What would it take for you to put your life on pause and book a trip across the Atlantic on a mission of familial and self discovery?
For Samantha Hohnstadt, it was the untimely passing of her grandfather in the fall of 2016.
Despite his advanced age, the news caught Hohnstadt and her entire family off guard. Over the next few weeks, she began researching her family’s history in Europe, as a means for coping with this painful loss. The research led to intrigue and the realization that only so much could be done over the Internet from her home in Southeast Michigan. If she really wanted to understand where her family came from, she would have to book a plane ticket.
And so that’s what she did.
“With the passing of my grandfather something in me just snapped,” Hohnstadt told me. “I wanted to know where we were from, where our family’s roots were, and what the culture of our ancestors was like. I needed to know.”
In November of that year, merely weeks later, Hohnstadt found herself on a plane to Germany. Her plan was simple: First try connecting with the German side of her family — other Hohnstadts, perhaps — and then fly to Greece to discover the rest of her ancestry.
What ensued over the course of the trip were unpredictable and unforgettable adventures — sometimes joyful and sometimes stressful — through coffee shops and vineyards and airports, searching for her roots. With a colorful cast of characters entering her life throughout the trip, Hohnstadt quickly learned that the world is an extremely large and complex place — but if you look hard enough, you can find the best that humanity has to offer.
A year after returning to the States, Hohnstadt found herself living in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but the story she had lived over those two weeks in Europe remained on her mind. So she began writing.
“Once I set my mind to write this book, it took me all of three weeks to come up with the first draft,” Hohnstadt said. “I would spend hours writing, even until two o’clock in the morning, just letting the story flow from my memory.”
I asked her to walk me through her writing process. Surely, a year later, some of the finer details of the trip would have faded, I thought. But that wasn’t the case.
“Every time I travel, I keep very detailed journals, hang on to maps, guides, tickets, trinkets — anything to help me remember small details that would otherwise be forgotten,” she said. “Having these things on hand made the writing process very easy.”
Once complete, as first drafts often do, the book sat in a drawer for the better part of a year. But then she decided to publish.
“Publishing was a very easy decision to make,” she said. “I wanted to share this story.”
Hohnstadt spent much of 2019 going through the publishing process — editing, revising, proofing. By late summer, she had a final manuscript for The Flavor of Wine.
As someone who has limited experience traveling abroad, I can say that reading Hohnstadt’s memoir was both enlightening and fascinating. Her past trips to Europe (she is an avid traveler, including having lived in Dublin for a short a period) served her well to set the tourist itineraries aside and adventure into scenes that typical travelers would not experience.
Asked what she hoped readers would take away from her book, Hohnstadt said, “Cherish your family. Cherish your roots, your culture, the places your family came from, and the people who helped form you into who you are.”
She added, “Too many people are afraid to travel, to discover where they came from. Just dive in. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Hohnstadt also maintains a travel blog, which you can view here.