The world doesn’t lack of kind people, and nowhere do we see it more than when we’re traveling.
When we’re far from home, we appreciate all the more other’s kindness, since it would have been too easy for them to dismiss us as tourists and let us find our own way.
And yet, I often hear travelers tell of amazing stories of strangers going out of their way to help them, with no expectation of payment other than gratitude.
In the second installment of inspiring stories, seven travelers recount their experience of feeling desperate and lost in a foreign country, and how a stranger’s act of kindness helped restore their faith in humanity.
(If you haven’t read the first post, read it here: 5 Stories of Kindness on the Road)
All through our lives, we have heard of stranger danger—our parents, the media, and everybody around us keep on telling us about the dangers of talking to and trusting strangers. In some cases, their warnings are spot on; after all, we have read so many stories of people being scammed, robbed or worse, killed, by people they don’t know.
When we’re traveling, however, sometimes we have no choice but to put our trust in strangers. During my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe, for example, I found myself without accommodations in Padova, Italy.
I wrote an SOS in Couchsurfing, hoping someone would accept me at the last minute.
A PhD student from Pakistan responded to my request. He said that he didn’t have a spare room or couch, but if it was okay for me to sleep in one room with four other Pakistani guys, I could use their airbed.
Other people might freak out at the thought, but I accepted, and it turned out to be a memorable time in Europe for me. They cooked and shared with me a Pakistani meal, and I, in turn, cooked them spaghetti using spicy sardines from the Philippines as the sauce.
Tiffany Soukup of Vagabond Way also found herself trusting a complete stranger through Couchsurfing. According to her,
My husband and I were on our two-year journey around Australia when our van broke in the middle of nowhere. At best, it would be one week before the parts could be ordered and installed.
Unable to work out a barter with any of the local campgrounds, I put out a last minute request on Couchsurfing and Richard answered within an hour. At the time, he didn’t know us at all, yet he offered us a key to his trailer (he had guests in his house then) for as long as we needed.
We ended up staying two weeks. We met fellow travelers and got to hang out with a professional wildlife photographer, joining him on some photo shoots. We cooked meals together, talked, and enjoyed each other’s company a lot. Richard could have ignored our Couchsurfing request, but he didn’t. He did what anyone could have wished for—he treated us the way he would have wanted to be treated. At the end of the day, that’s all a traveler can hope for.
While being strangers, the members of Couchsurfing still have information about each other—on their profiles, there would be pictures of themselves and references from people they have hosted or surfed with.
In the case of Diana Edelman of d travels ’round, however, she really had to trust a stranger when she found herself lost in 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.
Emma Swete of Live and Learn Travel Blog also experienced a similar encounter. She went to Indonesia once, wanting to visit the grave of her great grandfather who had died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp over there.
As I get off the train in Bandung a small woman grabs my hand and pulls me out of the crowd. She says to me in English “I have car, you come with me.”
I follow her out into the car park; my mind racing a million miles an hour. Who was this woman? Should I trust her? Why does she want to help me?
She asks me if I’ve made a hotel reservation and I say that I have not. “Okay,” she announces. “You will stay with me.”
I panic a little. Part of me is excited at the idea of staying in a local family’s home, but part of me is screaming “Stranger danger!” I decide to throw caution to the wind, though, and I accept her offer.
I tell her my plan to find the grave of my great grandfather. She says that she will help me and makes a few phone calls. She drives me to the cemetery in Cimahi where she lives, and asks the caretaker to find the grave.
As we approach it, a flood of tears rolls down my cheeks. I am overwhelmed. This experience moved me beyond belief, this stranger who opened her home to me and helped me to pay my respects to my great grandfather, and wanted nothing in return except to practice her English.
This experience hasn’t made me overly trusting of strangers, but I have learned from it that if we are too cautious when we’re traveling, we will definitely miss out on some wonderful experiences like this.
Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler also had a stranger to thank for when he found himself wandering around Istanbul at night.
I walked around until I found myself in a rug shop. I asked the proprietor if he knew where my hotel was. He didn’t, but he quickly got on the phone and called the hotel to get directions from them.
He started to relay the instructions to me, but changed his mind. He went out of the shop, motioning for me to follow. We walked through the windy streets of the old Sultanahmet district of Istanbul until we could see the hotel.
The proprietor’s act of kindness—he could just have given me the directions and stayed in his shop—will always remain with me. If you find yourself in Istanbul and want to buy a carpet, let me know and I’ll send you to him!
If you talk to Claus Andersen of Travelling Claus, a Danish guy who has been traveling around the world for more than 20 years in his work as a tour leader, about his experiences of kindness on the road, be prepared to listen for a long time. The most recent one just happened last month.
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.
A stranger’s help can indeed mean a lot to us, especially if we find ourselves stranded somewhere with no way to contact our loved ones. Lauren Gaile of Pandelicious, for example, found herself stuck in Beijing, penniless, homesick, and in dire need of a proper bed.
I hoped to re-route my flight ticket at the airport and get my butt on the next flight out. I got the fright of my life when I was told by the Chinese ticket agents that they could not change my flight ticket as they had no access to my airline’s database.
It was 2 am and I did not have ANY money on my person—no yuan, dollars, credit card or even a working smartphone—so I had to stalk the person at the service counter, who was inherently unhelpful on how the crap do I manage to call the airline and change my booking.
I was so close to giving up and having to ask people at the airport for a job mopping the floors until I could buy a train ticket back to Shanghai when—lo and behold!—someone volunteered to help me translate everything and even followed me to the payphone.
Jim from Nanjing said that it was his first time to talk to a complete stranger. He was just waiting for his 4am flight and wondered why a scraggly-haired girl was pacing back and forth, carrying a very large backpack.
He paid for my 50 yuan phone card that I used to make an international call and helped me use the payphone masquerading as a Star Trek navigation machine. He basically was the most pivotal element on how I managed to survive the great Chinese Bureaucracy relatively unscathed.
Thank you, people!
Indeed, travelers don’t run out of stories like this, stories which make us realize that there is so much kindness in the world. We are so insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but it is in the act of kindness that we give (and receive) that give our lives meaning.
Have you experienced being helped by strangers? Email me your story, and I’ll include it in a future post!