As we head into the busy holiday travel season, I’m reminded that Maya Angelou said it best, as she so often did: “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Feeling at home when traveling provides a sense of wrapping your surroundings around you like a cushy lounge chair. It’s all about replicating the sense of being at home when you’re not, when you’re miles and miles away.
That can be tough to accomplish when you’re in a vanilla hotel room that could, literally, be anywhere in the world.
We’ve found that temporary little touches can help … a pretty bowl of fruit in the summertime … a pumpkin at Thanksgiving … a small Christmas tree during the holidays … a throw pillow or two … an
inexpensive basket in which to collect the stuff that inevitably accumulates on every possible horizontal surface (at home or away, doggone it).
What really helps us feel at home while away, how-ever, is creating a sense of connectedness, of not being
a faceless transient. I’d much rather be “Kathe” than “Room 458” (or, in the hospital equivalent, being referred to as “the shoulder” or “the kidney stones”).
It’s not quantum physics. We often stay in the same hotel when revisiting someplace … because, at a groggy 3 a.m., there’s something to be said for knowing by instinct and muscle memory which door leads to the bathroom and which one takes you into the corridor.
When we find a hotel we like in a town we’ll visit more than once, we make notes. What’s our favorite room and why? Who’s that friendly breakfast server who always makes sure Husband Richard has his favorite coffee? And the desk clerk in Santa Cruz who got us back into our room when we’d lost our key, even though all our ID was firmly locked inside the room … and then gave us freshly baked cookies to soothe our ruffled souls?
Wherever we are, we always try to make connections, to make friends out of strangers, especially the people who spend their working days to ensure that our stay is pleasant.
When they care about us, we care about them and what will make their days a little better.
Yes, a tip is lovely (and required, as far as we’re concerned). But what’s so much better is a tip plus respect, a shared quip and intelligent, friendly conversation.
We show that we remember, appreciate and like them. We ask about their kids, their dog, their aging parents. Did their son graduate yet? Going to Harvard?!? Oh my.
(Yes, I cheat. I put their info into my Contacts list).
And sometimes, all it takes is being pleasant and polite.
Quest for prawns
We were driving up the coast of South Carolina, and I’d had a yen for days for a really good prawn cocktail. I’d ordered a few in restaurants, only to be disappointed. Again.
Desperate, we stopped at a bait-and-fish shop, of all places, and asked whether they had any cooked shrimp.
“Sure do,” the woman said. “Caught this morning, and just out of the steamer. They’re still in the shell.”
I asked whether there was a sink where the shrimp could be cleaned, as we were traveling in a van, and didn’t want to stink it up with shrimp shells.
She gave me “the look,” that disdainful stare that said this damn Yankee was going to try to con her into cleaning 2 pounds of shrimp.
Smiling, I reassured her that I just needed access to someplace where I could clean our lunch. Which I promptly proceeded to do.
Pretty soon, she was there beside me, helping me peel the crustaceans as we chatted about caterings we’d done and what was the biggest batch of shrimp that each of us had ever cleaned (300 pounds!).
And, oh my, our meal was luscious.
Connections. I felt right at home at that battered South Carolina sink, working away, talking to a friend I’ll probably never see again.
And that’s what makes travel special. Being at home with friends, wherever you are, for however long you’re there.