Facebook.

Maria and Dante are two of the many special people Tom and I have met and connected with through our travels. They live near Greci, a town between Naples and Bari, where my grandfather was born. They've invited us to dinner at their home twice. In my kitchen is a ceramic pitcher made by a local potter,  a gift from Maria.

Rita and Pino in Greci
Living nearby are Rita and Pino. Rita, who spent time in Australia and speaks English, has  become the unofficial ambassador to Americans visiting Greci to explore their roots. They too have hosted us in their home, and spent hours showing us around, introducing us to the many people in Greci named "Pucci."

Letizia Mattiacci in Assisi

Further away, in the hills above the Northern Italian town of Assisi, Letizia Mattiacci runs a bed and breakfast and cooking school called Alla Madonna del Piatto. We met while I was working on stories for the Seattle Times. Tom and I visited, had a wonderful time and I wrote a little piece that helped her business take off. Since then, she's published a cookbook, is working on another, and has expanded her business in all sorts of creative ways. 

All's quiet there now. No guests. No students. Instead of teaching classes, she's posting pictures about what she's cooking for dinner, and inspiring her followers, such as the two 80+year-olds in the U.S., who wrote saying they made an excellent pasta puttanesca from her cookbook while staying in their apartment and avoiding crowds.

Yunnan village

In the town of Lijiang in China's Yunnan province, our friend Lily Zhang doesn't expect business for her ecotourism company to bounce back anytime soon. 

Lily arranged a memorable two-day excursion for us to a remote village that could be reached only by walking more than a mile down a steep hill. The locals harvested pumpkins which they stored in huge piles. We overnighted in a homestay Lily booked for us, and ate pumpkins for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

The good news for Lily is that Lijiang and the surrounding area were largely unaffected by the virus. That means she and others can go out again. She's been posting pictures of beautiful spring days, ideal for bike rides and hikes, but the reality is "all tours were cancelled," she wrote. And since Lijiang is a tourist town, "It's almost impossible for us to find another job to do."  

As I finish unraveling our immediate travel plans, and think about where we might go in the future, my thoughts go not only to places, but people. As we all plan ahead, it will be important  to focus on ways to support local entrepreneurs - here and abroad. 

Our own first forays will likely be local, partly because we want to help restart business here in the Northwest and because we live in a spectacular part of the country filled with natural beauty and vibrant towns and cities. 

Mexico City Greeter Oskar with a churro seller
The next time we travel abroad, I'll book a walk with a Global Greeter, such as young Oskar Sandoval with whom we spent a delightful afternoon last fall in Mexico City. I'll also be sure to book a dinner in a private home, remembering fondly the evening we spent in Cairo, Egypt with Reham and Ahmed Elnawasany, arranged by Urban Adventures. 

Our Cairo dinner hostess Reham

I'm not much on organized tours, but if I were to consider one, I'd pick a company that supports small businesses - hotels, restaurants, tour guides, and hosts such as Lily and Letizia.  Rick Steves had made a mission out of this with his dozens of European tours that emphasize local connections. He's suspended his trips for now, but when things change, I encourage you to look into the experiences he offers.

Letizia in Assisi writes often on her Facebook page about the need to support small businesses by booking directly with them rather than through a third-party booking site. I plan to redouble my efforts to do this, and encourage small inns and and bed and breakfasts to make direct booking as seamless as possible. 

There are so many ways we as travelers can support the people in the countries we visit. So let's all use this time not only to plan future travel, but to think hard about about ways we can help the locals, and at the same time, create some wonderful travel memories. 


  1. Carol, You nailed it with thoughts of people and not just places. As we walk through our Greek village and note how many friends here have just finally started coming up from the impacts of the economic crash and now have been sucker punched by the impact of coronavirus restrictions and closures. We too will be traveling locally one day again and doing our best to support the many mom-and-pop businesses struggling to survive.

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