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Friendship group opens homes to those traveling to Las Vegas

Want to see the world but from an insider’s viewpoint?

Friendship Force International may be up your alley. The group offers an exchange program where citizens of different countries open their homes and play host to travelers from distant lands.

Retirees Floyd and Judy Davis live near Flamingo and Fort Apache roads. Both are avid travelers. They have been members for almost five years, and she is the president.

“It’s a different way to travel,” said Floyd Davis. “You develop friendships for life.”

Their trips have included Brazil, Costa Rica and Australia. Their experiences in the different cultures varied. Their first hostess didn’t speak English, only Portuguese.

“But she brought a friend in, and we both had dictionaries, and by the end of the week, everything was fine,” Judy Davis said.

Trying to navigate the bustling city of Sao Paulo with its 27 million residents, they said, would have been a daunting task without their local host to lead the way.

“They went with us … they made sure we didn’t get lost because if you get lost in a city where you don’t speak (the language), we can be in trouble,” Floyd Davis said.

In Costa Rica, their host’s home offered upscale accommodations –– each room had an en suite. While in Australia, they took advantage of the occasion to take a personal side trip to New Zealand.

They, in turn, have hosted travelers from other lands, most recently Canada.

It’s not so much about saving on hotel costs as it is learning about each others’ homeland, bridging cultural differences and making a person-to-person connection, they said.

Henderson resident Judi Reid first joined FFI in 1989 when she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, she transferred to this club.

She has been to Brazil, Turkey, Chile and Indonesia and has hosted people from Turkey, Chile and Uzbekistan.

“Generally they’re not direct exchanges,” she said. “The people who come in are not always the ones you visited. It’s not one-to-one. … I’ve met wonderful people. I compare it to an AFS, which is a high school organization that (arranges) exchange students.”

Southwest resident Kathy Keller is new to the club and has taken two trips so far and hosted two women from Missoula, Mont.

“I live by myself, so I like it when I have company,” she said.

On the FFI trip Keller took to the Niagara Falls area, she stayed with a woman in Ottawa, Ontario. They got along so well, they are planning to take an Alaskan cruise together.

“You make friends when you stay with people,” she said.

When people come to Las Vegas, local club members act as their tour guide/taxi service, taking them to the Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon and the Strip.

“It’s like having your family come to visit, except you don’t know them. They’re strangers,” Judy Davis said.

She said she likes to have her guests see “Jubilee!” at Bally’s, as it has the traditional showgirl element and one can take a tour backstage.

She also said some visitors become longtime friends. Others they never hear from again except for perhaps an email thanking them.

FFI was founded in 1977. The Las Vegas club was founded two years later. There are about 30 local members, and about 75 percent are female. It is looking for new members and invites those interested to attend its meetings to see what it’s all about.

For 2014, it is set to host a group of 15 to 20 people traveling from Russia. International exchanges are seven days long.

FFI has a network of 350 clubs in 58 countries.

Travelers are responsible for their own airfare. The host provides accommodations, breakfast each day and transportation. Obligations are spelled out at friendshipforceinternational.org.

Annual dues are $30 per person. For more information, call the Davises at 702-647-2199.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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