Everyone travels for a different reason. Some people have to travel for their job, others want to explore the wonders of the world, and others just want to find a secluded place to relax. Whatever your reason(s) may be, I suggest you build some time into your trips to make personal connections with people you care about. Sharon and I make time to visit with friends or family during our trips and when I started thinking more about it, I realized this was not a new thing for us, but it has been a part of the way we travel for a while now.
You might wonder why we take time out to do this when the amount of time we have to travel to any place is already limited. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. You’ll remember the time you spend with friends and family more than the time you spend at a museum or going to a nice dinner. Personal connections make us who we are and they are the thread that weaves throughout our lives. By taking time out of your vacation, you are also telling the people you are meeting they are important to you and that goes a long way to keeping a friendship/familial bond together. So if you have loved ones that you haven’t seen in a long time and they live near where you’ll be visiting, do yourself a favor and try to spend some time with them. It’s more fulfilling that sitting on a beach by yourself.
The way we’ve managed to get plans in place has changed significantly over the years. Back in 1994, when Sharon went to Japan, she met with a fellow Monkees fan from Yokohama who she had become friends with after meeting her at a Monkees Convention in the U.S. It was only the 90s, so the entire plan was set up by sending letters back and forth (how quaint!). Sharon was even invited to stay over her friend’s house, which is a huge honor in Japanese culture (the next morning is when her friend Kyoko told Sharon that Richard Nixon had died…while Sharon was on vacation).
Shortly thereafter, home computers and Bulletin Board Services (BBS) allowed people to stay in contact much more easily. It was also possible to get together a large group of friends from all over the country, and even the world. These get togethers would be the next way that we traveled to meet friends. We attended several of these gatherings of 100+ friends at Walt Disney World that consisted of us going around the parks, having group dinners and just getting to know each other IRL. It was at one of these events that I met Sharon, in person, for the first time :-).
Meeting friends also lets you experience an area in a way you would never get to do as a tourist. One of our most complicated meet ups was, again, in Japan. I was introduced to a friend of a friend who was visiting the United States from Japan for a few months and I mentioned to him that I would be visiting Tokyo later that year. Before he returned to Japan, he gave me a phone number to call when we got to Japan and we would try and arrange a time to meet. I was able to contact him on the phone, but the number belonged to a family member who did not speak English and the conversation consisted with me saying, “Hello, I’m from America. Do you know this person?” It worked. My friend Hiro took an entire day to show us around Tokyo, including going to the shopping mall that looked like Caesars Palace. We asked if we could see a toy store and he brought us to the Toys ‘R Us (which was actually much more enjoyable to look around than you could ever imagine. Really, if you ever have an opportunity to go to a toy story in Japan, go!). We then got to see where he worked and we spent the rest of the evening eating and drinking at the local izakaya, where we were most likely some of the only Americans who have ever eaten there. It was really a fun time and we still talk about it.
So how has this changed today? One word, Facebook. With it, you’re much more likely connected to more of your friends than ever before…your best friend when you were growing up who moved away, the person who sat in front of you in high school Latin class, the co-worker who you got along with so well but then they went and got a better job. These are the people that you previously would have fallen out of touch with but I bet you’re still friends on Facebook and like each others’ posts. It’s just so much easier to keep in contact and reach out to these people.
Sharon and I have met with more friends in the last 5 years than ever would have been imaginable in the past, simply because it’s just so much easier to plan these things than before. One of the first thing we do after making travel plans is to think about who we know in the area and let them know we will be in town. It’s sort of a save the date message. We find out if they’re available or if they have a prior commitment (which is totally OK if they do, because we understand we’re on vacation and they’re not). If we’re traveling a far distance, we’ll hammer out plans in advance.
One such trip was, to now, the pinnacle of meeting friends while traveling. Over the years we have made several friends from all over the United Kingdom. They’ve made special trips to meet up with us when we are visiting London and we also try to meet them when they come to Orlando. However, one trip was different as we were going specifically to travel around England. We planned to stop in Eastbourne to meet with Pippa and Pete and then visit the Leeds area to meet with our singing friends, Pat and Caroline. It was a great trip of going around the country to meet up with people we knew and just spending time together. During our travels we got to eat at a local restaurant, visited a real local pub and we were invited to sit in on a choir practice with our singing friends since Sharon originally met Caroline and Pat when they were singing with different branches of the same choir many years ago.
We’ve also arranged to meet with several friends while traveling in the U.S. Since we’re both from the New York area, we try to meet with friends or family if we have time (some of those trips are real whirlwinds so it’s difficult). Sharon and I have had dinner with my best friend from college, I met with my uncle to go see a movie and Sharon visited the street where she grew up to chat with her former next-door neighbor. We’ve also had chance meetings with one of my best friends from high school and another friend that we spent time with on an Adventures by Disney vacation. Both of these meetings were due to us seeing them check in on Facebook at places right around the corner from where we were. Thirty minutes later and I’m talking with someone I haven’t seen for over twenty years. Pretty cool, huh?
We’ve also met some friends for the very first time when we were on vacation. You see, we shared many mutual friends with Sonny and his wife Sharon when they lived in the Orlando area but we just never seemed to meet up. Since they had recently moved to Los Angeles, it seemed as a good a time as any to finally meet in person when we were visiting L.A. last October. I messaged Sonny when we got to our hotel and it just fell into place that we all were hungry. Once we talked about how many restaurants there are in LA, he mentioned a good ramen place. I stopped him right there and said we were in. Half an hour later, we were sitting down eating some awesome food at Tatsu Ramen and wondering why we never managed to get together when they lived 3000 miles closer.
One of our most epic friend meet ups had to be when we got together with our friend Jimmy and his partner, David, when visiting San Francisco. Jimmy had moved from Orlando a few years before and we’d kept in touch through social media. We knew we had to try to meet when in were in his new hometown because, well, we missed him. At the time of our trip, we didn’t know that we had planned to meet with David and Jimmy on a day that there was a street fair going on in the Castro.
We spent the day walking around, watching some of the performers and getting some street fair food (and a really awesome plain cookie at Hot Cookie. Don’t be shocked by some of the cookie shapes, the shop is located in the Castro district). As the day progressed, we went to a karaoke place and Sharon even got up to sing (trust me this never happens – she’s fine with singing in a choir, but by herself in front of strangers without hours of practicing beforehand? Not so much). To close the day, we went to a local club to see a talent contest. Jimmy actually convinced Sharon to join him and do a little comedy song/skit as part of the contest. This is a testament to his wonderful personality as I don’t know anyone else who could ever convince her to do this. They did really well (and should have won IMHO) but fell just a little bit short. In all, we had a fabulous time and were so thankful for the two of them for being our guides for the day.
Now, our plans don’t always work out. We planned to meet with some other friends in England during one of our trips until one of them fell and broke her arm the day before we were to arrive. Another time Sharon tried to meet with the co-workers from her old job on Staten Island but it just didn’t fit into anyone’s schedule. Y’know what? That’s OK. We’ve had people try to meet up with us in Orlando during their vacations and we just couldn’t make it work, either. Keep trying.
So what have we gotten out of this whole thing? Just in writing this article, I’ve had a chance to relive some these memories and I feel fondly about all of them. Meeting with people has provided some of the most memorable moments of our travels. I can’t explain the feeling that taking the time to meet someone who you care about gives you. It makes all of the TSA hassles and Uber rides and hotel rooms worth it. I gotta say it one more time – take the time to make time and meet with someone you know on your next trip. It’s worth the effort.
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