On 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.
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.
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