How I Realized the Kindness of Strangers

As women, we face a lot of uncertainty when it comes to hitting the road alone. But generally speaking, ladies who decide to travel solo aren’t most concerned about hiking mountains in Nepal, crossing the Nile River, or negotiating a huge spider web in the Amazon. No, what we’re truly afraid of is much simpler – people.

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People who don’t speak our language, who might want to hurt us, who want to rip us off, who make us feel guilty about ourselves, who make us feel too good about ourselves, etc. People aren’t to be trusted. People could hurt you. People don’t understand you. At least that’s the narrative, right?

Wrong. I’m here to tell you (and many women can relate) that in all of my travels, the biggest take-away I’ve had is that people are AMAZING. For the most part, anyway. The kindness of strangers has taken me much further in my travels than I ever could have expected. In the smallest and sometimes biggest of ways, the inherent empathy of fellow human beings has left me reeling with gratitude and a real sense of faith in the world.

The first real encounter I had with selfless good will was when I traveled through Europe. I was 23 and fresh out of college on my first solo trip, ready to see the world. In the midst of the worst floods Prague had ever seen, and some crazy gymnastic stunts I attempted with English men at a beer festival, I wound up fracturing my elbow. I didn’t realize it ‘til the next day when I couldn’t move my arm and it was alternating between shades of purple and blue.

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After inquiring at the hostel front desk about how to get to the hospital, I tried taking the streetcars to the clinic they described, but found myself in the center of an unfamiliar street cradling a map (and my arm). Looking around feeling lost, I spotted two grown men and a young boy chatting just a few feet away from me.

I approached on the off chance they spoke English. “Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me where the hospital is?” I pointed at the map.

They looked at each other briefly, then both cocked their heads, clearly not understanding. “Eh?” They said. I started to walk away, but they stopped me, insisting to explain more. I held out the map, repeating myself slowly, pointing to the location. The boy stood there blinking. The older man started speaking halted Italian, then Spanish.

“Hos-Pi-Tal,” I sounded out to him with Spanish emphasis. “Hospital.”

All of a sudden, it registered. “Hospital?” He asked. I nodded. “Hospital!” He gasped. The old man conversed with who I assume was his son – a guy probably in his mid-40s, balding with dark blue eyes. The grandfather looked at me.

Ahora?” Now? Well… shit. I nodded, a pained smile across my face.

“Yeah,” I said. “Now.”

The men conversed quickly, pointing to each other and to me and the boy. Finally, the grandpa took the boy’s hand and touched my shoulder, motioning for me to follow his son. The 40-year-old guy waved for me to follow him, and I stood for a moment. Do I trust him? Yes, I thought. I do.

We hopped on a streetcar, then another, in the pouring rain. He tried talking to me, but it was obvious we didn’t understand each other at all. He led me through streets until we reached big brick buildings, which I realized was the University Hospital. I followed him, clutching my arm and trying to remember the route we took, until we reached the E.R.

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There, in the dimly lit, sparse Emergency Room, this man stayed with me while the nurses fussed over paperwork and my insurance information. I sat there quietly, mind racing over the costs and the pain while the TV blared about the floods in a language I didn’t understand. The man stayed the whole time, trying to help with the nurses but mostly just sitting there. Present.

It was only after the doctor welcomed me in English into an examination room that I asked them to translate to the man I could continue on without him. I tried to bow, to indicate how thankful I was to him, but he simply crossed his arms and nodded, squinting between the staff and me. He murmured something, touched his heart, and walked out the door.

To this day, the man’s altruism remains one of the most selfless and random things anyone has done for me. I’m sure I would’ve figured out how to get there somehow, but this random person from the other side of the world decided to take it upon himself to help me all the way to the end.

Before and since then, my trips have been filled with moments of gracious help and kindness from strangers. Random people have given me lifts from one place to another without any incentive. Once, as I sat crying outside of an ATM that had just eaten my credit card in Vietnam, a woman lent me her cell phone for ten minutes so I could call the bank and sort things out. A guy I barely knew sent me my camera after leaving it in a hostel locker. Starbucks workers gave me a free latte in China when my Visa wouldn’t work.

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I’m not saying that solo females should lean on the idea that people will take care of them. Travel tests you, and you’re going to make mistakes that you might end up paying for. However, I do think it’s okay to tell yourself that people are generally good, and to trust in the knowledge that sometimes your greatest fear can also be your greatest ally – that for the most part, humans on the opposite side of the world just want the same things you do.

So next time you’re stressing about an upcoming trip or excursion out there on your own, instead think about all the nice things people have done for you in the past. Why would they stop now?

 

About the author:

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Kelsey Rains is a writer, editor, world traveler, and entrepreneur mostly based out of Portland, Oregon. Kelsey’s first ventures into writing and traveling started in college when she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for five months. The experience left her speechless (for once) and she vowed to continue journeying through her 20’s. Kelsey has worked all sorts of jobs, but her main passion is writing and creating. She hopes to encourage others to fearlessly follow their passions and live fully in each moment. Check out her writing here:www.kelseycreating.com

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