The first thing I thought when I met Kitti Baker and Lana Pike, was, these women know how to have fun! And, as our conversation progressed, I saw deep affection and friendship with bonds firmly cemented by time and travel. Kitti and Lana travel together – exploring Europe and other overseas destinations, while sharing laughter, adventure and the occasional scary moment.
Originally from Augusta, Georgia, Kitti’s former husband brought her to Myrtle Beach in 1970 where he developed the city’s Hilton Hotel. Today, she is the owner of Green Jacket Hospitality, which hosts groups to the Masters Golf Tournament.
Lana is a hometown girl from Loris and moved with her family to Cherry Grove when she was in 5th grade. After college she went to work for Duke Power Company and there met her former husband. The couple moved first to Charlotte, but eventually moved back “home” to Cherry Grove. When Lana tells you about her life, she adds, “That’s Chapter 11 in My Book,” a long running joke about her autobiography that she is sure she’ll get around to writing someday!
The two women were introduced by a mutual friend and have been friends every since. One day, 25 years later, over a cocktail, Kitti said to Lana, “I want to go to France – do you want to come?” Lana agreed and the two have traveled together ever since.
“I do the research and planning,” Kitti began. “But I always include something that both of us want to do.” From age 10 to age 13, Kitti lived in Europe with her mother and stepfather who was in the military. “My mother was the one who taught me to travel on a budget.” Kitti has gone back and forth to Europe many times with friends, but says she and Lana have the most fun. “We’re kind of like a Thelma and Louise in the safe zone!”
“The most important lesson you can learn in life is to be flexible,” Lana said. “Kitti and I think out of the box – we have freedom when we travel. If we like a place, we stay a little longer and if we aren’t impressed, we move on.”
“When I turned 16, I got my driver’s license and my mother, who never drove, immediately had me driving to Arkansas,” said Kitti after telling me she is always the driver during their trips. “If you put me in a car, I can drive it anywhere. I’ve driven in Rome, Paris, Los Angeles, and New York City.”
Lana is very glad to let Kitti take the wheel. “Once I had to drive around a parking lot in France while Kitti ran inside. I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”
Kitti told me she and Lana have made three major trips. The fourth was supposed to have been this year, but was cancelled. “I wanted to go to the Passion Play in Germany,” Kitti told me. “I’ve been trying to get there since I was a child in 1960.” The traveling duo is already planning to go in 2022.
Lana and Kitti know how to make the most out of every trip and make every dollar count. “We travel on a budget – but we don’t miss out on anything – we just know how to make it work. Some people don’t know how to look for good prices. You have to be aware.” Kitti continued, saying, “Most cities have a big red bus – buy a three day ticket and get on and off as much as you like. Go to galleries and museums on free days or off times.”
“And make sure the wheels work on your luggage,” Lana laughed, speaking from experience. “I once had to buy a piece of luggage in Barcelona.”
Sometimes things get a bit dicey, but taking risks has always paid off for Lana and Kitti. They were traveling in France, and Lana knew a hotel she thought they’d like. “I can get by in German and Italian, but not French, but Lana had been to France and studied French, so she thought she could handle it.” Laughing, Kitti remembers this great adventure. “We were looking for our hotel and got lost. Lana was asking questions, but we couldn’t find it. We finally found a Moroccan man who spoke English who led us to the place Lana knew, but it was closed. It was late, dark and we were tired.”
Lana jumped in and continued. “Our Moroccan friend took us to a traveler’s hotel, one mainly used by men. It was not at all what we were used to – there were communal bathrooms, and it was a scary place.” Then she cracked up laughing, saying, “We had a sink in the room, and Kitti said she would use that sink rather than use that bathroom during the night!”
“I slept with my money belt and all my clothes on,” Kitti chimed in. “As soon as daylight came, we paid and left! They were actually very nice to us. Our car was safely locked up, but the hotel was near an airport and was used by a lot of different people.”
But, sometimes great adventures start with misadventures. Kitti and Lana checked in to their original hotel in Aix, de Provence, that morning and invited their Moroccan friend to meet them at a café for coffee as a way of thanking him for his help. “He invited us to his home for dinner,” Lana began. “We thought about it, but decided this was an adventure we shouldn’t pass up.” The two women went to his home, which was a small one-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife and three young children, the oldest of whom was learning English. “This child would tell us to stand up and we would stand up and dance. It was so funny.”
“There were so many dishes of beautiful food that I am sure his wife spent all day preparing,” Kitti said, as the story continued. “I remember hoping they hadn’t spent their entire week’s food budget on a meal for us, but it was an evening I’ll never forget.”
Lana and Kitti ended the story by telling me that meeting people and learning about different cultures are what make a trip special. “I still like seeing churches and museums as well,” Lana added. “You never realize how different life is in another country. It really makes me appreciate my home and family.”
“Travel enriches my life allowing me to experience other cultures,” Kitti began. “I love to meet people from other countries, and experiencing a bit of their lives helps me learn to respect, understand, and appreciate their world. It allows me to see I am only one in a big world that we are all sharing. I love sharing not only what we have in common but celebrating our differences.”
I asked how these two friends managed to get along so well while traveling and to please share any advice. “It’s not pleasant to travel with people if you don’t work well together,” said Lana. “And always consider energy levels. Some people can’t walk as much as others. Share that information ahead of time.”
“You have to be flexible,” Kitti interjected. “Nothing ever goes as planned – in life or in travel. Talk about your expectations and especially talk about finances.”
“Travel gives you insight into what other people’s lives are like, and it changes you as a person,” Lana said as we continued what had become a very enjoyable conversation. Lana and Kitti immediately make you their friend. In our short time together, I knew I had met two very special people.
The travel planner, Kitti, jumped in with some great advice on how to get the most out of a trip. “I check months in advance for flights. I always book a long flight going over and take a full day in a different place – it’s like an extra bonus, even if it’s not on our agenda.” Kitti books hotels for the beginning and end of their trips, but leaves room for flexibility. “I read books and references about the places we want to visit, but I always allow extra time. We may have one or two hotels selected, and sometimes I book in advance and sometimes not.”
“Make a plan and then narrow it down,” Lana agreed. “We always make sure the other gets to see and do what she wants to do. We’re already thinking about a trip to Champagne country in France because we didn’t make it there last time.”
Kitti and Lana have both traveled extensively in the United States as well, but Kitti doesn’t mind traveling alone in the States. Lana, however, does not enjoy solo travel!
“Kitti is honest, trustworthy, fun, well-read and travel savvy,” said Lana when I asked her what makes her friend such a perfect travel companion.
“Lana is lighthearted – I love that,” Kitti said. “She’s considerate of me and everyone – I love her, she’s my best friend.”
“We love each other and we’re the ‘bestest’ of friends!”