A week ago Monday I was in a car inching through the streets of Bombay, feeling rather lonely and out of touch with my office and family. My international mobile phone service was letting me down, in spite of AT&T's insistence that it was compatible with the local carrier. I quickly discovered the next best thing to getting through—you dial 1-2-3-4-5 and you hear: All of our customer-care executives are assisting other customers. We request you to kindly call us later. We regret the inconvenience. The rather plummy British voice belongs to someone you're sure genuinely cares, someone who's treating you nicely, the perfect companion for the back seat—or tea at the Ritz.
In a world where familiar touchstones are everywhere you turn—CNN, DSL lines, even some of the newspapers you read at home—loneliness and dislocation remain, because with or without benefit of cell phones, we are roaming globally. It can be easy to lose your balance, both literally and figuratively, without the ballasts you rely on. Add in sleep deprivation on long-haul trips and, even if you're as sure-footed as Ginger Rogers, which I admit I'm not, you can do something unfortunate, like slip in the bathtub (as I once did after an overnight flight to London). So when people—even the people who are selling you things, such as my favorite textile dealer in Delhi—offer you tea or lassi, a yogurt drink, not to mention a seat, it's like being sent a bouquet of freshly cut flowers, or a captained yacht to get you through uncharted waters.
Drawing connections between locations, whether at home or abroad, can also help you navigate. Singapore is an example—a city that has elements of Honolulu and Palm Beach, with spotless, landscaped roadways, luxury high-rises, and extraordinary ease. But, as writer Howard W. French points out ("Singapore Lives"), there is also a heady mix of cultures—Chinese, Malay, Indian, Middle Eastern, and European—that provides a distinct sense of place.
The delight of discovery is always a motivation and a reward for travel, and it's celebrated each month in the pages of this magazine. Once again, we recognize the holiday season with a carefully selected compendium of recommendations for getaways, ranging from Bocas del Toro, Panama, to Versailles and Taipei ("Where to Go for the Holidays"). In a bungalow on stilts overlooking a bay or in a snowy mountain village or a festively lit plaza in Yucatán's colonial capital ("Mérida's Moment"), the opportunities for a memorable experience are legion. Because being well fed, well greeted, and well served are the keys to another kind of pleasure that travelers seek, we also present 40 of the latest and most innovative places to have your next great meal in "Best New American Restaurants 2004" by Anya von Bremzen. And for one more dollop of pleasure, what could be better than a visit to the wellspring of that Dylan Thomas classic, A Child's Christmas in Wales? Novelist Bruno Maddox returned to the Welsh countryside and found, in his own way, a reality that matched the ideal.
In this season of good cheer, it's appropriate to salute the human element in travel, extending even to my new friend, the recorded voice in Bombay, and to everyone who makes our traveling lives more interesting, rewarding, and globally positioned for—let's not forget—fun.