On my first solo trip I got lost.
Standing on a street corner in tears, fumbling with a map, in a city where I did not speak the language, I was terrified I would miss my train home.
A stranger approached, and when he put his hand lightly on my arm, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I was so frazzled, I didn’t hear what he said, and yelled, “What?” as though he was trying to do me harm.
In fact, he was asking if I was lost. He immediately switched to English and asked whether I needed assistance. Once I realized that he was trying to help, I told him that I was trying to find the train station and needed to get there in a hurry. He told me that he was on his way there himself and would show me the way. He walked me directly to the door of the station. As I turned to thank him, he was already gone, walking back in the direction from which we had just come. I then realized that he had not been headed for the train at all, and had just taken me there out of kindness.
I have never forgotten that experience. Every time I see a traveler standing on the street looking confused, I remember that feeling and try to pay forward the kindness that was bestowed upon me.
I had a hunch that members of the Solo Travel Society, our very active Facebook group, would have great stories to share about how locals help solo travelers, so I asked them, “What is your favorite story of a kindness received from a stranger while traveling solo?”
Here are a few of their heartwarming tales from around the world.
A Long Walk, a Generous Guide, and Two Very Different Rides
It was almost midnight in Glasgow, Scotland and I was taking the train from downtown to my hostel neighborhood. I had missed my stop and gone past where I should have been. I was utterly disoriented and in a shady part of town at night. I asked a gentleman I'd seen on the train for directions and he said I was at least a 30-minute walk away, and the trains had stopped running for the night. He said the neighborhood we were in wasn't safe and kindly walked me to my hostel, even though he had been very close to his home and had to go far out of his way. I'll never forget it. ~Angela
I have many stories of love and kindness, but one really hit me. I had spent ten peaceful days in Chefchaouen, Morocco. The surrounding mountains were calling my name, and the desire to go exploring was irresistible. I had been told that it would be unsafe to go alone, and that I should ask in a hotel for a guide. I did this and was introduced to a kindly older gentleman who would take me into the mountains.
His English was fairly good and we talked about life while we hiked. I learned that he was in his mid-60s and very poor (his shoes told me this anyway). When we stopped for a break, he insisted I share his tiny lunch, even though I had brought my own.
When we returned in the evening, we sat and had tea and a light meal in a tiny cafe outside the city walls. Again, he insisted on buying my tea and food with the money I had just paid him for his services (something like $25 for the day). He was such an amazing gentleman. I did manage to press a decent tip into his palm when we shook hands before going our separate ways. I very much wish I had written down his full name, as I'd love to send him some decent hiking shoes to replace the old worn out sneakers he was wearing. ~Craig
I was once lost in a maze of little roads that all looked alike, searching for my guesthouse in Chiang Rai, Thailand, when a young woman in front of her house saw me and offered to take me on her scooter. She dropped me right in front of my guesthouse with a big smile and blessing for my journey ahead. ~Gi
I got lost on my first solo trip too. I came out of the Tube station in London, turned the wrong way, and wandered the dark streets lugging a heavy suitcase behind me in the rain. I was tired from jet lag and lack of sleep and really had no idea where I was or how to figure it out. This was twenty years ago, before GPS and smartphones.
I remember standing under a streetlight, staring hopelessly at the tangle of streets on the map, and giving up. I had no cash – the hostel I was staying at could exchange money, and I must have used a credit card at the station for the Tube. Nothing was open, and I hadn't seen a soul for what felt like ages. I turned down another street, even darker, and a black cab pulled up. A kindly older gentleman – he had to be at least 65 – asked me if I was okay. There were tears already, and he said I shouldn't be out alone at this time of night in this neighborhood. I told him I didn't have cash – I needed to exchange money at my hostel. He shook his head and told me to get in. I could barely understand him through his accent, but I figured it was my least worst option. I almost fell asleep during the ride – it took us about twenty minutes to get to the hostel. I had managed to walk in the exact opposite direction.
He pulled up to the curb, got out, and went inside as I fumbled to get my day pack and get out of the car. By the time I managed to do so, he was on his way back down the stairs, telling me I was all set. He lugged that enormous heavy suitcase up the stairs, patted me on the shoulder, and wished me luck. I was frantically getting cash out to exchange to pay him, and he told me to get some sleep – he was happy he had stumbled across me, and considered this his “Welcome to England” gift. And then he was gone. The front desk person showed me to the dorm I was staying in, and I collapsed into bed, in tears, but knowing that from here on out, it would all be okay. ~Kelly
Stuck in the Mud, Late Night Kindness, and a Long Queue
On my first solo road trip, I got stuck in the mud in between farm fields in Kansas with barely one bar on my cellphone and a bad storm approaching. No one knew I was there and it was tornado season. A family was passing out of the fields and let me use their phone to call AAA. After about 30 minutes, I saw a white truck coming. The guy secured the tow line to my car and pulled me up the hill out of the mud. I thanked him and tried to give him a tip, convinced he was working for AAA. He refused to take it and said, “You remind me of my daughter. I just hope that if you find someone needing help, you'll do the same thing.” I still didn't get it until I passed the AAA truck heading to where I was stuck. The beautiful stranger who towed me out had to be a member of the family who let me use their cellphone.
Fast forward six years and I was able to help a stranger in need. I was driving the Alaska Highway and came upon a guy whose car blew two tires on the loose gravel and ended up in a ditch. There was no cellphone service in the area, but I had had the foresight to rent a satellite phone before I left home. The driver wasn't injured and I let him use the sat phone to call for help. Two minutes later, construction workers who had been working on the road a mile down came to help. ~Reagan
Argentina, Iguazu Falls: I had just arrived in this tiny town at 10 pm. Unable to locate my hostel, I was walking around town and eventually stopped at an empty bar to take a rest and ask for local help. Long story short, the address provided by the hostel was incorrect. The owner and his wife ended up driving me around town at 2 am to find the hostel, even stopping at the police station to inquire. We found the place but the front desk was closed for the night. The bar owner ended up driving me to other places so I could get a hotel room and even negotiating the price for me as he was worried it was too expensive for me ($45!) They asked me to make sure to stop to see them the next day. As I had a flight to catch before their bar opened, I bought them a cake and left it at a nearby cafe for them with a thank you note and my contacts. The heart and kindness of strangers is amazing! ~Katia
I was at the airport in Lisbon en route to London and then back to the US. There was a giant queue, literally several hundred people. I'd given myself plenty of time for regular airport check-in, but not this. I was sure I'd miss my flight. As I was frantically pacing trying to figure out what to do, someone asked me, thankfully in English, if they could help. I explained that I had a flight to London and they told me I was actually in the lineup for a jumbo flight to Brazil. They weren't sure where I needed to be, though. They stepped out of the queue, figured out the (much shorter) line I needed to be in, and showed me where to go. The person in line behind them held their place while they got me headed in the right direction. It was so gracious and very much saved me a panic attack and an airport meltdown. ~Jenn
Communicating without Language, Searching for Relief, and a Blissful Day in Crete
I was in Khao Sok, Thailand. The railway station was 80 km from the lonely place the tour guide dropped me. There were no buses and it was getting dark. Two young girls came to my rescue. They went to the bus station and found the right bus for me and stood there until I had safely boarded. The most interesting part was that they didn't know English, and I didn't know Thai. ~Ankit
I was in Seattle for the first time, having arrived late in the day on a Friday. I had a sinus infection and ear drum pain and needed to see a doctor to determine whether I could fly on Monday.
The hotel concierge gave me an intersection for the clinic but no name. I took a cab to the address but I realized I didn't know which of the many buildings it was in.
I went into the public library to ask for help. They were not familiar with the clinic but I was able to use a phone to call the hotel. Unfortunately, I realized that I didn't have a local number for the hotel, so I couldn't reach the concierge. Nor did I have a name or number for the clinic.
In utter depression and pain I sunk down on the floor and started sobbing. A few minutes later, a young woman came up and asked me if she could help. She walked me around the sea of large buildings until we found the clinic, and I got in with 10 minutes to spare before they closed. I will never forget her kindness. ~Cindy
I was solo in Crete. The hotel owner said to me, “You must come to the bar tonight. We have entertainment and I have some friends coming.” He introduced me to his friend, the town mayor, and his wife (who was English). We enjoyed a lively evening. At the end of the night the mayor’s wife invited me to join them the next day. It was a holiday and they had plans to visit friends in the mountains. I hesitated for a second, but decided to join them.
They picked me up along with other friends. We went to visit a local family in a tiny village in the mountains. They were amazing hosts, serving melon, ham, and rakia.
After that, we drove to a national park and walked around the lake, then went on to a wonderful fish restaurant. The mayor asked if he could order for me, and I eagerly agreed. I ate a spectacular plate of trout salad, homemade fries, and superb local wine. They would not allow me to pay for anything.
They took me to a famous monastery, and a beautiful cave church. We visited a lovely fishing village in the south of the island where they were having a festival. Live music and an amazing sunset were enjoyed, as was dessert and some drinks. I was finally allowed to pay for something! I was returned to my hotel after a blissful day.
This only happened because I was traveling alone. Had I been with others, the owner wouldn't have introduced me to these wonderful people.
Say yes. Grasp any chance to explore the local cultures and people. ~Heather
It's quite amazing how locals help solo travelers in so many ways. The fact that we remember these stories so clearly, even many years later, shows just how important the experiences were, and how grateful we are for the kindness of strangers. Thank you to all the locals who have come to our rescue!
Have you experienced the kindness of strangers while traveling solo? Please share your story below.