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hotel front deskOn a recent solo trip to Montreal and Quebec City, I booked stays at a couple of B&B’s, figuring that the communal breakfast table would be a good place to meet fellow travelers and feel a little less isolated. Turns out I was (mostly) right.

My first morning in Quebec City, I sat awkwardly at the table with three older travelers from France, trying to communicate using a combination of their limited English, my dozen words of French, and a few evocative facial expressions and hand gestures. After a few brief attempts at conversation, we subsided into silence; we’d reached our linguistic limits, and they clearly felt it would be a breach of etiquette to speak French among themselves while I sat there, uncomprehending.

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The next morning, I braced myself for the same, but this time I met a friendly young English-speaking couple (he was from Vancouver, she from Australia) who kept me company while the French travelers chatted with each other. When they found out I was planning to take a bus to Montreal the following day, they invited me to tag along with them in their rental car instead. That half-day road trip through the foliage-dappled countryside turned out to be one of the highlights of my week.

I’d known this couple less than 30 minutes before they extended their invitation. It might seem risky or naive by everyday-life standards, but I’ve found that this sort of kindness is more the norm than the exception when I travel. I can’t count the number of people who’ve made my trips better with simple acts of kindness: the locals who pointed me in the right direction when I was hopelessly lost. The fellow traveler who shared a few pills from her aspirin stash when I was sick with a fever. The flight attendant who gave me a reassuring smile when our plane hit a patch of turbulence. The German hikers who offered me extra water when I felt light-headed on a relentlessly humid day. The waiters and shopkeepers who heard my tortured Spanish/Dutch/French and switched to English to put me at ease.

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I may not have ever seen these people again, or even learned their names. But my encounters with them are just as vital to my fond memories of a trip as the museums and monuments I initially traveled to see.

How have you experienced the kindness of strangers while traveling?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

3 Responses to “Random Acts of Travel Kindness”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I went to Paris 2 years ago. On the subway to Paris I was verbally attacked by a French woman for basically being American and not knowing the customs of the commuters (PS there were no posted signs to validate her expectations). On the way back from Paris to our hotel I lost my subway ticket and could not get through the turnstile. As I was panicking,another French woman used her pass to get me through. Additionally after the women attacked me on the subway, a fellow traveler who had witnessed the incident apologized for her and helped me and my friends find our connecting train.

  2. Sonia Kruger says:

    Meeting people from other parts of the world is one of the reasons I love to travel!Like Chew Soon and Connie from Sydney…we met them in a hotel lounge in Copenhagen while waiting for our rooms and sat at the same table a few times. A year later we went to Sydney and spent a whole day with them in Hunter Valley. What a great couple!Or the Padre in Venice who helped me carry my heavy bag over the Scalzi bridge, the air hostess who organised another seat for the big guy next to me who needed two seats, the friendly English guy in China who helped to buy a train ticket when nobody understood, and the French(yes!)guy in Marseille who offered to use his petrol card in change for cash when we got stuck in Marseille after 10pm at night.
    We also met so many people on different cruises…even if I never see them again, they feel like old friends and I will always remember them from my photos. Not to mention all the great crew members, bus drivers and guides all over the world who really impressed me with their hospitality and eagerness to serve …especially those people from India and China!

    The kindness of all these people opens up another world and I have to agree with St. Augutine: ” Life is a book, and he who does not travel, only reads the first page!”

  3. Eva says:

    Hi Sarah

    You’re so right in your description of the random acts of travel kindness. Thanks pointing them out.

    I guess these encounters really are my reason to travel and I treasure them like a string of invaluable pearls. They are the very moments we meet each other as human beings. They make me aware that kindness and being open-minded has nothing to do with social status, education, age or anything else.

    My pearls are numerous:
    One is the chinese host at a hostel in China who wrote me notes in chinese to communicate with taxidrivers, ticket sellers and waiters at restaurants.

    Another is Sonam, a guide in Himalaya, who stood me by when I was ill. Another again is the military doctor who treated me.

    Others are bus drivers and ticket inspectors in Spain, Portugal, China and other places who gave me water, found me a window seat, looked out for my rucksack or just gave me a smile!

    Others again are travellors I’ve met from all over the world and our intense discussions of music, politics and everyday life – and our exchanges of travel tips.

    I try to keep these encounters in mind not only when I come across a travellor in my hometown but also when I meet a homeless person or anyone else not being locked in society.

    I wish you lots of travel kindness to come!

    Best, Eva

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