We were sitting around the kitchen table last weekend helping some friends plan a wedding.
Now this wasn't just any old splicing, mind you - the kind where the happy couple spends a fortune on wedding gowns and gear and rental hall receptions for hundreds of nearest and dearest and hangers-on. Nor was it one of those fly-away specials to Vegas or Disney World or some all-inclusive resort in Cancun.
No. This particular 20-something couple had a much better idea, in our view - to get married in totally romantic Italy. Trouble was, they'd never been to Italy before, or anywhere abroad for that matter. They also had no Italian connections, no concrete ideas of where to go, and certainly no idea of what was involved in getting hitched in a foreign country. Could we possibly help them?
Admiring the sheer audacity and originality of the plan - and because we just happen to have a very close and trustworthy contact in what must surely be one of the most perfect wedding spots in the whole wide world - we were more than happy to help.
The exact details are still up in the air. But if all goes according to plan, they'll exchange vows in June in sunny Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop. The Isle of Capri is just a 15-minute ferry ride away, and Pompeii and the whole of the Amalfi coast are available for daily excursions.
There'll be a lavish farmhouse wedding feast in the orange and lemon-filled hills above the town. Maybe some of the bridal party and guests will take leisurely walks along lovely trails in the surrounding countryside, or boat rides over to Naples and other Mediterranean islands. And there are drop-dead gorgeous views from a 4-star cliff-top hotel that actually overhangs the Bay.
The group will fly in and out of Rome where we also have a super helpful contact. They can get their final Latin fixes from visits to the Colosseum and the Forum, and some last-minute, upscale shopping on the fabulous Via Veneto.
We tell you all this today not to show how clever we are, but to point out how important good contacts can be to the success of a trip. And it is to remind ourselves of the wisdom of that old saying, "It's not what you know, but who you know."
Indeed, in our experience, good contacts have frequently moved a journey from the slightly mundane to the truly magnificent.
It was an Alaskan friend, for example, who once persuaded a public ferry to go private, just for us, and then transport our mini-group from Haines to Juneau with time out for diversions whenever a whale was sighted.
An East German contact, made a few days after the fall of the Wall in Dresden, arranged a year later for their family and neighborhood friends to sit down at a downtown "bierkeller" with a bunch of Americans for an incredible evening of fun and intercultural exchange followed by a day of sightseeing and home visits. Priceless.
Good contacts were also responsible for the arrival, in front of our seafront hotel on the Isle of Man, of a lineup of 20 Porsches which then proceeded to take every one of us on a heart-stopping, 37-mile ride around the infamous TT course.
We could go on. For it was a contact who arranged for us to ride in the cockpit of a 747, who retrieved lost film from a restroom in Alice Springs and had it magically transported halfway across country for pickup in Cairns, and who once organized a free ride across the Atlantic on a banana boat. Contacts have given us "insider" experience in so many countries and have bailed us out of countless problematic situations.
Good contacts, of course, come in all stripes and sizes.
They may be an on-site travel agent. Or the owner of your small hotel or B&B. Perhaps it's the chef in your favorite restaurant, an individual well met along the way, or the friend of a friend or some far-flung, long forgotten relative.
Or they just might be a couple of scribblers, sitting round a kitchen table, helping to plan someone's simply smashing wedding in Sorrento!