One may never know the many people touched by a life well lived. The rippling effects can be far reaching into the future. In 1973, Hal Taussig gave his car to a hitchhiker and from that time on, he rode his bike to work. He was a giant of a man focused on living simply and forging connections across continents. He received a doctorate in education from the University of Penn. During the last phase of his teaching career, he traveled with his wife and youngest daughter to Europe for a sabbatical. He was able to stretch the family’s extremely tight budget by renting apartments in small villages in Switzerland, Germany, and France. At home in rural mountainside communities, he became an avid hiker, learned German, and made lifelong friendships that altered his worldview. By traveling close to the ground, taking local trains, shopping in the markets and getting to know a series of friendly hosts, he found what he considered a more meaningful and enlightening mode of travel. This cross-cultural connection prompted him to write his book “Shoestring Sabbatical” hoping to inspire others to travel this way. Before the “one click find it on the internet” and Air B&B, Hal being a true visionary, started “Untours” with his wife Norma in the 70″s. A company to offer a mode of travel that Hal pioneered: apartment stays in local communities in Europe that give travelers a more genuine experience and understanding of a place, its people, and its culture. This man from Media, Pa who died in 2016 and who I never have had the privilege to meet has opened new worlds for me.
I have been traveling since I was 18. Seems like only yesterday! I have traveled with groups and I have jaunted out into the world alone. There is very little thinking and leg work involved when with a group. All is set in place – times of arrival and return are given, sights to see or not see. When alone, it can be at times somewhat nerve wracking maneuvering through new worlds with much time spent researching and making reservations. Happily, now I have found the perfect blend of the two with Untours. This was my first time traveling with them and I am so excited to share my experience with those who may have that wanderlust spirit but like to be grounded securely.
My recent trip was to Alsace, France. Dodge Amaral, (email@example.com ) was wonderful in setting the stage, sharing his vast experience and knowledge of the area, putting all the logistics in place and I went off with all tickets in hand. I received such a valuable guide book to the area covering everything from cultural etiquette, suggestions for things to do, how to handle tips etc. that we referred to many days. Untours provides that best of both worlds travel package. A representative in France is ready to meet the arriving traveler, “hold their hands” while obtaining the rental car and driving to the apartment “home away from home”. Rather than staying in a hotel, with hundreds of people, here in the beautiful town of Ribeauvillé, we had our own spacious apartment within a local villa all to ourselves. Marie Lauth and Dominique were our hosts. They greeted us with their own homemade apple cider, a bottle of wine and much kindness. There was so much attention to beautiful detail for us. Dominique was an architect and Marie Lauth is a talented artist with her work hanging on the walls. Beautiful drapes and table linens came from the very famous Beauville Linens (so much more on that to follow). Travel books were there for us to read each evening in our lovely living room. The kitchen had all the amenities we needed when we would return home each day with fresh baked bread, cheese, local wines and fresh fruit from the market. Towel warmers and huge down comforters easily took away the chill of the day and each morning we looked out to their lovely garden and vineyard awaiting the birthing of spring. They were there for us if we had any questions and we felt so comfortable coming and going at our own pace. We shared lives, countries, photographs in frames and photographs on the phone with this wonderful couple who fast became our friends. Vivianne Beller was the UnTours representative in France. We met with her over lunch and thank heaven the French take two hours for this meal because she was a fascinating companion. She was an American living in France after marrying her husband and she related and conversed so easily, guiding us along with suggestions to make the most out of our trip. She is there for all Untours travelers and will plan a lunch meet up to help everyone in that same way. I loved the freedom of planning where we would go each day and doing it our own time. If we got lost on a country road or took several hours to totally enjoy the French cuisine, no one was waiting on a bus for us. We set our itinerary. We meandered through the beautiful and quaint towns in the Alsace region in our own way and knew wonderful locals were just a phone call away if needed.
At the time of Hal’s death, he was an accomplished businessman, a fervent booster of Fair Trade, an activist for socially responsible business, and an early micro-enterprise investor before micro loans were really even thought of. His Untours Foundation, created with the profits of his successful tour company, has lent over 7 million dollars to small startups and businesses around the world to create jobs and economic opportunities for those most in need. In 1999, Paul Newman and John F. Kennedy Jr. awarded Untours with the title “Most Generous Company in America.” He was given the Spirit of Philadelphia Award in 2007 and at the following year’s Philadelphia Sustainability Awards, Hal was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his ongoing commitment to social justice. I never met Hal Taussig but this man’s vision, ideas and ideals have very much touched my life and now the way I travel. Thank you so much Hal!