Getting ready for travel requires careful packing and making numerous checklists. Any experienced traveler will tell you what you shouldn’t forget: passport, tickets, money, snacks, first aid kit, and a camera. All of these items and more are incredibly important and should not be forgotten, but there’s always one thing we forget to bring with us: kindness. I’d like to think that travel can make us more tolerant and willing to assist others, but as posts from Adventurous Kate and Expat Edna will tell you, people are still close-minded and judgmental. I find this is true not only of travelers, but locals as well. Is there a way to make the world kinder? On Random Acts of Kindness Day, here are a few situations that have inspired me to think differently about how I travel and live:
- Paying for more than what you bargained can go a long way. On my way to work one cold January morning in Denver, I decided to stop at a drive-thru Starbucks before I headed North to downtown. After placing my order and pulling up to the window, the barista handed me my drink. Before I could pull out my credit card, she remarked, “You don’t have to pay. The customer in front of you paid for yours and wished you a Happy New Year.” It made me think about how I treat strangers and realize that investing in someone else’s day may affect me more than it affects them.
- When a stranger is in need of help, assisting them isn’t always a bad thing. Even though I realize it is better to empower people than to give them a handout, there are times when it’s a good thing to lend a helping hand. I agree that donating to organizations that educate children is a better option instead of enabling them to continue to beg by giving them money. However, one instance a complete stranger needed help was when I was getting ready to leave a parking lot and I found a woman whose bumper had completely fallen off her car. Someone had carelessly run into her car and left her to clean up the mess. Rather than leaving her behind, I decided to help her secure the bumper by wedging an edge of the bumper in her trunk. I offered to follow her to a car repair shop, but she replied, “You don’t need to Miss. Thank you for all you’ve done. God’s going to smile on you.” Even though I’m not religious, her words of kindness have stuck with me ever since.
- When someone doesn’t understand, don’t turn them away. Even though Americans are characterized for rejecting those who speak languages other than English, I’ve traveled to plenty of other places where I’ve been laughed at for not knowing a certain language. On a bus from Ecuador to Peru, the passenger next to me became very irritable that I didn’t know enough Spanish to help her fill out a form. I could sense her impatience, but wasn’t sure how to remedy the situation. Luckily, a woman across from me provided us with assistance when she realized I wasn’t fluent in Spanish. When it comes to foreign languages, if someone looks confused and doesn’t understand, find a way to assist them by using gestures, pointing to signs or examples, and offer to help translate when you can. Not knowing a language can make you feel helpless, which is why I aspire to empower when I am able to.
- You don’t always have to use money to show kindness. While visiting China, one of the most memorable moments wasn’t the Great Wall of China or the Terracotta Soldiers. Even though these were unforgettable destinations, what my family and I remember the most is when an artist in a hotel gift shop painted us our own individual images. Not only was his skill with a paintbrush articulate and expressive, but he also showed us how much he valued our visit by offering his paintings for free. He even let my cousin Niki ride his electric bike in Xian while he finished our paintings. Sometimes the best gift you can give is one that doesn’t involve money.
I have no doubt there are many other ways to express kindness while traveling, but these are a few significant instances that made an impact on my ways of thinking and living. Maybe travel can’t solve all of our issues when it comes to tolerance and racism, which is why I find reaching out is also necessary. I know that not everyone’s intentions are good and that if someone is trying to harass you or sell you something, they obviously don’t have your best interests at heart. The majority of the time I would ignore people like this, but there have been a few instances in my life that make me see there are times when it’s important to pay attention to others and show a random act of kindness.
What acts of kindness do you suggest when traveling? When has a stranger’s action made a difference in your life?