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The Mature Traveler

Making New Friends

June 15, 1986|BILL HUGHES | Hughes is a 25-year veteran travel writer living in Sherman Oaks

Judging from the reaction to a recent article on "The Friendship Force," which sponsors low-cost group tours with a home-stay aspect, mature travelers have a strong interest in this type of travel.

This coincides with findings from other organizations, such as the European Travel Commission, that mature travelers would often prefer to spend more time with the people of a region than visit another museum or tour another cathedral.

Dozens of organizations across the globe are more than delighted to help arrange such meetings. But finding them is sometimes a chore.

Not too many of them operate group tours like the Friendship Force. Most operate on an individual one-on-one basis, where the organization provides the introduction and you provide the transportation and usually have to arrange your own meeting through correspondence.

One of these is Servas, an international cooperative system of hosts in 80 countries who wish to foster good will, understanding and world peace through travel.

Servas arranges meetings and sometimes homestays, mostly for one or two nights at little or no cost. However, there is a $50 initial membership fee.

Eastern Europe, U.S.S.R.

Another is the Citizen Exchange Council, which helps arrange person-to-person meetings in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These, again, hope to foster closer ties between peoples. Homestays can be arranged, but at the traveler's expense.

There have long been a number of similar organizations, especially within Europe, that help arrange meetings for Americans wanting to sample a new culture. These groups arrange meetings and try to match occupations, hobbies or specific interests such as music, theater, etc.

Most of these operate at no or little cost for a day meeting between U.S. visitors and their foreign hosts, although the U.S. guest may wish to help with expenses or perhaps take a gift.

Organizations include Meet the British, Don't Miss the Swiss, Find the Finns, Know the Norwegians, Get in Touch With the Dutch, Meet the Irish and others.

Most of these are semi-sponsored by the government tourist office of the respective countries, many of which have offices in Los Angeles.

Such programs are not limited to Europe; similar groups operate in Israel, Japan, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and others.

In addition to these semi-official government-sponsored organizations, there are dozens of private groups, most of them overseas.

Just finding the addresses of these, let alone information on what they offer, is a time-consuming chore.

Paperback Guidebook

However, a new paperback guidebook, "The Directory of Low-Cost Vacations With a Difference," can help. In addition to more than 100 person-to-person programs (include all those cited), the 70-page guide lists many worldwide and U.S. bed-and-breakfast organizations, vacation-work programs, farm vacations and other travel ideas.

The new guide is compiled by J. Crawford and is published by Pilot Books. Not available in stores, it costs $4.95 plus $1 for postage and handling, from Pilot Books, 103 Cooper St., Babylon, N.Y. 11702.

Many of these person-to-person programs are not for all mature travelers. The do-it-yourself aspects of this type of travel, writing letters of confirmation, arranging meetings and providing your own transportation and other details put them in a different pattern than escorted group tours and prepackaged itineraries that many mature travelers prefer for comfort and convenience.

As meetings and even brief homestays are difficult to set up for prearranged group tours, most person-to-person arrangements are for the independent, experienced traveler wanting to enrich his or her travel through personal and lasting friendships.

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