My favorite mail-reading time is at the end of a long day at work, when I can lose myself in the words and feelings of other travelers: Newly widowed Jared, whose wife always dreamed of climbing the bell tower overlooking Venice's Piazza San Marco, finally did just that for both of them. Aaron, who met me at the Long Beach Travel Show, is recently back from a study abroad program in Germany that "changed who I am as a person." Elizabeth from Florida finally enjoyed a sunset from the Acropolis, and just had to tell me.
I pore through letters from travelers who are jetting off with grandparents to see their ancestral hometown, celebrating anniversaries, getting on their feet again after a tough illness or divorce, helping their children leave the nest, and reaching life-long goals after overcoming life-long struggles. I get mail from felons in prison who make a virtual escape through my TV shows. And quite a few people mention, "I've grown up watching your shows" -- which always makes me feel both happy and old.
I also hear from Europeans who've connected with American travelers. Mr. Brock is retiring after 20 years of running a B&B in Edinburgh that we've long recommended. He took time to share memories from two decades of greeting my readers with a wee dram of whiskey upon checking in, and serving hearty porridge (with a prayer in old Scottish by Robbie Burns) at his breakfast table.
For years, my dear friend Rolf Jung -- the 84-year-old retired headmaster from a village on the Rhine River -- has delighted in giving tours of his hometown to readers of my book. This week Herr Jung, who is pictured here, sent me an envelope full of photos taken with those travelers. He closed his letter with this nod to his appearance in my Postcards from Europe book:
"Rick, what a wonderful sentence for my gravestone appears in your book: 'A walk with Herr Jung always makes me feel good about Europe.'"
My dear friend Rolf Jung
I'm blessed to have an inbox that opens up to the thoughtful sharing of highs and lows from people who've let me be a part of their travels. Reading through a season's worth of readers' trip reports, I'm seeing how, for so many, travel is more than a fun diversion. It's a major force in our lives.