Baby Rachel, Mom, and Dad in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I grew up in a tourist trap, surrounded on every side by meccas for the traveler. From the front door of my childhood home, you can drive 40 minutes in any direction and end up in one of America’s must-see locations: the Golden Gate Bridge, the vineyards of Napa Valley, Redwood National Park, California’s state capitol, and the Jelly Belly factory. Even though these landmarks were a part of my backyard, they never lost their appeal.

Given my family’s unique location, the majority of our holidays were spent entertaining a house full of extended family and friends. One holiday season my younger sisters named our home “The Clawson Hotel,” and when I returned home from college for Christmas break, they had me formally check in to my bedroom, which now had a construction-paper sign on the door, labeling it room three. With holiday seasons like this, my family and I rarely spent vacations living out of suitcases and instead spent them embracing our geographically induced role of hosts.

Of the hosts in my family, my dad is the best. He knows exactly which Bay Area destinations people enjoy, how to get there, where to park, and which local secrets elicit the best reaction from guests. Take his San Francisco tour, for example. In just one strategically planned day, he shows visitors all the classics: the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Union Square, Lombard Street. And as my dad leads a van full of people to these classic destinations, he shares his secrets, bringing the trip to life.

Lombard Street, the steep street in the middle of the city, boasts eight hairpin turns and is the first destination on Dad’s tour. After he tells everyone to put their hands in the air and say “weee,” he drives down the street and stops at the bottom to allow our guests to snap some pictures. The trouble is that the street is so steep that it is nearly impossible to catch all of it in one shot. But Dad has a solution. He whispers in the ear of one of our guests: “You know, the only way to get a shot of the whole street at once is to climb this telephone pole.” Soon, someone is shimmying up the wooden pole while one camera after the other is being passed up to that brave soul. Some guests laugh, others worry for the safety of the climber, and others try climbing the pole themselves.

On every major and not-so-major holiday, I relive this telephone-pole experience and other experiences just like it. But it never gets old. I am always excited to go on Dad’s tours because each time I go, I get to see my backyard like a first-time traveler all over again. I get to see guests ooh and ahh or laugh when they see the larger-than-life picture of Ronald Reagan made out of Jelly Beans. And I get to see them fearfully or excitedly ride the fast glass elevator up the 32-story Westin St. Francis hotel in Union Square. Every time we take someone on a tour, we get to re-experience the thrill the traveler has discovering something for the first time, and these first-time experiences are what make traveling—and hosting—worth it.

As you dive through this issue of Stowaway, we hope you catch the traveler’s excitement by having first-time experiences through other people’s eyes—such as students who traveled through New Zealand dressed as Hobbits, artists who perform at the Scottish Fringe Festival, and a couple who uprooted to Kazakhstan.

We are delighted to be your hosts. Thank you for joining us.

—Rachel Nielsen