BARBERINO VAL D’ELSA, TUSCANY— I dreamed of travelling as a kid. My parents purchased a set of World Book encyclopedias when I was about four-years old, and— for more than a decade— that was my conduit to other parts of the globe. I dreamed of far-off exotic lands and what they must be like, the people, the animals, the food.
In my teen years, my travel ambitions moved closer to home, as I was enamored with the Los Angeles rock scene. In my 20s I narrowed my wanderlust to the South and focused on that region and its food as I began to open restaurants, develop recipes, and undertake the hours needed to reach the top of the food chain in the Mississippi foodservice business (a quest that remains).
It wasn’t until my children were born that the dream of travelling I had as a kid returned. Maybe it had something to do with projecting my youth— and those World Book encyclopedias— onto two young minds who had Google at their disposal. The world beyond could now be seen in living color, with video and sound.
I vowed to expose my children to as many of those places that I dreamed about as a child. We travelled a fair portion of the globe together, and at least one of them was infected with my wanderlust and curiosity.
When I dreamed of travelling as a kid, it was mostly about exotic ports of call— jungles, harems, Amazon River cruises, and such. With age, my taste and travel goals became less adventurous and I became more interested in history and dining. That is where I am today— an enthusiastic traveler who is passionate about history, other cultures, and food.
I write this at 7:42 a.m. in a small apartment in Tuscany, while 23 Americans with the same passion for food, history, and culture await the adventure that the next day on their weeklong journey with the Italian Palate Road Trip watercolor artist Wyatt Waters and I are hosting.
Travelling always involves surprises. I have grown to welcome those moments and embrace them as new moments of wonder. When I was a kid, dreaming with the aid of encyclopedias I am sure I developed pre-conceived notions of what travel might be like one day. I was way off. Whatever I might have dreamed is much more fulfilling than I ever imagined.
The greatest surprises have been the friendships. My wife and I have developed lasting relationships with many people in many places over the years. That is something I never dreamed about as a kid. Back then I thought I had all the friends I would ever need. I was wrong. In addition to friendships made with people who live in other countries, travelling with others and leading groups overseas has given me one of the greatest gifts— new friendships with fellow travelers.
That has been a blessing. There is a certain bond that is forged between friends who travel together. It’s a bunker mentality that develops when several people band together in a new land. I love it, and it has been one of the greatest surprises of my life.
My wife and I have never really considered ourselves group travelers. In the first 10 years of our relationship— before kids— we logged a few air miles across the United States, but we usually travelled as a pair. I don’t spend a lot of time in the company of regrets, and try not to look back and lament, but I can’t help but think how many newly created friendships we might have missed by being so insular.
On these most-recent trips we have made great friendships with people we have just met. It’s a bonus, and it becomes especially sweet when we introduce those new friends to our overseas friends.
I have always valued friendships. I am still close with the core group of friends from my childhood days. As my hair turns grey— and turns loose— I have grown to place an even greater importance on the value and benefit of friendships. I have worked alongside my best friend, Wyatt Waters, for 17 years through book creation, speeches and demonstrations, and now this— taking a few weeks a year to introduce new friends to parts of the world we love.
In the end, travel is important as an exposure tool, as an enrichment vehicle, and as a source of fun and entertainment. But it is also a great way to meet and make new friends, and to solidify long-term relationships.
View today’s recipe: Pesto