But the essence of travelling is meeting a wide variety of different, strange and special people. The trips open the heart and mind and raise a lot of questions in a person's subconscious.
Of all the countless experiences I have had in decades of travelling in Israel and around the world, nothing prepared me for what I saw in New Zealand: Unequivocal love and admiration for the Jewish people, which I found to be a bit odd at the time. It was the first place I had arrived in where I really felt welcome, loved, part of the chosen people.
Hosting Israeli travelers for free
In most cases this comes from kind Christians who believe that we, the Jewish people, are the children of God Himself, and that anyone who respects us, helps us and understands our significance in this world, is blessed with countless blessings. In some cases this faith has become a way of life, combined with a wide and open heart and great love.
Such is the amazing story of the unusual Lewis family.
In the resort town of Queenstown in New Zealand's South Island lives a couple in its early 50s, Phil and Catherine, with its five children. Phil is a car mechanic and Catherine works in second-hand shop in the city.
By word of mouth. Israeli hikers with Lewis family (Photo: Idan Hobra)
They live in a modest house with a small yard and a beautiful view of the Remarkables mountain range. For the past five years, the family has been hosting Israeli travelers and asking for nothing in return. If there is no room inside the house, one can sleep in a tent in the garden or in the car, as many hikers in New Zealand are accustomed to.
The family members don't advertise their services. The news about them travels by word of mouth. They have no interests or intentions. They simply and honesty take in and accommodate every Israeli arriving at their doorstep, which is felt in every word, hug and moment within the family circle.
Celebrating our holidays
The family is fond of Israelis and of Israel with all that it entails: They celebrate our holidays, hang flags of Israel in their home, and their eldest daughter even speaks a bit of Hebrew.
Countless hikers have passed through the Lewis home in the past five years, young and old, individuals and entire families – and they all experienced that same immediate connection and many emotions evoked by the family members.
If there's no room in the house, they'll find you a place in the garden. Lewis family's living room (Photo: Idan Hobra)
Beyond the warmhearted and cozy hospitality, the Lewis family members are there to help the travelers with everything, from laundry to car sales, from medical aid to searching for victims of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Every Friday evening, the family hosts some 30 to 40 hikers from the area for a mass meal accompanied by the Kiddush prayer and the lighting of Shabbat candles. They all cook together and bring a lot of excitement and joy to the Lewis family.
Dreaming of visiting Israel
The Facebook era allows us to keep in touch with Lewis family members, and they do so with every hiker who visited their house. Every few weeks, they receive a package sent from one of their guests from Israel, which usually includes tahini, halva, local beer or a T-shirt with a Hebrew caption, as a show of gratitude for the warm home they create for these travelers in such a faraway country.
The family's biggest dream is to visit Israel. The excitement heard in their voices when they talk about traveling to Israel one day is reminiscent of the yearning of Jews from all parts of the world who founded this country, reminiscent of the songs and books craving for the Holy Land.
Their eyes shine when they talk about Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the Arava and the Negev. They are very familiar with the country's map and are looking forward to visiting.
Naturally, the reality of a car mechanic and a saleswoman with five children does not allow them to cross the universe on such an expensive flight and fulfill their dream.
Flag of Israel hangs in family's living room (Photo: Idan Hobra)
Consequently, Lewis family "graduates" have come up with an initiative to fulfill the generous hosts' dream. The hikers started a Facebook group called "Bring the Lewis family from Queenstown to Israel" and opened a special bank account in a bid to raise funds for the family's plane tickets and accommodation in Israel.
More than 300 people have already joined the group, where many pictures and moving stories are posted on a daily basis, with one pure intention – to fulfill the dream of good, modest and simple people who are promoting Israel's image in a wonderful manner and giving their hearts to us – just because we're Israelis.