I can’t seem to get away from travel books. Even Julia Child’s My Life in France, a book that conveys her love of France as much as her love of French cooking, is a travel memoir. It’s about fitting in and growing to love and adapt to a new culture. She says several times that France is her “spiritual homeland.” Her observations of American culture vs. French culture in the 1950s are not so different from today. She grows to see some Americans as closed-minded, easily degrading France without having been there.

I think the first time I felt a “spiritual homeland” was in Mexico. I remember commenting to my Dad (and he agreed) that “people know how to treat people here.” Of course, I was the visitor, so any other social hierarchy was hidden to me. I have felt it again and again in other countries I’ve been to. I think it has something to do with the Traveler’s Ethos. I don’t know if that is a real term, but I’ll capitalize it anyway.

For me the “Traveler’s Ethos” has to do with the way one is treated and treats others. The traveler community often bands together. Travelers help one another in ways they wouldn’t normally do while at home. Information is freely shared, accommodations are often shared, food is shared. One time in Skopje three of us made dinner for the entire hostel, about 25 people. Why? I guess it’s the Traveler’s Ethos. You do it because it’s just the way things are done. When so much kindness is extended to you, you extend it to others. It becomes a pleasure to ‘treat people as they should be treated.’

If we Travelers adopt this sort of Ethos it’s only because we are following the examples given to us by our hosts. In many parts of the world, the guest is of utmost importance. They must shown the best treatment, the best food, and given pounds of gifts to take home with them.

Last year I visited Crete and at the end of my visit, my friend’s parents wanted me to take home a bottle of homemade wine and a 2-liter bottle of homemade olive oil.

My friend Eva and her Grandmother, at their home in Crete

I was backpacking and these heavy items not only wouldn’t fit in my bag, I couldn’t imagine hefting it afterwards. I very reluctantly asked, “Could I take a smaller bottle of oil?” Knowing it was a little bit rude, but there was absolutely no way I could carry it. Ruder yet would have been to decline the offer. And I didn’t want to take it to the bus station only to give it to a stranger.

I got it back to where I was going, and it was the most delicious wine and olive oil I had ever tasted. I’m sure they knew it would be. Cretans are very proud of their food and history. Almost every family has a family farm, and the quality of their food is very high.

The traveler is not only meant to partake while away, but to take a piece home, to remember the shared experience of being there. In a way, hospitality is a form of advertising: so much is given to demonstrate how much there is to give.

Where is your “spiritual homeland?”

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