Traveling, be it abroad or at home, is one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable things a person can do. However as with anything in life, there are times it can be stressful and strenuous, especially when it's budget travel! We also hear a lot about the dangers of travel and how tourists are robbed or worse. While I agree people should be aware of the dangers, it's important to showcase some of the many good stories too. Lightweight Travellers came up with the idea of how random acts of kindness from strangers have helped travelers on the road. We were lucky enough to be one of their guest writers on this topic, you can see more stories from travel writers here. On countless occasions on our travels, while experiencing difficulty, acts of kindness from strangers have totally turned our trip around and given us beautiful memories that will live with us forever, this post hopes to document them.
The occasion where a stranger has helped us when we were facing problems abroad that stands out most for us took place during our time in Greece. Caitlin and I had arrived late into Athens after a flight from Hungary, our plane was delayed by over two hours and our Airbnb hostess still picked us up from the airport and made the 35 minute drive to her place (at past 11pm!). Along with her family she ran a sanctuary for cats and dogs that had been left to fend for themselves in the Athens region, which accounts for a great deal of animals. As Greece was the last place on our Balkan tour that used euros we were a over budget and decided we wouldn't be spending any money on dinner that night and treat ourselves to a cheap breakfast the next day in the city. The mother of the lady who was running the Airbnb upon hearing this embraced us both in a big cuddle, spoke a little in Greek that we couldn't understand, laughed and left. We assumed this was a goodnight embrace and we prepared to go to bed.
A little over a quarter of an hour later the older lady returned, with her other daughter and two big plates of omelette, salad and fries. We were totally taken aback by the fact that she was so caring, even for strangers that she couldn't allow us to go to bed without a supper. The meal was beautiful, and although I tried to give them money as a thank you for being so kind, they refused. All the stresses of the day dissipated and we went to bed smiling and with full bellies. After we left the next morning, I made sure to leave our remaining euros, 30, and a thank you note hidden so they would find it too late to give it back to us. We loved everything Greece had to offer in the way of history, culture and natural beauty, yet this kind Greek family who gave to stray animals and hungry strangers before themselves made our time in Hellas.
Our time in the beautiful capital of Hungary, Budapest consisted of spending time in beautiful parks, relaxing in the public baths and enjoying the recent and medieval history of the area, including its cathedral and parliament buildings, however much like Athens, our trip was defined by the love given to us by strangers. Caitlin and I were staying in a whole apartment in a suburb of the city, run by a busy 30 something, incidentally situated in the same apartment building as his mothers convenience store. We decided after learning that his elderly mother owned the store a few stories below us, that we would help her our and buy our lunches and snacks from her as opposed to elsewhere and much to our surprise, every single morning she had prepared a full lunch and snacks for us, totally free of charge. The lunches consisted of homemade salami and salad sandwiches with fresh backed bread, fruit covered in paper towels and bottles of water and crisps (potato chips) from her shop. Every morning we would try to give her money for the gift, and again she would reject, taking payment only in the form of a firm cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. I'll never forget the way her eyes lit up seeing us so happy to have been made a packed lunch. It honestly brings a tear to my eye thinking about how selfless and loving she was to people who orally couldn't communicate a single word to her.
On the morning of our last day in Budapest, I decided with Caitlin that we would use google translate to write her a note telling her it was our last day, we loved our time with her and she made our visit to Hungary more special than we had ever expected. I could tell she understood that it was our last day as on this occasion the cuddle was even firmer and lasted much longer, she then proceeded to make a phone-call and spoke, fairly loudly to the person on the other end. She then handed me the phone and Gabor (our host, her son) said he heard we needed a lift to the airport and he was leaving work during his shift to take us. I quickly assured him that it wasn't necessary and that google translate had not fully given the full intent of my message and thanked him dearly for even considering being so helpful. After a few minutes of understanding one another only through the tone of our voice and hand movements, we left her shop in Budapest, yet we made memories it would be impossible to forget!
The final act of kindness we have received that I felt it was worth sharing happened in my home country, England. Caitlin and I have traveled to Manchester for her to board a flight back to Canada. The day had consisted of hours of train journeys and bus rides. We had gotten a cab from the train station to the hotel not too far from the airport and began unpacking and relaxing for a quiet night before an early morning start for the flight where we realized that we couldn't find Caitlin's backpack, which contained her laptop, passport, study permit documents and purse. Madness ensued. Caitlin burst into tears and I frantically called every cab company listed in the local directory for any reports of lost property. All turned up negative.
We then decided to get another cab back to the station to ask every taxi driver in the rank if they had found anything in their car, after asking at least 20 guys, it was beginning to look hopeless. A flight would be missed, a lengthy and expensive journey to London to the consulate would be needed and staying past the end of a visa would no doubt be an issue too. We were stressed beyond belief. The last taxi driver I approached felt how badly we were feeling and asked us if we could describe how the driver we had looked. As is the case in most cities in the UK, taxi drivers are overwhelmingly South Asian, therefore his ethnicity didn't narrow it down at all (which the Pakistani driver laughed with us about), I told him the driver was wearing a turban and was therefore likely a Sikh and he had a full beard. The driver stopped and thought for a second. 'A turban? Was it green?'. A strange question I thought, but If I remembered right It was. 'Taliban Dave!!' he shouted in excitement, he then proceeded to make a phone call and confirmed that 'Dave' was our driver and he found a bag in the back of his cab and would make the 40 minute drive from Salford to deliver it to us. Totally out of the blue and at the point we had almost totally lost hope, we had succeeded.
Dave arranged to meet us at the hotel and we asked that the driver take us back, I asked that we stop at an ATM so we could take out money for each of them as a thank you for their help. A stranger, who had got home from work to spend time with his family decided to make the hour and a half round trip back to Manchester to give two total strangers their bag so they didn't miss a flight and lose a lot of money and time. When he arrived he was jovial and made a joke about his lucky beard and green turban and I gave them both something for their troubles, thanked them dearly and let them get on with their evenings.
In a world increasingly negative with people quick to highlight bad behaviour and, for lack of better word, scumbagery, it is so important to hold these positive encounters close. There have of course been countless times where kindness has been given to us on our travels but these are some of the ones that really stood out as 'trip changing'. On all of these occasions strangers have turned difficult times into highlights. When we think of Hungary now, we think happy and welcoming Babushka, Greece we think of an animal sanctuary run by people who would give everything they have for a smile and when we think Manchester we think selfless and jolly cabbies. Places are so often defined by the people you meet there, something as little as a smile goes such a long way to making the day of others.