Let friends—and friends-of-friends—hook you up with other pals on your next overseas trip

October 16, 2011

I met Tom Harrow (now the very successful "Wine Chap" in London) when we both were living in Florence, Italy, back in 2004. I'd met Tom through a Delta sorority sister and friend Paula who was living in London and met Tom through HER soror friend. It's a small world, after all!

I met Tom Harrow (now the very successful “Wine Chap” in London) when we both were living in Florence, Italy, back in 2004. I’d met Tom through Paula, a Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister and friend who was living in London — and Paula met Tom through HER soror friend. It’s a small world, after all!


¡Hola, salut et ciao, UrbanTravelGirls!!! Lo siento, je suis desolé, et mi dispiace–in short, my apologies for having gone off the grid for awhile. My freelance consulting and writing has kept me très busy the past several months, but I promise that I’m back, ready to inspire my chicas to experience the world and let it experience THEM!!

Since I last wrote, I’ve had incredible experiences in Panama City, Panama, and am counting on loads more of overseas trips in the near future. (More on that later!) But I’ve also been living vicariously through the adventures some of YOU ladies have been having this summer… which leads me to this post. None of us is an island—and neither should we be, even when we love hitting the road solo (as you know I do). It’s one thing to visit a city or country on your own, but quite refreshing to see it through the eyes of those who live there. And even if you don’t happen to know anyone in Amsterdam or Hong Kong or Cape Town, chances are someone that you know DOES. That’s why it’s a great idea to find out in advance if folks you know have any local connections in the place you’re heading.

I always do this when traveling abroad (and try to make it a habit here in the States, too). Meeting people who live where you’re visiting widens your perspective—and gives you a local’s view of life in your chosen vacation spot. I recently did the girlfriend hook-up for two African-American chicas headed to Europe—both on first-time solo visits to Rome and London, respectively.

Renee, one of my faithful UrbanTravelGirl readers, wrote me months ago telling me she was making her first trip to bella Italia—and that she was rolling solo—and asked if I could give her the names of some local connections. I e-mailed two of my favorite and friendliest Italian bellas, Monica and Filly, who were only TOO happy to meet Renee for meals and hang out with her during her time in the Eternal City. Truth be told, I was jealous I COULDN’T be there – it sounds like they had a ball, hit it off, and hopefully will see each other when the Italian ladies next visit the United States!

And just this month, I did e-introductions between my Chicago sistagirl Carol and two friends-of-friends in London. Carol was making her first trip to the UK—and she was hesitant about doing it alone. So why not connect her to a couple of fabulous African-American expat women who are thriving big-time in London? Thanks to the graciousness of friends far, far away who were willing to share their precious weekend with a visitor they’d never met, these three ladies met for brunch at a delicious spot not far from Carol’s Kensington hotel.

I like to think one reason I’m here on earth is that I’m truly passionate about connecting people, whether it’s for jobs, for relationships—or during travel. Folks have graciously done this for me for years; now I enjoy paying it forward.

I recommend this friend hook-up whether you’re traveling alone, with family or friends, or your significant other. These “appointments” with friends of your friends add purpose and structure to your vacation days, which often can get bogged down with endless museum and monument visits. And when arranging our meet-ups, I always ask these friends-once-removed to suggest a meeting place that’s a favorite of THEIRS. You then get introduced to cool, where-the-locals-go eateries and bars in different parts of town—places that you wouldn’t likely stumble upon on your own.

As I wrote in a Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine/”TCW Travel Connection” blog post awhile ago,  I’ve found that often these friends-of-friends end up becoming great pals of mine along the way. When heading to Italy several years ago, a former Chicago journalist friend told me about Kelly Carter, another African-American female journalist who was living there. We connected in Positano, where she then lived, and have become great friends since. (She’s writing a memoir, Bellini for One, about her glorious two years living in Italy.) Kelly introduced me to her friend Stacie, a fashionista living in Florence—where I’d recently moved—and we developed a real friendship on our own. And the links in the chain keep strengthening.

I first met my now-good friend Kelly Carter (right front) in Italy back in Fall 2004 after an introduction from a mutual Chicago journalist friend. Here we were (each of us with a mutual friend) having drinks at a beachfront restaurant in scenic Positano, where Kelly then lived.

I first met my now-good friend Kelly Carter (right front) in Italy back in Fall 2004 after an introduction from a mutual Chicago journalist friend. Here we were (each of us with a mutual friend) having drinks at a beachfront restaurant in scenic Positano, where Kelly then lived.

During a solo trip Rome this past March, Kelly sent out some e-mails to friends of hers living in the Eternal City, who agreed as a group to meet me for drinks one night. What a wonderful treat!! Not only did I get together with an inspiring group of Rome-based American expats, but Kelly also hooked me up Arlene Gibbs, with another friend-of-a-friend who turned out to be the screenplay writer for “Jumping the Broom,” the charming African-American comedy that swept U.S. theaters this spring.

When I visited Mexico City last summer for work, a priest friend from my downtown Chicago church made sure to connect me to a wonderful young friend of his in this massive metropolis of nearly 20 million people. The super-friendly Renato (a passionate traveler himself) met me one Saturday morning, took me on a tour of the capital city, and shared his insights about life here—and even invited his sister to meet us for lunch. So here in a metro area of more than 20 million people, a wonderful afternoon encounter with two of those people made Mexico City delightfully human!

These encounters not only enrich the time you spend “on holiday,” but often expose you to ideas and ways of thinking you’d NEVER discover at home. Because the folks you meet have already been vetted by someone you know, you’ve already got something in common, even if your day-to-day lives and experiences are completely different. I don’t know about you, but who WOULDN’T want to claim friends in different corners of the world? I certainly do. And like the old adage goes, “Make new friends/but keep the old/one is silver/and the other gold.” All of them are real treasures.

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6 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. urbantravelgirl  |  October 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I would have loved to have met up with you. I was just in London for a month (Sept-Oct), during that time I went to Dublin, Ireland for a week. I have invitation to Amsterdam. I just got back to Dallas 2 days ago & trying to recooperate from the jet-lag. Am still adding pics from the trip to my blogspot; Your last post is so on point. If only I could’ve benefited from it pryer to leaving the UK. I am hoping to find a travel partner so not to travel solo. It does make things more exciting. Although, I had tons of fun. I said that very thing about seeing adventures thru others eyes. Hope to meet up w/u somewhere around the globe :)You can check my blog at http://traventurewoman.blogspot.com

    Traventure Woman

  • 2. Monetta  |  October 16, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Great points about making those travel connections. Well, I am a native Chicagoan who has lived in Champaign-Urbana, IL (for undergraduate and graduate school) then in Southern CA (for my first job out of graduate school) and then in … wait for it … Cincinnati, OH. Though there was no fun “vacationing” involved in these moves, I was connected to at least one person by a mutual associate prior to my moves and that made a BIG difference in getting settled quicker. So, your point is well-taken. I’ll be sure to reach out to you, Maureen, the next time I’m heading on an overseas adventure so you can connect me with a local pal!

  • 3. Antoinette  |  October 17, 2011 at 8:26 am


    I love this. It is a wonderful suggestion and something we do this all the time amongst sorors and other friends. Why not extend this same principle to traveling abroad. Anyone traveling to MaeSot Thailand, look me up.



  • 4. urbantravelgirl  |  October 17, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Ciao, Antoinette!! I STILL have MaeSot and Thailand on my radar for next year, and really hope I’ll get there to visit you! And in the meantime, if I’ve got a friend or acquaintance heading your way — and in fact, one of my former bosses bought an online Travel package to Thailand and told me about it last week — I’ll hook you guys up! All this “connecting” makes the world a much smaller and far friendlier place… Lord knows we need to do our part to make it that way!


  • 5. urbantravelgirl  |  October 17, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Destiny, GRAZIE for visiting my blog and for sharing a link to YOURS. Can’t wait to check it out!! But yes — anytime we head somewhere, we should put it out there on FB or e-mail our network of friends and acquaintances. I’ve always found people to be SO gracious and kind and welcoming to strangers who’ve been introduced through others.

    And then when someone extends this kindness to us, let’s pay it forward and do the same for someone else. Keep the good karma circulating, right? :-)


  • 6. urbantravelgirl  |  October 17, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Mo, thanks so much for commenting!! You’re always great about connecting people, too — whether they’re sorors needing a media contact or someone looking for a job. Just think … if we all did this for each other and REALLY put some effort into it, just imagine the effect we might have on unemployment and other social challenges?? Just food for thought….

    But in the meantime, let’s keep expanding that “circle of friends” when we travel!


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