Be Kind to Travelers

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete and Dalene Heck

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” ~ Dagobert D. Runes, US writer

Think of your favourite travel stories – those that had you reading on the edge of your seat, or the ones that brought tears to your eyes or taught you powerful lessons.

I know what mine are. They aren’t usually about popular hikes or even seeing one of the wonders of the world. They are about people. I devour such tales about everyday interactions with locals across the globe.

And why do I love them? Because they teach me about humanity. What life is like for people in another corner of the planet, and how really, we are all the same. We all have equal needs and desires: to be comfortable, to be loved, and to connect. It follows that my favourite travel experiences are the same: it’s all about the people we meet when we’re on the road, the random kindness of strangers, and their efforts to welcome or help us as arbitrary travelers.

So why then, did I used to be such a jerk?

Why did I used to be such a jerk?


In my “settled” days, I lived and worked in a touristy city. Not a day would go by when I wouldn’t walk by a foreigner or two on the street. Often they would be alternating their gaze between a map and their surroundings, perplexed as to their path.

I would walk straight past, maybe even mutter something under my breath about the inconvenience of having to side-step around them. I always had somewhere else to go and something better to do. Unless specifically asked for assistance, it never once crossed my mind to reach out and be the first to offer. Never did I consider that the simple act of giving directions, or even a friendly smile, might drastically improve their current position, or just give them a more positive outlook on my city.

But now? I feel shame for my past actions, and have learned some big lessons by repeatedly putting myself in the shoes of that confused traveler. I’ve been educated by those same people I probably would have ignored if faced with them in my home city…

The kind, elderly couple who offered us seats and drinks when we vastly underestimated the heat and exposure at a viewing of the Dakar Rally in Argentina. (And to the couple who picked us up as we hitch-hiked back to town after).

The couple in Medellin, Colombia, who after a brief meeting in a cable car up the side of a mountain, took us under their wing and became our tour guides for the day. They would not let us pay anything for all our activities and food.

I would walk straight past, maybe even mutter something under my breath about the inconvenience of having to side-step around them. I always had somewhere else to go and something better to do.


The many, many people in Popayan, Colombia who would walk right up to us on the streets and shake our hands, exclaiming a joyous welcome to their country.

A lone stranger in Turkey who, upon seeing our confusion over which bus to take, got off his bus to show us the way to ours. In the meantime, his bus left without him – we have no idea how long he had to wait for the next one, but he did not seem bothered by it in the least.

The dashing policeman in Bergama, Turkey, who became our tour guide for a day. He escorted us to all the sights we wanted to see, and shyly suggested others. He never let us open our wallets for anything. Although the ruins we saw were spectacular, they were vastly overshadowed by his kindness and generosity.

And from our next-door neighbours in Wisconsin: for their delivery of baked goods, generous concern when I wasn’t feeling good, and for inviting us over to share a delicious meal. We were strangers in those parts, but have felt completely welcomed and at home.

I have enough of these stories to fill volumes. And they are my favourite to tell, it is those moments and days that define the main reason why we continue this life of travel.

So, reach out to a foreigner near you. Give directions, offer to take their picture, buy them a coffee. Show them why your city or country has the friendliest people in the world. Give them a story to tell their friends back home, because they will remember and tell it.

(Do it for me, please. Help me rectify my jerk-ish past).

I have enough of these stories to fill volumes. And they are my favourite to tell.
55 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • December 10 2012

    Hear! Hear! And g-knows I’ve been helped by oh so many kindly souls in big and little ways along the trail.

    Furthermore, please pardon my own plug, but…

    My “Pay It Forward: Helping a Wanderlust Here at Home” post exemplifies the spirit of your post perfectly.

    Indeed, surprisingly, it’s among the top THREE most popular posts at TravelnLass. Posted long before I moved to Asia, it still brings a glisten to my eye when I think back to that rainy night in Seattle…

    • December 13 2012

      Oh YAY! I love that story Dyanne! πŸ™‚

  • December 10 2012

    AMEN! a little kindness goes a very long way.

  • We also have many of the same stories to tell. Only yesterday we were out for a hike and stopped to see some local cows being milked and to talk to the locals when they offered us pajarete, fresh milk straight from the cow with chocolate, sugar and some alcohol. You are very right when you mentioned that it is the people that make your travels memorable.

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      That experience with the locals and trying some fresh pajarete is pretty special. Moments like these define why we keep traveling. Thanks for your comment guys!

  • December 10 2012

    Amen! As we hit our 362nd day on the road, we have similar stories to tell. Ah, but for the grace of those TravelAngels we meet on the road. You post brought a tear to my eye! Well, done, Dalene!

    • December 13 2012

      Thanks Annie! And now you can enjoy “paying it forward” back in Ohio! πŸ˜‰

  • December 10 2012

    I don’t know if it’s because we’re prepping for our own adventure, or I just felt particularly nice one day, but I saw a girl wandering around looking lost as I was making my way to meet a friend for lunch. She was foreign exchange student and couldn’t find this dance studio. I tried to give her directions, but then realized I told her the wrong street, so I ended up catching up to her and walking with her until we found the studio. She was so appreciative and relieved, it made me really glad I took my headphones off and decided to be present in my surroundings. Kind of turned around my attitude that day, so I really credit her for giving ME something that day.

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      What a wonderful story Carmel. I am certain that she would remember that specific day today and appreciate what you did. Little did she know that she was giving you something πŸ™‚

  • December 10 2012

    If I see someone who is looking at a map, trying to figure out where they are headed, I try to help. Living in Pa, but loving NYC, we visit often, and see lots of people trying to find their way around the city. I have several maps I keep in my backpack to pass out or mark for those looking for different places. I know if I needed some direction, I would like someone to help.

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      You are definitely one of the good ones in NYC. I’ve had mixed reactions in that city from very helpful to those who want nothing to do with you. It’s great that you carry maps with you, what a clever idea πŸ™‚

  • Gillian @OneGiantStep
    December 10 2012

    I found the same thing of myself. We were shown such kindness when we travelled and I realized, too, how often I would completely ignore people as they blankly stared into their maps in our home city. We vowed to never again walk by a map holding, or confused looking, visitor again – and we never have. I have stopped during a run, while on my way to get groceries, and during my work commute. It doesn’t take much but I know what a difference it can make!

    • December 13 2012

      It’s almost embarrassing to admit it, right? But as long as we’ve made the change and learned for the better, that’s all that matters!

  • December 10 2012

    Had a few random acts of kindness on my travels that have taken me completely by surprise. Cherished moments!

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      Cherished moments indeed, these are the ones that we will never forget.

  • Chrystal McKay
    December 10 2012

    When I lived in Ottawa lots of foreigners would always ask for directions and I always loved to stop and talk to them. One lady asked me if she was on the right bus. She was. I let her know I was getting off at the same stop so she wouldn’t have to worry. We then started to talk and I invited her to lunch because we were both alone and I figured it would be nicer to talk to a stranger than stare at strangers haha. I don’t know if SHE remembers that but I remember her and it was a very pleasant conversation.

    • December 13 2012

      I’m sure she does remember in Chrystal! What a great story!

  • December 11 2012

    Very good advice. I’ve never lived in a touristy town/city myself. But if I did, hopefully I would remember to be nice to visitors! As your stories prove, you never know who you might meet.
    Amanda recently posted..I Want to Go With Oh to London! (Complete with London Rap Video)

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      Well if you end up in London-town I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity! You’re right, you just never know whom we will run into and the relationships that you will forge.

  • I go out of my way to be kind to tourists when I’m at home in NZ. I want them to have a good impression of my country and people. In fact, I’m probably nicer to tourists than I am locals!

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      There’s a reason that NZ is known as one of the country’s with the nicest people and it’s because of peeps like yourself. I can’t wait to visit there and experience it first hand. Thanks Bethaney!

      • Think you’ll be making it down this way any time soon Pete?

        • December 13 2012

          I wish we could say so Bethaney. We are currently booked out until June with no NZ plans in sight. But soon, we hope!

  • Emily in Chile
    December 10 2012

    I agree! I’ve been lucky to run into some great people around the world, and I am always happy to help a fellow traveler at home.

    • Pete
      December 11 2012

      It’s funny how this traveling has made us more open to helping people. We were so consumed with our past lives we didn’t take the time to open up our eyes, it really makes us think we were jerks.

  • December 12 2012

    I have to confess to doing the same thing when I’m in my home city of Sydney – unless someone asks for help I’d never volunteer it. It is something I agree needs to change!
    Lindsey recently posted..24 Days and Counting

  • December 12 2012

    Love this!! There is a lot to be said about the personal benefits of travel, especially kindness.

  • December 12 2012

    I try to be really helpful but this reminds me of the at least 3 times I have accidentally given tourists the wrong directions. I would totally be the person who caused a team to lose the amazing race.

    Once I drove two old American ladies to their car parking building which was just about to shut and their rental car would’ve been locked inside. They tried to tip me – which to a NZer seemed really strange!

    • December 13 2012

      Haha! Whoops! Well, maybe just offer to buy them a cup of coffee next time. πŸ™‚

  • Nico
    December 12 2012

    I very quickly became a believer in helping people out who are travelling. I think such little acts of kindness make a real positive difference and help to make a great travel experience.

  • December 12 2012

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s all about the people and I have been overwhelmed by their warmth and openess around the globe.
    I am also the nerdy gal always stopping to help tourists in my city…so much so that I became a Chicago Greeter (pre-world travels) just so I could meet and share some time with foreigners!

    • December 13 2012

      Ha – that’s awesome! I would love to do something like that, you know, if I had a home city… πŸ™‚

  • December 12 2012

    When I lived on in the very touristy city of New York or later the very touristy island of Koh Tao, I fought hard to always push past my shyness and help anyone holding a map (especially a subway map in NYC!) It was a lesson I learned from my ex boyfriend, who never walked past anyone looking perplexed without asking if there was a way he could help.

    Later, traveling solo, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of this kindness many times. One of my favorite stories is of a train I was taking into central Thailand. I was on my own and I was in the third class carriage, so I was the only foreigner. I was extremely worried about missing my stop and anxiously searched my map every time we pulled into a station. Eventually the old woman sitting across from my took my ticket, looked it over, and patted my hand, which I took as the universal signal for “Simmer down crazy white girl, I will tell you when we get to your stop!” She did, and her grandson helped me with my backpack while the conductor came bounding back to also tell me it was time to get off. He had punched my ticket hours earlier and must have made note that I might need help knowing which stop to get off at. All of their kindness brought me to tears and reassured me that I was going to be just fine traveling by myself. People are amazing, the end.
    Alex recently posted..Exploring Volcano National Park

    • December 13 2012

      What a fantastic experience, Alex! And you know, people always think traveling is SUCH a “scary” thing (especially solo), but there are so many amazing stories such as these. I truly believe that 99% of people in the world are good!

  • December 12 2012

    I am so incredibly guilty of this when it comes to the hoards of people that come to Austin. Granted, I would be stuck all day at SXSW if I tried to help everyone. :X

  • December 12 2012

    That is my favourite travel quote although it always makes me think about homeless people. We have such compassion for the homeless in other countries but none for those at home.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Untouched Okanagan

  • December 13 2012

    Such lovely sentiments and so very true.

    Thanks for sharing such beautiful tales about people instead of places. πŸ™‚

  • December 14 2012

    Until I started my long-term travels, I never thought to help someone who appeared lost. So many small and large acts of kindness that I experienced in Central and South America definitely gave me new perspective. When I became a pseudo-expat in Buenos Aires, I was so happy if I could help a foreigner find their destination.

    • December 17 2012

      Same here Steph. At least it was a *fun* lesson to learn. πŸ™‚

  • Abby
    December 14 2012

    (For better or worse) I have almost always lived in touristy towns — from Orlando to NYC to Vegas. Anyway, it really is strange how the more we travel, the more we learn how different all of are, and yet the same. It is my favorite part of travel.

    • December 17 2012

      Same here Abby. Perceived differences definitely shrink when you can meet people from across the globe face-to-face.

  • December 15 2012

    Last year I traveled to Finland by myself. I visited a Sami couple to learn about their jewelry making working. I was shocked when Irene, the Sami woman, welcomed me into their home and shared details of their life. She even personally have me a ride back to my hotel and the next morning when it was snowing, she came to my hotel to pick me and take me across town to a museum I had an appointment at. She also gifted me with a knife made of reindeer antler and inscribed it with my dad’s name after I had mentioned he would love such a gift. She must have stayed up all night making the knife.
    Jennifer recently posted..The Dancing Dubai Fountain

    • December 17 2012

      Wow! What a sweet story! It’s amazing to me how random strangers will go completely out of their way like that. A lesson for us all!

  • December 18 2012

    Love your post! …and enjoyed reading all the comments, too:) I have encountered many acts of random kindness, and am always trying to be helpful myself – mostly when I’m being asked, that is. Although I did tell a complete stranger, an elderly lady, once that she had spinach between her teeth, come to think of it. Anyway, your post has made me realize that I can take the random-acts-of-kindness-thing a step further than just being helpful, and maybe get a bit more creative with the whole idea. I’m pretty sure that some people will be downright shocked, or at least thoroughly confused. Anyway, I’m joining the team:)
    Vera recently posted..In photos: Munich

  • Rob
    January 8 2013

    I’ve had enough kindness over the years that if I see someone with a map out, or even just looking lost I always stop and ask if they need some help. Usually one or two minutes of my time will save them getting lost, and allow me to feel I’m repaying some long past kindness someone showed me when I was traveling.

    The most amusing example was in Ottawa, in the Byward Market. I came upon a couple busily discussing how lost they were and peering at their (upside down) map. I spent 5 minutes helping them out and directing them to where they were meeting friends. I don’t think they ever noticed that I had joined their conversation in Swedish and spent 5 minutes helping them in their language. I’ve often wondered if they ever realized it. πŸ™‚

    • January 8 2013

      Ha! That is an awesome story Rob!

  • January 8 2013

    Great post and completely in the line of the idea that it’s people that make a trip.
    I’ve seen some wonderful sights on my last travels, but the stories I love to tell over and over again or my best memories involve the people I’ve met along the way.
    It just makes you feel so much better when someone is friendly to you and wants to help you and I must say I also always feel beter when I’ve been able to assist someone with whatever.

    Last year my friend and I met a man on our flight from Brussels to Los Angeles. We talked for about 6 hours in a row (no kidding!) and he put us in touch with his son, who came to pick us up in West Hollywood the next day to take us to Laguna and give us a tour there. We got to go to the family’s house and they offered us some appetizers, let us take a shower and the son even took us out for dinner. We we’re totally amazed by their kindness and didn’t know how we could repay them. All they wanted in return, was for us to do the same when they would visit Belgium.
    It was the best way to start our stay in LA!

    • January 8 2013

      What a GREAT story Sofie, and I’d say it was a great start to your trip to LA!

      • January 8 2013

        It definitely was and I’m going back to LA this year:-)

  • January 19 2013

    Great stories from the road! We certainly all have them and are richer for the interactions! I road my bicycle across Canada and the most memorable part – all the help I received from strangers along the way! They are what made the experience so memorable!
    Always happy to pay it forward – I have experienced the pleasure of receiving the help and kindness and love when I can help someone else!
    Happy travels.
    Anita Mac recently posted..Le Nordik Scandinavian Spa – the perfect way to unwind

  • Joy
    March 10 2013

    Before child I used to be jerkish. Since child, no way. Lord help those tourists I’ve helped in your same home city as my map bearings aren’t the greatest. At least they got photos taken. :). Never forget your good traits and continue to make amends for your bad. Life’s too short.

  • August 21 2013

    What a great post. I also am so grateful for locals who reach out to help us out when we’re lost and confused after arriving at a new city. I always remember those moments.

  • April 16 2015

    I have been guilty of the same. I worked at St Thomas’ Hospital opposite Big Ben in London and there were always SO many tourists on the bridge so I was constantly sidestepping them and trying to dodge getting in photos while getting annoyed. I have been helped by so many people while travelling over the years and I have helped a few travellers with directions etc but I want to go out of my way more to give back for all of the kind experiences I have had
    Katie recently posted..Camping lakeside in small town Michigan

  • Sandy
    June 25 2015

    I live in a tourist city, and for years have been the “can I help you find your way?” person as I see people with maps. Unfortunately, street people have become so aggressive that the tourists assume I’m trying to get something from them, and they refuse angrily.

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