Finding Friends Along the Way — Servas Opens A Door

So you’re ready to take off and explore the world, and it’s thrilling, but a bit daunting too. Will you get lonely out there, traveling on your own? And even if you meet great friends in hostels and on trains, what about meeting actual people who live in the places you visit? Having that kind of experience, going into peoples’ homes, meeting their friends and families, tuning in to their view of the world, that’s a big part of getting to know a place, but it’s not so easy to do.

servaslogo.jpgSo Servas International was created to make it easy for those encounters to happen. Servas is a nonprofit group that started over 50 years ago, with a vision of helping to foster world peace one person at a time. It’s a worldwide network of over 13,000 hosts and travellers working to build new knowledge, insight and tolerance. “A peace movement, founded on movement,” their Web site says.

Hosts invite travellers into their homes, where they can stay for up to two nights at no charge and share in the local life. Many members are teachers, writers, activists, artists, who will involve visitors in their community. You’ll share in the family meals, meet their friends and co-workers, visit their schools and workplaces, help with chores. People of all ages participate. Solo travellers or couples, friends and families are welcome.

To join, a traveller must be 18 years of age or over, and must be interviewed to make sure they are responsible, open-minded and likely to be a good member of Servas. Once approved, the traveller receives a Letter of Introduction that’s valid for one year. Then, when you’re planning your travels, ask Servas for the host lists in the places you’ll visit. Fees to join the group are just $25 for a student for a year, or $20 for an adult who will also agree to be a host. Otherwise adults pay $85 for a year. (Those are US rates, check the Servas Web site for your own country for local rates.)

I joined up with Servas when I spent a summer backpacking in Europe after college. I stayed with a journalist in Copenhagen for a couple of days and met a lot of her friends — many were eager to practice their English with a native speaker — and they invited me on a weekend camping trip besides. It was definitely worthwhile and I would do it again.

More info:
Servas International Web site…
U.S. Servas
List of links to Servas in countries around the world…
Author Rita Gelman writes about her Servas experiences…
A forum about Servas on Rick Steves’ travel site…
Transitions Abroad story about Servas, with links to similar groups.