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Tips and Tidbits

Travel Tips • Servas How-To • Words of Wisdom • and Fun

Tips & Tidbits Blogs

Posts in this category range from how to use the Servas websites to tips for safer or easier travel. It is a catchall of short items of interest.

NOTE - You can click on most blog photos for a larger view

Noteworthy Tips

Unique item that may be of interest to members Tell us about it. Submit your stories here.

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  • July 03, 2023 12:25 PM | Deirdre Marlowe (Administrator)

    by Deirdre Marlowe

    Unless you’re set with a bucket list, have a travel agent, and/or a New York Times subscription, you might need to go to the library for this. For more than twenty years the NYT’s travel section has regularly published pieces on how to spend thirty-six hours from Bend to Bordeaux, Kochi to Buenos Aires and points in between. If you want a more personal view, go to which shows a day’s view from people’s windows all over the world. It was a breath of fresh air during the pandemic lockdown, but it will also let you explore places from the perspective of neighborhoods. 

    If cities are your thing, and you need additional inspiration, every year in addition to best restaurants, best hotels and similar lists, Condé Nast publishes its survey of the world’s most livable cities. 

    photo of a young girl pointing to globe with a pencilOr, you could spin a globe as this young would-be traveler is...

  • July 03, 2023 12:21 PM | Deirdre Marlowe (Administrator)

    photo of young woman buried by booksby Deirdre Marlowe

    We’ve had articles about what and how to pack. What about what you might consider packing to read – and yes, you can do it all on your phone, but I find it more difficult than it should be to read on my phone, and packing a kindle or tablet begs the power question, especially if you will be roughing it. Guidebook(s) – I prefer Dorling Kindersley, probably because of the photographs and walking tours, and flashmap(s), Fodor makes some good ones – check. And you can always visit, should always visit, shops withB signs in out of the way places that read “We have English Book for You,” but what about choosing a book to pack? 

    Many years ago, B.K. (Before Kids), my husband and I went on a six-month pushbike ride skirting the western rim of the Pacific. The first country we visited was New Zealand. My husband, a touring expert since he’d already biked across the U.S.A., was in charge of planning our rides. He chose a route along a river in the Parapara Mountains figuring it would be flat. It wasn’t. Anyway. I was reading Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle 

    One morning, in our haste to hit the road, I left it where we’d camped and did not realize it until several hours later. I insisted we go back. I insisted that he, the experiencedcyclist in better shape, go back. He was having none of it. Our words escalated. Finally, I’d had enough and stuck out my thumb. As we drove up into the Paraparas, the driver asked what I’d forgotten. I regaled him with tales from Darwin’s book. He allowed as how the added weight of the book might be worth it. And then he told me he was running a bit ahead and would take me back down to where he’d picked me up! Ah, the power of the written word!

     Here are some of the books I’ve taken on my travels in no particular order.  

    • Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang – three generations in China 
    • Shogun, James Clavell – Japan in the 17th century 
    • Tracks, Robyn Davidson – crossing Australia on camelback 
    • Tales of a Female Nomad, Rita G. Gelman – Going global solo 
    • The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevera – from Brasil to Peru by motorcycle 
    • Tales of a Traveler and Tales of the Alhambra, Washington Irving – fictional and real journeys 
    • Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon – the backroads of the USA 
    • Around Africa on My Bicycle, Riaan Manser – as the title says 
    • West with the Night, Beryl Markham – memoir of a woman bush pilot growing up in Kenya 
    • Iberia, James Michener – falling in love with Spain – the place, its history and people 
    • Out of Istanbul: A Journey of Discovery along the Silk Road – as the title states 
    • Best European City Walks and Museums and Mona Winks, Rick Steves – the former as the title states, the latter European museums in more detail 
    • Travels with Charlie, John Steinbeck – a writer, his dog and his truck travel the USA 
    • The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain – Americans travel the world in the 19th century 
    • The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf – Humboldt's travels in South America 

    We would love to hear about books you have taken on your journeys. 


  • June 09, 2023 6:09 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    photo of a pair of muddy shoesBenjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Perhaps this is why most Servas visits are for two days/nights. Still, more than ever in the 21st century, Servas travelers should be mindful of guestiquette.    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This starts with reaching out to hosts. If their listing says they prefer 7 days-notice do not reach out the day before. Just because modern communication is so fast, respect the fact that you are inviting yourself into their home and that they have a life. If you are traveling with a friend who is NOT a Servas member, do not ask to stay with a Servas host. If you have any restrictions that are NOT on your LOI, although they should be, let the host know before you arrive. Have the courtesy to arrive at a reasonable hour, before 7pm in the evening and after 9am in the morning. Be sure to let them know when that will be. Once you have done so, be on time or let your host know if there will be an unforeseen delay.  

    When you arrive, ask if it is okay to wear your shoes inside – this Asian custom seems to have become fairly universal in the last few years. Shortly after you arrive at your hosts’, offer to provide them with a hard copy of your estamped LOI. Many hosts keep scrapbooks or guestbooks.Find out any schedules and “rules of the house” your hosts expect you to follow – this could be bathing order in a Japanese household, morning departure time, etc. Always offer to help – making the beds, preparing food, cleaning up, whatever seems to need doing. Among other things, I have helped with homework, worked in my host’s restaurant kitchen, and held sheep while they were vaccinated.    

    During your visit, offer to cook a meal for your hosts, this would include shopping for the ingredients, or take them out for a meal. When you’re sharing your story, I’ve found that people love to see pictures of where you live. It is acceptable to bring a small host gift – something you’ve made, something that represents where you’re from. This is not at all expected to be extravagant. 

    After you leave, a bread-and-butter note or postcard is welcome. In addition to thanking them for their hospitality, it is nice to share (some of) the rest of your travels with them. When in doubt, show the courtesy and respect for your hosts that you would hope to receive from anybody who visits you. Finally, if you’d like to increase your knowledge of global etiquette, go here 

  • May 04, 2023 1:40 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Want More Travelers? Try Virtual Hosting! 

    by Deirdre Marlowe

    I work with an organization that teaches global citizenship in grades K-12 – something near and dear to Servas. One of our offerings in connection with our Learning Live programming is live virtual field trips. Say what? A host-teacher is in a classroom with students, while a guide on the outside is part of the class via Zoom.The guide escorts students to places of interest – which could be a local tourist site, natural wonder, holiday, a market, a garden, a game you play with your family or whatever. This is very similar to what you would share with or recommend to a Servas traveler you are hosting.  

    For a HolidaysAround the World field trip with Taiwanese students, I discussed family traditions and made Christmas toffee. Another time, we “visited” the Lincoln Memorial, but the students were more interested in the gray squirrels, as there are none in Taiwan, rather than learning about President Lincoln and the Civil War.After you share an experience, students may question you about what they have seen. They certainly wanted the toffee recipe! 

    Once you have decided what you want to share, Banyan Global Learning, the organization that teaches global citizenship will help you make it happen. They provide you with a script template to facilitate your experience as a guide and create pre- and post-trip materials subject to your review. Here is a link to a list of the field trips we have so far. There is a $200 stipend associated with this which you may use however you see fit. If you are interested in doing this, please contact 

  • May 04, 2023 9:12 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of woman tring to cram clothes into overpacked suitcaseby Tys Sniffen 

    We have all seen the travelers with multiple, enormous suitcases struggling their way through the airport, and wondered, "What in the world?" Maybe these people succumbed to the "Just in Case" syndrome, but it sure makes travel more difficult. Here are some useful tips for what and how to pack: 


    • Everything should do at least 2 things 

    • Everything should be light, sturdy, and easy-to-clean 

    • You want to be able to alter your situation easily and quickly: make yourself warmer or cooler, protect yourself from wind/rain, go from casual to dressy. 

    • Everything should match - that is, everything should be able to be worn/used with all the other things.  (Shirts should match all bottoms, coat should not clash with all shirts, shoes should go with every outfit.) 

    • Everything should be stain-resistant, wrinkle-resistant, and/or able to hide some dirt with a pattern or texture. 


    • Wear one pair of shoes, carry only one other; both pairs should be able to go with all outfits and be comfortable for a day of wear.  

    • Always dress to look like you’re going to an event, fun, slightly dressy clothes that have a touch of formality, but are comfortable. 

    • You don’t need ‘just-in-case’ stuff. 

    • While looking dressy is good and fun, other people don’t care that much if you wear things more than once. 

    • While you want somethings at your fingertips, you don’t need to carry everything everywhere.  Pack so you can travel in a ‘modular’ way, i.e.,don’t take your underwear on the museum tour. 

    How to Pack 

    • Choose clothes from your closet (by sorting or buying) that fit the above criteria. 

    • Lay out 2 bottom-half outfits and 4 top-half outfits. Include an additional warm weather bottom outfit (shorts or light skirt) 

    • Make sure that all bottoms can be worn with all tops. 

    • Fold or roll them up carefully in a way that adds the least wrinkles. Stack.  How high is the stack? 

    • Compile your ‘additional items: swimsuit, underwear, socks, warm layer, and put them in a compression bag. 

  • April 03, 2023 3:18 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    by Bill Magargal 

    For many years US Servas has wrestled with the question of youth. How can we attract more younger members? Are we just ageing out? Last November, the board gathered data from our membership records to shed some light on the issue (see chart below). For purposes of the study, new members were defined as anyone who were approved between Jan. 1, 2022 and Nov. 18. Existing members were defined as active members on Nov. 18, excluding the new members. Here are some interesting statistics. 

    The median age for "new members" was 60. The median age for existing members was 70. Membership drops off dramatically after the age of 80... no surprise there. On the other end of the scale, the number of existing members in their twenties was the lowest of any age bracket. However, the number of new members in that category (42) was a significant increase. The total number of members between ages thirty to sixty were only 30% of members aged sixty and above. Here are our take-aways from the study. 

    Half of our new members join at age sixty or above, which is when most people retire and have the time and the means to travel. It is also the age when people have the time and inclination to reflect on life and recognize the value of connectedness, the importance of relationships vs. possessions, and hope to leave our world a little bit better and a little more peaceful. 

    The dip in membership between the ages of thirty and sixty is also expected. This is when people are at the peak of their careers, and when their kids are headed to college. Time and money are both at a premium. Travel?... only a dream. 

    What about the younger people? Hopefully, they are idealistic. Hopefully, they want to see the world. Slow travel?... visiting old people? ... maybe not so much. But, I believe there is an increasing number of young people interested in "real travel", seeing things other than the regular tourist spots. We should certainly improve our marketing and intake process to encourage these people to join. What are your thoughts on all of this? 

  • April 03, 2023 2:31 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    The US Servas Community Outreach team could use your help, especially with the publications and social media functions. Although the pay is terrible (none), the hours are very flexible, and we have outstanding benefits... work with people you like and respect, no boss, low stress, extended vacations, and you can work from the comfort of your own home. You can work on a specific small project when you have the time, or commit to a monthly team effort to get out the newsletter. We can always use more writers and editors, but the skills we particularly need are: 

    1. Social Media Manager - Upload photos and short postings to FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. as needed.  

    1. Page Layout Specialist - Lay out the US Servas Open Doors newsletter each month.  Experience with and access to a decent page layout application like Adobe InDesign, Canva, Microsoft Publisher, etc. a must. 

    1. ADA Website Administrator – Check newsletter and blogs for Alt text and whatever else is need to assist visually impaired readers. 

  • April 02, 2023 3:04 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Our Experience with Trusted House Sitters    by Bill Magargal 

    One issue that prevents many of us from traveling as often or for as long as we might like is... "Who will take care of the dogs, plants, house, etc." For many years we paid our neighbor to come over to the house twice a day to feed the dogs, let them in and out, bring in the mail, etc. But, as time went on, our neighbor aged, and found it too difficult to do this. We live in a very rural area, and  could find no one else to take care of the dogs. 

    We were on our own. We could make short, one, or two-night trips by taking our dogs to the local kennel, but the dogs hated it. We felt bad for them, and a bit guilty for doing it. Then, in 2018, we hosted an Australian Servas couple who traveled pretty-much full time. We were due to leave in a few days for a three-day trip, but the kennel was full. What should we do? They offered, "We are Trusted House Sitters. Why don't you use us?" So, we did, and it was a win-win.  

    Apparently, there are other groups like Trusted House Sitters, but we've been so happy with our TH experiences that we have not looked at them. It turns out that like Servas, no money is exchanged between homeowner and sitter. Like our Australian friends, TH enables them to stay on the road for a long time. In fact, our first long-term sitter (3 months), did not have a permanent place to live. His work was all internet based, so a decent internet connection was all he required. He preferred long sits. Several of our sitters have been NYC residents who look for getaway stays to places like our home in the Catskills. 

    Trusted House Sitters does some vetting of sitters, but they also have a rating system for both sitters and homeowners. We always look at a sitter's reviews, and usually do a zoom interview before accepting them. Likewise, sitters look at our write-up and reviews before accepting a sit at our home. Apparently, some homeowners are very cheesy, and require sitters to bring virtually everything they will need, including toilet paper.  

    We have had great experiences with TH, except for one (they were removed after a TH complaint review). Like our experience with Servas, we have remained in touch with several. 

  • April 02, 2023 2:53 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Well, times have changed … it’s not your same old Servas. The good news is, no more four-year-old, outdated Host List Books. The bad news? Things are different, and you must learn some new Computer Skills. Yikes! Thank goodness it isn’t all that hard. 

    As you probably know US Servas has now moved to two new computer systems: our US website –which keeps track of our contact information, and the Servas International (SI) website–, which has all travel and hosting related information. All but a few, small or developing nations are also using the international site. We can still provide you with a host list for the very few nations that are not using the SI website.

    Although the International system has its quirks (version II is on the way), it does have a great search engine to Find Members and to create custom host lists. Better yet, it has a map search view, which lets you look for hosts on a map. This means you don’t have to know the name of every small village near the route you are traveling. You simply click on bubbles that appear on the map. You can also create your own, custom host list that includes the hosts you have check-marked on a search you have done. Here are links to short, Quick-Help Guides that show you how to Find Hosts, and to Create a Host List.

  • April 02, 2023 2:49 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    We have been Servas travelers and hosts since 1994, and we figure we are fairly savvy to come-ons and shakedowns. I mean really, we can handle beggars in India, touts in Bali, cabbies in Mexico, so yeah, we’re hip. That was until we were robbed while driving on a toll road in Spain, and we didn’t even know we’d been had.

     Recently we did a three-month wandering through southwestern Europe, visiting fabulous Servas hosts along the way! Near the end of our trip, we stayed in Figures, home to the wonderful Dali Museum. The next day we drove to Barcelona. We were on a six-lane toll-road about halfway between the two cities when a sedan pulled up beside us, honking the horn. The passenger had his window rolled down and was shouting something and pointing to the rear of our car.

    We thought, do we have a flat? Are we leaking something? Hmm, so we pulled over to the shoulder. The sedan pulled over in front of us. We got out and the passenger hustled back to us and pointed to the right-rear tire. “Señor, señor, look!”, he said. We squatted down; I felt around the tire looking for a bubble or leaking oil. We looked at the rear of the car to see if something was hanging down. -Nada. After a few minutes the passenger shrugged and said, “I go.”

     Marie and I shrugged … what was that all about? We got back into the car and continued driving. A mile or two later I looked at the console where I had put my wallet (I needed the credit card regularly for tolls) and didn’t see it. I asked Marie, “Do you see my wallet?” “No.”, she said, “Do you see my purse?” We pulled over to look. It turns out that while we were inspecting our tire, the driver of the other car snuck back, opened the driver-side door, stole my wallet, Marie’s purse, and a daypack holding our computer, iPad, chargers, etc. Poof! All our money and credit cards were gone. Fortunately, our passports were still in our luggage in the trunk.

     We got back onto the highway figuring we would get off two exits ahead where Google showed a police station. We pulled off and approached the tollbooths … Oh, crap, we don’t have any money for the toll, so we pulled over. It must have been our lucky unlucky day, for in a few minutes a Spanish highway patrol car pulled into the toll booth ahead. We both jumped out of the car, shouting and waving our arms.

     Gratefully, the patrol car turned around and helped us. They got us through the tolls and took us to their headquarters. We filed reports, contacted our credit card company, and began the process of recovery. It turns out we were the 5th such incident that day. It turns out there are several versions of this trick, one where the perps put a small hole in your tire at a rest stop.

     Our suggestions: if you stop on a highway, make sure you lock your car. Keep your wallet on your person. If you need quick access to cash or your credit card, put it in a small compartment or the glove box. Finally, make sure your credit card company can and will quickly provide you with a chip-enabled replacement. Ours could not, so we had to shorten our trip. Well, at least we got a good story out of our experience. 

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