Travel is not just about the places we travel to; it is about the people we meet along the way. And when such meetings develop into friendships that are sustained long after the journey has been completed, that is precious indeed.
From June 2005 to early 2017 I was an active member of a travel website, Virtual Tourist. Over the years this developed into a real community – not just online but also ‘in real life’. One element of this was the regular organisation of meetings between members, large and small. The latter might consist of just two members who found themselves travelling to the same destination at the same time; or maybe arranging to meet up with a local friend while on a city break.
The largest meetings, on the other hand, could involve over 100 members. Many of these were regular fixtures in the calendar of many members. Among them, the annual ‘Euromeet’ was one of the biggest and longest established. It was first held in 2005 in Valeggio, near Verona. I first attended in 2008 when it took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, and went to almost all of them from that year on, missing only 2011.
Virtual Tourist meetings 2008-2013
These meetings were the initiative of members, not Virtual Tourist management, although the latter encouraged and supported them, attending when they could. Each year one or several members volunteered to organise and host the meeting, devoting their own time and energy to planning a great weekend of activities for those that came. And come we did – not just from Europe but from as far afield as Canada, the US, Australia …
Virtual Tourist meetings 2014-2016
The end of an era?
When, sadly, the closure of the Virtual Tourist website was announced in January 2017, planning for that year’s meeting in Kempten, Germany, was well underway. And many of us had already made travel arrangements and booked hotels. What would happen? Could the meeting go ahead without the website and without any management support? You bet it could!
And what is more, the initiative and support of members willing to organise and host has ensured that the meetings have continued, with a 2018 meeting in Reykjavik and a 2019 one in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Virtual Tourist meetings 2017-2019
Virtual Tourists in 2020
As for 2020, well we all know what has happened to travel this year – it is almost non-existent. This should have been my year to play host; all plans were in place by January for a meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I had booked restaurants for group dinners and arranged for a city tour and a coach trip in Northumberland. VT members had booked flights and made hotel reservations. I was expecting around 60 people to attend. But of course none of that happened. Now we wait to see if our revised plan of a May 2021 meeting can come to fruition or if we will have to postpone again *. One thing though is for sure – sooner or later Virtual Tourist members will gather together again to enjoy more precious moments.
Meanwhile, like so many friends, we have turned to Zoom to keep in touch, with weekly gatherings involving members from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Denmark, Norway, Japan plus from time to time Iceland, Spain – even Syria! Our travels have become truly virtual.
There is something really special, and enduring, about this community of like-minded travellers. Of course as is natural we all have our particular friends within the group, drawn to each other by similarities in interests, age, sense of humour etc. But it rarely feels cliquey, and new people are welcomed and absorbed into the group with ease.
I am forever thankful for the day I decided to sign up to the website, and for the day I decided to take the plunge and attend my first big meeting. Here’s to many more to come, once travel is possible once more!
I am posting these photos in response to this week’s Lens Artists Challenge to share precious moments from our travels. The friendships I have made with this wonderful community of travellers, all over the world, are indeed precious.
* Postscript 2023: the planned meeting in Newcastle finally went ahead in May 2022, two years late and after several further postponements. Members came from Canada, the US, Israel, Iceland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands and of course the UK. And now the story continues, with this year’s meeting to be held in Norway and voting underway to decide our 2024 destination!