In April 2014, I had an idea for a collaborative post. I wanted to collect stories from travelers around the world about instances when they were helped by stranger/s.
I asked friends and fellow travel bloggers about their experiences and the response was so overwhelming that it started the series called Kindness on the Road, published monthly on the site since then.
While all of the stories I’d received were heartwarming, there are some that really stood out for me. I collected them in this sort of a yearender post. Reading these anecdotes inspires me all over again and I hope it has the same effect on you, too!
For those who have followed these series, you would know that I have shared my own stories, too.
There was the Gift of Trust in Hungary, when a Couchsurfing member gave me the keys to her house without even seeing me; the emergency couch in Padova, Italy when a Pakistani and his three friends let me sleep in their room without much advance notice; and the tricycle driver and his friends in the Philippines who went out of their way to look for a lodging house for me (no matter how dubious its reputation was) in the middle of the night.
I’m sharing my favorite one below; it highlights my desperation at that time and made the taxi driver’s kindness all the more memorable!
Lost and Alone in the Big City (Philippines)
I remember a trip once when I was 15. I was a freshman in college, and for some reason, I was really scared of missing the first day of class for the new year, so much so that I left early for Manila by boat. It was too early, though, because I arrived in Manila just before New Year’s Day, two hours before midnight.
I took a cab from the port to a family friend’s place, since the campus dormitory was still closed at that time. The family friend had given me two keys for her apartment two weeks before, telling me that I was free to stay there when I’m back in Manila.
Unfortunately, when I arrived at the apartment, I found out that the family “friend” had added a new lock without letting me know. There were now three locks, and with only two keys, I couldn’t get in.
As I sat on the curb outside the apartment, I felt like crying–I was 15, didn’t have money, didn’t know anyone else in Manila, and it was an hour before New Year’s Day. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t call my parents as cellphones didn’t exist yet at that time.
The cab driver was just driving out of the apartment complex when he noticed me. He got off his car, went to me and asked me what was wrong. When I told him, he told me to go back to the cab.
The driver brought me to a small lodging house in Sampaloc, Manila (for free), paid the receptionist for my night’s stay, and told her to keep an eye on me as I was by myself. Before he left, he gave me a pack of biscuits (Skyflakes) and a bottle of water, and told me not to go out from midnight onwards.
I sat alone in my small room munching on the biscuits to celebrate New Year’s Day, looking out the window at the noisy revelry outside. Instead of being lonely and miserable, all I could feel then was gratitude for the unnamed cab driver who went out of his way to help a young girl lost in the city.
An Unforgettable Kindness (Tibet)
In 2004, I was traveling through Tibet on my own. I met a few other independent travelers, and together we hired a Land Cruiser and driver to take us from Lhasa to Mount Everest Base Camp, a journey that takes about a week and includes mountain passes more than 5,000 meters above sea level.
Unfortunately, I fell very ill in Shigatse, a small town about halfway between Lhasa and Everest. My throat and lungs were in rough shape, and the infection was made worse by the extreme altitude and general dustiness of the Tibetan plateau. I had difficulty breathing and speaking.
The doctor I saw there told me to stay in Shigatse for several days and go to the hospital every day to use a machine that vaporized the medicine I needed. Unbelievably, the British woman in my Land Cruiser–someone I’d known for less than one week–gave up her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Everest Base Camp, choosing instead to stay with me in Shigatse.
She was there to ensure the hospital staff used clean syringes when giving me injections (they initially tried to use an unpackaged syringe, and I struggled to say no given my swollen throat) and helped me to and from the hospital each day.
It was an incredible gesture of kindness that I still think of 10 years later. Unfortunately, Facebook wasn’t widely popular then, and her email address went missing on my onward travels. I wish I could find her someday to let her know how much her choice means to me, even now.
Our Brothers of the Sea (Indonesia)
The career Navy man, Budi Wiratno, stood in his launch, holding onto rail our sailboat in order to stay alongside in the swift current and sweating through his stiff uniform under the equatorial sun. Squinting up at us, he wanted to know: why were we there?
Pemangkat is a small border town in Western Kalimantan, near Indonesia’s border with Malaysia. Unless you’re traveling by boat it’s not on a road to anywhere, so few outsiders pass through.
But we were traveling by water, not land, and it held the nearest offices to the border for the harbormaster, customs, and immigrations officials we needed to visit to complete formalities before clearing out of the country.
After a few minutes, Budi understood what we wanted to do and offered to bring us five miles upriver in his boat where the officials were located. Unknown to us at the time, it was a holiday and all government offices were closed, but Budi made a few phone calls and the office was open and ready for us.
The many forms, signatures, and stamps of bureaucracy went faster than any of the half dozen others we completed in Indonesia. Only two hiccups: a power outage that prevented photocopying of forms, and a port official insisting on a startlingly high bribe for “after hours service.” Our Navy escort looked at him sternly and said that his office is there to serve seafarers, and they are always open. The point was dropped.
The next morning, we invited Budi and his crew to our boat, Totem, for freshly made cinnamon rolls and coffee to thank them for the help. When they arrived, eight stuffed sacks were carried on board. It came to light that during his visit the previous day, Budi had thought that we couldn’t possibly have enough food onboard for a family of five, so he went shopping.
In total, they delivered to us 50 pounds of beautiful, fresh fruit, vegetables, even fish – perhaps a week’s wages worth. We tried to pay for the produce, but they were adamant that these were gifts of good will, and they would not accept compensation.
We thanked them as best we could, and asked them why. It took some moments flipping through my English/Bahasa dictionary to translate Budi’s response, but he patiently waited to make sure we understood what he wanted to tell us–we are brothers of the sea.
Taxi Driver on a Mission (Bolivia)
This has got to be one of the craziest travel stories of my life. My husband and I were in La Paz, Bolivia a few years ago and had tickets for an onward flight to Rurennabaque. La Paz is in kind of a fishbowl with the airport up at the top.
I don’t remember the reason now, but the day of our flight the ENTIRE city shut down in a protest. People rolled boulders and barricades in the roads, every store was closed, and people flooded the streets, throwing rocks at anyone driving or engaging in commerce.
No taxi driver would dare take our fare; we had approached nearly a dozen just parked on the streets standing around their cabs. Then there was this one guy who finally took us up. I guess it’s only sort of a “kindness” as we were paying for his service (at no phenomenal cost either) but what happened next was purely insane.
We broke through some of the gridlock in the heart of the city, largely by driving straight at protesters and on sidewalks around the rubble. We got to this steep dirt hill and the driver told us to get out of the car. Sh– was already weird enough, and our entire lives were in our backpacks in the trunk of his car, but we got out anyway.
He floored the cab in reverse and we thought we’ve just been had. But instead, the driver gunned it and tried to drive up this steep fu—g dirt ravine. The car made it two thirds up before sliding back down, which didn’t dissuade him from trying a few more times.
When he decided on a new plan, he told us to get back in the car and we’d come up with something. He stopped people in the streets, made phone calls, and got reports on possible open roads, and we drove around in circles for an hour. I had to jump out of the car for a few times and held up ropes strung across the road so he could drive under them.
When we got close to the airport road, we found that it had been completely barricaded by parked trucks. No matter; the dude was on a mission and was going to get us to the fu—g airport whatever it took on him or his hilariously piece of sh– cab.
He turned into a residential area and drove up some concrete stairs. Yep, like how they do it in the movies. Some kids who were hanging out ran up to help us and started pushing the car. There were loud scraping sounds, obvious damage going on. I don’t know how the heck we made it, but we finally got to the airport, miraculously whole. The dude asked for $20. I think we gave him $60. It was the best $60 we had ever spent in our travels!
From Reddit member isotaco, in Taxi Driver on a Mission and Other Stories of Kindness.
Lost in Split (Croatia)
I sit in the bus, riding along the Croatian coast from Zadar. I’m supposed to be en route to the seaside town of Split … not the mountains. I clutch my thin paper ticket in my hand, trying to will myself to understand Croatian. When I’m nearly the last person on the bus, I stand up, hands sweating profusely, and approach the weathered bus driver.
“Split?” I ask.
He stares blankly at me.
“Split?” I ask again, hoping a tiny ounce of understanding will register.
A teen comes up to me and tells me the driver does not speak English. So, I explain my situation while he translates.
“This bus does not go to Split. The driver will drop you off here,” he says, gesturing to a stone bench surrounded by chickens. “He will come back for you in an hour.”
“No, no,” I say, almost panicking. I don’t want to be left there!
“Then you go with him,” he says, then leaves.
The driver pulls the bus up to a tiny house, pulling the key from the ignition.
“OK,” he says, gesturing for me come. I am apprehensive, but I follow… into a home where dinner is being prepared. I meet his English-speaking son who sets a place at the kitchen table for me and serves me dinner, cherry juice, and dessert before his dad drives me back to Zadar.
This time, I get on the right bus–with a full stomach and a resorted faith in the kindness of strangers.
From Diana Edelman of d travels ’round in Of Trusting Strangers: 7 More Stories of Kindness on the Road.
The Kindergarten Teacher (Portugal)
I set off to walk across the island of Pico on Azores (Portugal) this morning. After 11 kilometers of walking up the mountain, a young guy—the local kindergarten teacher—stopped his car to offer me a ride. I wasn’t tired, but I accepted his offer since it’s always nice to meet new people.
We talked for the 20 minutes it took us to drive to Sao Roque. He dropped me off at his house and gave me the keys, telling me I could use the house like it was my own while I waited for the ferry to arrive. He then he drove off to work, leaving me in his house alone.
This guy had known me for less than half an hour and did not even know my name. I saw his on an envelope inside the house—his name was Jorge—and yet, he trusted me with all his belongings!
If you ever come to the little village of Sao Roque on Pico Island, and bump into Jorge the kindergarten teacher, please say thank you again for me. What he did really restored my faith in humanity.
From Claus Andersen of Travelling Claus in Of Trusting Strangers: 7 More Stories of Kindness on the Road.
Encounter with a Moroccan (Morocco)
It was Ramadan in Morocco and everything was really difficult to obtain. Banks were not cooperating, food was hard to find, and the markets were full by 7pm. My hotel was fantastic but really far from the center.
Everyday, I’d walk 20 minutes just to find food and see the city. One night, I decided to go to the center and film some footages for my Morocco video.
As soon as I arrived there, I realized I forgot my wallet. I couldn’t walk back as my hotel was too far. I didn’t have cash on hand except for 20 dirhams. How far can you go for 20DH? I tried an ATM but to my horror, it didn’t accept my card!
I approached one of the restaurants to check their menu and see if I could afford something.
“My friend, what do you want?” one of the waiters asked. I told him I didn’t have money so it’s okay, I’m just looking.
To my surprise, he pointed to a cafe by the big tree in the center and told me that they serve free food. I was puzzled but I still went there. Was this guy kidding or what? I started talking to the guy though I didn’t know if he understood my question. He guided me to a table.
It appears that, every Ramadan, some food chains offer food to those who cannot afford to buy their meals and it is one of the religious traditions of the country.
I happily ate the food, and on my way out, I told the guy that I will pay tomorrow. He smiled and said, “Insha’Allah, my friend. You can give it or not, tomorrow’s another day.”
Landing in the Lap of Angels (India)
“I’ve landed in the lap of angels.”
That was the text I sent to a friend from the train before departing the Ranthambore station in India. It was true. Though I wasn’t really in need of help at the time I was receiving it in luxurious doses.
After almost a month in India I was on the last leg of my trip. I was heading to Delhi on an overnight train where I would spend one day and then fly home that night. On the platform at the train station I met two women. They were sisters-in-law who had taken a weekend break from husbands. We chatted while we waited for the train. It was all normal. But when we boarded the train, they took over.
First they arranged for my sleeping bunk to be near theirs. Then they made my bed from the sheets provided. After a quick snack which, yes, they provided, I was tucked in and told not to worry. They would wake me when we arrived in Delhi. Which they did at 6am.
Their driver was there to meet them at the station so they took me to the older sister’s home. We had tea and then I was given blankets and the couch for a nap for a couple of hours. Then they arranged a car for me for the day which was to take me to the airport at the end of a tour of New Delhi that they designed.
It was amazing!
As a solo traveler, I don’t usually allow other people to take over for me. I don’t usually go into private cars with people I’ve just met, or sleep in their homes or allow them to plan my day. How did I know I was safe with them? How was trust established?
First, I had already discovered that the people of India are incredibly hospitable, and second, I’ve learned to trust that my gut knows who to trust.
The kindness of strangers is a wonderful gift. I try to reciprocate whenever I can.
From Janice Waugh of the Solo Traveler blog in Of Angels and Other Stories of Kindness on the Road.
Safety in Traveling Solo (Africa)
I had been robbed in Mozambique, relieved of $30 from my backpack for insisting I could carry it myself, thereby depriving three strong young men–how heavy they thought it was I don’t know–of some wages. So they helped themselves.
I was in Tete, heading for the Zimbabwean border and a hot shower, something I hadn’t had in days. I’d be taking a bus, then a minibus, and finally riding on a pickup truck to the border, across which I’d have to walk.
But I was broke. I could already see myself stuck in Tete, without a cent, trying to find a way to call my Embassy.
The driver took a look at a dispirited me and patted the step. “We charge for seats,” he said. “You are not sitting on a seat.”
I rode the hour or so it took to get to the handover point to the minibus. The bus driver somehow got me onto the minibus, where I sat on a pile of rugs. I wasn’t asked to pay. Nor was any money requested when I climbed into the back of the pickup truck, sitting on some rock-hard vegetables that felt more like boulders than food.
“No money,” the new driver told me, as he bumped across the dirt road leading out of Mozambique.
Three rides, three drivers, each of them poorer than I can ever imagine, each of them kinder than I could ever hope for. All of them Mozambicans, a healthy reminder that stereotyping is usually faulty, and that first impressions are often wrong.
From Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women on the Road in Solo Travelers in Focus: 9 More Stories of Kindness on the Road.
There you have it. Nine of my favorite stories of kindness from last year. I look forward to continuing the series this year and hope to include YOUR story. Send it to me through my Contact Form, and I would really appreciate it if you can share this post and spread the inspiration! Happy new year!