New places and the kindness of strangers

Shopkeepers in Rome, one of the new places in 2017
Bedouin shepard in Jordan
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”

― Anaïs Nin

Bedouin Truck driver new places in Jordan
Little Petra flute player new places
Olive grower in Um Quais, Jordan

Caption: Jordan was one of my new places in 2017 and these are just a few of the kind strangers I met there.

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Have you ever traveled to a new city, state, country where you know no one? Visiting new places can be daunting but you may also feel a bit courageous. It’s exciting but a bit scary. It’s harder to find the grace and opportunities between those extremes if you stay tucked away in the familiar. Whether it’s heading to a new area near my home or I’m far away, in new places my senses are on alert and I feel more alive than ever.
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“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ― Gustave Flaubert
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Traveling to new places is humbling too. ” I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says a famous Tennessee Williams character. It’s a complex play, but if the tragic Blanche Dubois had truly opened to a new way of living, to being fully present, A Streetcar Named Desire may have had a happier ending.
Learning to depend on the kindness of strangers – or not
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Those of us who are fiercely independent may find it hard to ask for help. Travel has taught me to get more comfortable with asking for what I need and it’s taught me the consequences of not doing so. Human nature is basically kind I’ve found, and asking for assistance can be chance to connect, it can illuminate cultural differences or lead to bonding over a common issue. By example, the simple task of getting directions might lead to discovering much more and as a writer, I’ve found a few great stories that way.
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I won’t forget falling on a sidewalk in Puerto Ayoura in the Galapagos. I hadn’t seen several bolts protruding out of the cement. As I fell to the hard surface, scraping a knee and bruising my hip, I looked up and for a few seconds it seemed that everyone on the street stopped, turned, and then started walking my way to help. I quickly assessed the damage and my hand shot up, “I’m OK. Thanks.” They turned away as I drew myself to my feet, but what if I’d allowed myself to be comforted? Stumbling around, back in my bubble of independence and sore for the next few days, made me wonder.
The Bukowski Bar was one of the new places in Rome
Taipei Flight attendant assisting a baby in one of those new places
New friends inside the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee

Caption: Three humbling experiences of the kindness of strangers: Top – Rome on my first night. The owners of the Bukowski Bar were very kind and explained their local happy hour customs. A flight attendant tried to entertain a crying baby during my 11 hour flight to Taipei. By myself in Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum, two writers invited me to tag along for the night.

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“A person needs at intervals to separate himself from family and companions and go to new places. He must go without his familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.”
Author, Katharine Butler Hathaway.

Opening your heart to the new can be difficult but it’s part of growing – if we let it. I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, sheltered in a ‘bedroom city’ as my mother called it. My neighborhood at the base of Mt. Baldy was bordered by orange and lemon groves. Exploring those dark, cool rows of trees felt dangerous but my band of friends and siblings would play there often. We’d climb the branches and toughen the soles of our feet by running through rough fields and over scorching rocks. Those first forays into independence and risk set me up for later, far-flung adventures.

Road trips were a big part of growing up too. Most summers, my parents would pack the station wagon for long weeks of wandering. The people we met and new places we explored opened my eyes to a wider world. I’d stepped foot in nearly every state by the time I left for college in Northern California.
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Guide in Split, Croatia, one of the new places for many travelers
Taken in for the evening by a long lost cousin in Zagreb, Croatia
Croatian boat captain shows me a historic writer's home
Ship chef came onboard at the last minute to help us visit new places on the Croatian coastline
Caption: Top – Guide in Split, Cousin in Zagreb, Ship Captain and Chef prepping dinner
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The people we meet often change our lives. They may be lovers, friends, or relatives who entice us to live in different places. After college, I ended up working in Southeast Alaska for six years before eventually returning to the Southern end of the Pacific Coast. There were backpacking weekends, long train trips, ferry journeys, camping, and lots of drives in between. I also learned, on a long sabbatical, that the hardest thing about traveling the world is often setting the trip up. For decades now, I finally relax once I’m on the way, the airplane takes off, or the train leaves the station.
Foodie friends in the Valle Guadalupe
Drew Deckman cooks in the Valle Guadalupe
Home is where the heart is. Travel buddy, Dave Rudie
Close to Home Caption: Top – Foodie friends at Adobe Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico. Below – Drew Deckman cooking in the Valle Guadalupe. My dearest travel buddy, Dave Rudie. 
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky
Buddhist host in the Interfaith New York hostel

My host at the Interfaith Hostel in New York city.

As I write this year is still fresh and new excursions are in the works. I feel differently about travel now, wanting to go deeper, more consciously, and to be more present. I’m so fortunate that my work involves travel and as I witness the world, I look forward to connecting with those I meet more fully. Hopefully, in theses new places, I’ll be experienced as a kind stranger as well.

Mural in Rome featuring Mick Jagger

One of the Red Nose murals in Rome.

 “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road
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Wherever you’re going next, here are some tips about getting there stress free.
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What new places are you planning to see?
 Mural in Rome and the kindness of strangers

42 comments

  • Such an exceptional read and astonishing experiences, Elaine! Sometimes the people we meet on our travels are simply unforgettable and change our lives forever. 🙂

  • As a Londoner, it can often feel quite brutal to be in such a big faceless city, so I loved reading this and seeing that amazing kindness can still exist in the world. It can be a big deal going somewhere new, and I’ve just started travelling alone which adds to the needs for kindness and joy. I’ve found travel can have surprising experiences and allows you to see that not all strangers are scary!

    • Yes, Samantha, I agree that traveling solo does go better when strangers don’t seem threatening. I applaud you going it alone and do it myself often. There’s so much to experience and so many ways to do so.

  • I love meeting new people when travelling. It is difficult to except kindness sometimes, as we think we do not deserve it, but we all do. Usually the people I meet when travelling are the kindest.

  • It’s too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of traveling. Keeping track of itineraries, passports and your toothbrush is hard enough, but it is important to take a step back and look at the people who make traveling the wonder that it is. Thank you for sharing. Your pictures are beautiful.

  • I adore that Anaïs Nin quote. I am a true believer of it! I love the photos you’ve captured of kind strangers. That’s so lovely you were invited to tag along with the writers. I agree people we meet often change our lives. These connections often make the experiences so much more special. Even years after our travels, I still remember the kindness of strangers and connections made. I’m glad you feel differently about travel. I also try to be more present, even if it is harder with the increasing demands of social media and rushed holidays.

  • Its refreshing to read this post, Elaine. I travel mostly with my husband and daughter, and not solo. But do end up interacting with locals all over. Whether it is a taxi driver from Croatia who was telling us with sincerity how Croatian travel cops can be bribed but not the Slovenian one, or the Turkish locals who were insanely sweet to my child, or the Macedonian skipper who was discussing a new Bollywood he had seen with subtitles – it is amazing to connect with people.

  • I have found kind strangers without fail when traveling. Love the idea of commemorating those encounters. You might start a trend in travel blog posts! Thanks for sharing. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • I agree that the little kindnesses that other people offer you are the ones that often stick in your mind long after the trip has finished. I always remember the man in Japan who helped us buy train tickets, literally 10 minutes after entering the country. Helping strangers and politeness are big tenets of Japanese culture, but you can find it all over the world. I have also had strangers in Colombia give me free lifts in the back of their Jeep so that I didn’t have to walk the full hour into town. There are kind people all over the world and I try hard to put my own kindness into the world.

  • It is refreshing to travel the world and to discover that in most cases strangers are kind and willing to help if they can. Despite dress, language, and culture, people are more alike than not. We all need food, water, shelter, clothes, the basics. Stereotypes about “others” should be banished. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Travelling is such a great way to see the goodness and kindness in people especially if we do independent travel because we are constantly on our own therefore there will be instances which we might have to seek help from others. I remember the kindness shown by our Iranian driver who could not speak a word of English – he insisted on searching an Iranian who could speak English to help translate the restaurant menu for us! 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Such a great idea for a post. Travelling is a wonderful way to meet people across the world. I often have a little trouble with this because I’m basically an introvert, but there have been times when I’ve met some wonderful people nonetheless! #WeekendWanderlust

  • I do feel the same way because especially from th me big city I live, it’s so fast paced that no one has the time to stop and show kindness to one another, when money is all that are at stakes people might forget the meaning of happiness. when I travel, I alway met many nice people and the positive energy would pass on ~ @ knucx.journeying

  • I agree with you, Elaine. Visiting new places can sometimes be a bit scary. Especially countries like Jordan (which I would very much like to visit myself). It’s good to hear that you can still meet kind people in some places. It has been my experience too, although I have to say that I don’t like to depend on that. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Thanks, Anda. I was lucky to travel Jordan with a guide who put our small group at ease everywhere. A little knowledge is a powerful thing and from our first night in the crowded Amman Souk we learned that Western women who weren’t trying to blend in were no big thing! I hope you can visit. It’s such a peaceful country having the Bedouin culture at it’s core.

  • So true. As Americans, our egos and biases make it hard to accept help, whether from a desire to be in control or fear of being taken advantage of. However, we have also found human nature to veer overwhelmingly toward kindness and our experiences have been much improved when we let our guards down. Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing.

  • We have found that most everyday people around the world are genuinely friendly and helpful (although this can’t be said for staff or officials who like a long form to fill out!) Most people are only too willing to share info and tips about their town or country.

  • I usually have a tough time asking strangers for help because I’m shy, but there have been many times on my travels that kind strangers will offer their help even if I didn’t ask for it! I’m going to Spain in March and since I don’t speak the language I’ll probably need a lot of help navigating the area. I’m excited to meet the local Spanish people and I’m sure they’ll be kind and helpful if i need it!

  • Traveling is wonderful because it gives a great opportunity to see the goodness in Man all over the world. In a world which is supposed to be filled with hate, travel enables one to connect with love and caring in a way which is not possible otherwise. Hands of strangers reach out to help, such a reassuring thought that fills one with positivity. Loved the post which is a great way to recognize the kindness of so many good people.

  • Sometimes the kindness and friendliness of the people make a destination (instead of a good one) a great one. It’s so lovely seeing all your photos of this kindness in action and hearing your stories.

  • I agree that opening your heart to the new can be difficult but it’s part of growing. It feels like this world has raised us all to distrust and fear strangers, but 99% of the world are kind and welcoming and willing to help another person in need. That’s why I think that travel can break down boundaries and prejudices – because people see first hand the kindness of strangers and the media hyped stereoptypes disappear as fake news.

    I love your final thought of wanting to be the kind stranger to those who encounter you. I think this is how we should all aim to be!

    • Appreciate that, Megan. Change isn’t easy but necessary and travel is one of the best ways (and most fun) ways to do so. Yes, stereotypes come from perceptions but they can dissolve once we connect beyond headlines.

  • What a great article! I definitely have fond life-long memories of some of the incredible people I’ve met while travelling. I find it hard to ask for help sometimes too, but on occasion it needs to be done! The kindness of strangers is definitely something I value when overseas 🙂

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