are sweating as you ring the doorbell. Will you find them
attractive? Will the conversation flow? Do they want kids?
Your hands clutch a brown paper bag with the medium priced
wine you just bought from the gas station and a bunch of
assorted flowers. Do they even like wine? Might they be
allergic to pollen? You've really no idea. The door opens
and you thrust the gift into their hands, nervously babbling
on about the weather. Then their partner appears behind
them and you check them out too. You know from experience
how important first impressions are. Will you have anything
in common? How does their place look? After all, you're
about to move in with them for twenty four hours.
isn't an episode of Wife Swap, but another Family Blind
Date. Over the last nine months we've spent a lot of time
visiting with families, having dinner with them, getting
their stories down on tape for the website, chatting about
shared experiences, then crashing out on their bed, floor
or sofa. It's been one of the more interesting aspects of
our trip around the world, but it hasn't always been a comfortable
adventure. As we stand on their front step, we've never
been able to predict what might happen when the door opens.
Our experiences have included a family where the father
hated kids; any kids, including ours and his own, and the
very idea of travelling with them made him choke on his
barbecued sausages. Then there was the couple who'd just
split up, whose raw emotions and bitter grief spilled over
into their wine glasses, and the family who brought their
favourite cow Annie out of the freezer to celebrate our
arrival over dinner, then gave us their waterbed for the
night, turning us green with seasickness. But no matter
how bizarre the experience, their hospitality has always
been generous to the point of overwhelming. We've had barbecues,
picnics and garden parties in our honour, families have
taken time off work to show us around, and they've taken
the kids off our hands to let us sleep or be ill, or grasp
a deep breath and plan the next stages of the journey. Some
have even vicariously invited us to stay with their parents,
or grandparents or children. They've fed us and wined us,
sometimes dressed us, and never asked for anything in return.
Many have travelled extensively and feel it's their own
way of repaying the hospitality they've received from strangers
during their own adventures. Others realise how good the
simple pleasures of life can be when you've been denied
them for almost a year. A hot bath, a home cooked meal,
a read of the Sunday papers or a snooze on cotton sheets.
All are bliss to a family of cycle camping gypsies.
Would you invite these gypsies into your home?
Blind Dates aren't restricted to complete strangers. We
recently spent time with a family in Victoria, British Columbia
that we were actually related to. It wasn't quite an unknown
as I had met them two or three times before in my lifetime.
But the date still covered the traditional bases; the shy
introductory stage where the children pretended to be mice,
and the grown ups felt their way around the conversation;
then getting to know each other over dinner, when the conversation
became more relaxed as alcohol flowed; and finally the tricky
subject of sleeping arrangements. But as this was genuine
family, we happily gave them our dirty washing and stayed
the whole weekend. And as with any date, the more you have
in common the better it goes. By the end of our time with
them, after thoroughly discussing shared family history,
geography and gossip we felt as if we could move in and
set up home with them. As we left, they plied us with gifts;
matching T shirts of Canada, matching Canadian tattoos inscribed
with the maple leaf flag, traditional Canadian jewellery,
pens and a range of books and toys. Since then most people
we've met have assumed we are very proud citizens of beautiful
Team Canada emerges freshly clothed after a family visit
in Beautiful British Columbia
thing we've found on all our blind dates is that travel
can be a unique bond. It instantly slices through cultural
differences and personalities, and forgives any mistakes.
Our latest visit was with the Ebers, a family we had come
across through the internet. At the same time we were setting
out on our own journey, they were just completing their
own epic adventure; cycling around the world with their
two teenage daughters. Fifteen year old Anya and thirteen
year old Yvonne were two highly confident articulate children,
with a passion for world travel and history. Their parents,
Paula and Lorenz were still trying to come to terms with
being home and thrust back into the rat race and were glad
to talk to some like minded spirits. We made ourselves instantly
comfortable in their place on Bainbridge Island, put our
feet up on their leather sofas, and chatted into the night.
But after nine months away, none of us are house trained
any more. Kirstie broke her wine glass, Cameron wet his
bed, Stuart ate more than his fair share of chocolate brownies
and Matthew petted their bunny rabbit to the point of exhaustion.
But then, no one ever said the Wickes family were a cheap
as we begin our tour of the big American cities, we hope
to find our perfect match in Washington DC, Chicago, Boston
or New York. Are you a family with a good sense of humour
who likes to travel and owns their own home? Then listen
out for the doorbell, as we may be coming your way.