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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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  • September 15, 2023 1:54 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of a dock on a bay with a bonfire on it.It was a Monday and inboxes began filling with a strange missive... "Bonfire at Dockweiler - Sept. 6th."  Was this a simple spamming incident, or foreboding arson at the Dock of the Bay, or worse yet, an inside Wild Apricot hack? Fortunately, detectives Bare and Emory began tracking the digital trail left by the perpetrator(s) and discovered that the event was a simple sign of human frailty ... a simple mistake. While testing and setting up a special emailing to Southern California members for an event, one of our deep-state volunteers accidentally hit the wrong button and oops!, 2,609 contacts in our system received the omen.

    Please accept our humble apologies. 

  • September 15, 2023 1:42 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of young people taking a selfie while wearing Covid masksby Shyla Esko Bare 

    Few, if any, countries still have Covid-19 restrictions in place, although some regions are seeing an upswing. After years of limited travel, mask wearing, and showing vaccination cards, the easing of rules seems liberating to some. To others it is worrisome. 

    Some members have indicated they do not want travelers in their home who are not vaccinated. Please know that you don’t have to. Servas hosts can set house rules that travelers are expected to follow. These can range from a shoes-off policy to a curfew, or even how long a shower can be. Some rules may seem odd or restrictive; but they may be the cultural norm or in place for a specific reason. I once stayed with farmers in Australia who were experiencing a drought: the house rule was no shower and I had to bring bottled water for brushing my teeth. 

    Along these lines, some hosts may have rules about Covid-19. They may ask to see a vaccination card, request travelers test before coming to their home, or require masking. If you are a host, decide what is comfortable for you, and set your house rules accordingly. The important thing is to communicate them to a traveler before they arrive. Travelers, please be respectful of any house rules that are in place. If you don’t feel like you can follow a rule (Covid-related or otherwise), let the host know and find a different place to stay. Traveling with Servas is a privilege not a right.  

    Servas does not have a policy requiring members being vaccinated (click here for US Servas Covid 19 Host and Travel Policy). Instead, the organization promotes open dialog on the topic. Hosts and travelers should share their expectations with other members.  

    If you are a Servas host and/or traveler, please consider your Covid-19 requirements and expectations. Most importantly, put them on your profile so others can see them. Many hosts currently state that travelers requesting stays must be current with Covid-19 vaccinations. If this is important to you, add it to your host profile. If you request a stay as a Servas traveler,and a host asks your vaccination status, please answer honestly. Some travelers include it on their Letter of Introduction (LOI).   

    To update your Servas host or traveler profile log-in to the Servas International website( If you have questions on how to update your profile, look for the blue, speech-bubble icon labeled Help/Ayuda at the top of each webpagewhichtakes you to user help in multiple languages. 

    US Servas Host/Travelers can also visit our US Servas webpage Servas International Website Help for tips on using the Servas International website. You must be logged in to access this page. It includes guides and videos on how to update host and traveler profiles.  

  • August 07, 2023 3:35 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Several members looked through the photos in the July Issue, and indeed found most of the Photo-Shopped images. All but member Mike Johnson found other doctored photos, and even Mike missed what was outrageous about the outrageous photo. He noticed that the wine bottle in Deirdre Marlowe's July article "Recipes for Successful Travel" had been added. He caught it by the angle of lighting reflected on the glass. Very observant!

    But what Mike did not pick up on was the fact that the wine depicted, Petrus 2017 Bordeaux - Pomerol Red, sells for $99,900 per bottle (see ad below). I don't know about you, but this a bit out of my price range. Perhaps I might serve it for a REALLY SPECIAL dinner, but it is simply over-the-top to use it for cooking wine!

  • August 07, 2023 2:33 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of young woman sitting on bed planning where to go nextby Tys Sniffen 

    Let's talk about something that can make our awesome community even more amazing – quick and friendly responses to hosting requests! 

    Picture this: Many of us travel using the wanderlust method... we head toward the next interesting thing we recently learned about. We want to explore the world, experience different cultures, and make unforgettable memories. This means our planning may only be one week out, or less. We reach out to potential hosts through Servas, hoping to connect with locals who can show us the hidden gems and insider tips of their hometowns. Then we wait, the angst building. 

    Now, here's the deal – when we finally get that enthusiastic ping in your inbox, that a host is eager to welcome us into their home It's like receiving a warm hug even before we set foot in their country!  A speedy response means they are eager to share their culture and create beautiful memories; what a joyful feeling! It also relieves the self-induced stress of on-the-fly travel. 

    Photo of colorful Gypsy wagon with sign on the back that reads "Here and there and everywhere"There are many reasons why it is crucial to reply quickly/ Well, my wonderful hosting friends, here are some good reasons: 

    Time is of the essence: You know how fast-paced travel planning can be. By replying promptly, you help travelers organize their itineraries with ease and confidence. Let's get them packed and ready for the adventure of a lifetime! 

    Spreading the Servas Vibe: Our community thrives on openness and kindness. A friendly and timely response sets the tone for a fantastic cultural exchange. It's like saying, "Hey there, new friend! Can't wait to meet you and connect." 

    Trust and Connection: When travelers reach out, they're taking a leap of faith, trusting you to open your doors and hearts to them. By responding quickly, you show that you area caring and reliable host. Even if you have to say, “No,” by replying quickly, you help fellow members make plans and feel a sense of trust in the organization. 

    Expanding Horizons: Every positive hosting experience encourages more travelers to participate in Servas. It's a ripple effect of awesomeness – more connections, more friendships, more global understanding! 

    Magic Happens: When cultures collide, magic happens! Quick responses ready travelers to dive into local traditions, taste authentic cuisines, and experience moments they'll cherish forever. 

    Supporting Peace and Understanding: Servas' mission is all about breaking barriers and promoting peace through personal connections. A friendly and swift reply keeps that spirit alive and thriving. 

    Let's embrace the power of a timely and warm-hearted response!  Be the shining beacon of hospitality that makes Servas such a special and vibrant community.  Take a minute and log into and update your profile to include the best way to contact you, if email isn’t the fastest.  Maybe WhatsApp, or a text, or even Facebook messenger if that’s your thing. Whatever it is that you’ll actually be looking at in under a day. 

    Remember, every "hello" can turn into a lifetime of memories and friendships. So, spread those smiles, click that "reply" button, and get ready to host some incredible travelers!  

    Together, we'll continue building a world where people come together, laugh together, and grow together.  Happy hosting. 

  • August 07, 2023 1:22 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    photo of Kristine on her bike with a travel friend standing beside her. by Kristine Martin, Chicago Area Rep 

    Maybe a two-night stay doesn't fit your travel schedule - or maybe you already have comfortable place to stay - or maybe overnight hosts are not available (it happens).  Don't overlook the delight of a brief visit with a day host.  Sharing a few hours walking, chatting over coffee, or enjoying a local event can be "just right."   

    photo of Kristine and friend JoanLast month my self-supported cycling trip to Denali began and ended in Anchorage.  A few weeks prior to my trip, I reached out to Joan Diamond. We decided to play our get together by ear.  When I arrived, Joan made time for me.  We spent an afternoon walking the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (and saw a moose!) while exchanging Servas experiences.  She shared advice on bear spray, mosquitoes (Deet), the Denali Highway... and then wished me luck.  What a treat to reconnect with Joan after my wilderness cycling adventure.  We had lots to talk about while we walked part of the Knowles Trail. It felt like we were longtime friends.  So again ... Servas isn't only a two-night stay.  Take time to savor brief local connections. 


  • July 04, 2023 6:54 AM | Deirdre Marlowe (Administrator)

    photo of ingredients for Chicken ala Kenzoby Deirdre Marlowe

    Many of us travel for the sights, many for the people, and all of us, admit it, travel for the tastes of it. It’s hard to find a bad bakery in France, nearly impossible to find a bad mango in Thailand, but sadlyit’s too easy to find unconventional pizza in Hungary. At lunch in Budapest one day our waitress brought a bottle of ketchup with our pizza, “In case you want more sauce on it.” 

    Traveling in Japan and staying with many hosts, we quickly grew to appreciate the subtleties of Japanese cuisine. We enjoyed many meals and even gained an appreciation of umeboshi plums with rice and a fried egg in the morning. Our favorite meal was prepared for us by host Kenzo on one of our last nights in Tokyo. I have been making Chicken à la Kenzo or variations on it ever since. Serves 4. Prep and cool time 1 hour. Can simmer for longer if need be. 


    6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs 

    1 medium onion sliced 

    2 cloves garlic minced 

    1 Tbs. brown sugar 

    1 lb. sliced white mushrooms or sliced Asian eggplant 

    Vegetable oil for sautéing plus 1 tsp sesame oil 

    ½ cup chicken broth 

    1/3 cup miso (of your preferred color) 

    ½ cup red or white wine (determined by miso color) 

    Salt/soy sauce and pepper to taste. 

    Pat chicken dry. Sauté in oil turning once until golden brown. Remove from pan. Add onion, garlic and brown sugar to pan, sauté until onions begin to wilt. Meanwhile mix chicken broth, miso, and wine together until miso is blended in. Add mushrooms or eggplant and sauté until soft. Add liquids. Return chicken to pan. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook turning chicken once for 45 minutes. Add salt/soy and pepper to taste. 

    For a vegetarian option, substitute 1” cubes of firm tofu cubes for chicken. Add them after all the veggies have been softened, the liquids mixed and simmering. Reduce cooking time to 30 minutes. 

    Of course, it’s not just a matter of the recipes you take home with you, but also the food you cook for your hosts. It could be a recipe for something that’s traditional in your family, something that shows your immigrant roots, or something perhaps from the list of all American foods that can be made almost anywhere in the world like apple pie, clam chowder, baked beans, fried chicken, or all-American mac ‘n’ cheese.  

    What have you made for your hosts? What substitutions have you made? Tell us the story and share your recipe. If you haven’t cooked for your hosts, perhaps you’ve brought back a recipe or two. Share those – let Open Doors’ readers be your table companions. 

  • 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 

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