Humanity :: Pay It Forward

pay it forward in travel

My family has been on the road for a long time now, almost a quarter of our adult lives and the majority of our children’s lives, through thick and thin. There has been an abundance of spectacular thick and inexplicably regular suffering of thin. You soon realize as you travel to foreign continents far, far from any home that you are at the mercy of the people who you meet as the adventure unfolds. The story writes itself, and fate steps in. The Gods of the Road, an investment in good karma, and the occasional motherly prayer help elucidate the fortune and misfortune we experience. But, superstition is not entirely quantifiable. What we can, without doubt, substantiate is the prodigious goodness of the people on this perfect, lonely planet.

family of travellers

 

Graeme Bell road tripping with family

If you had to ask me to provide only one example of the kindness of strangers, I would struggle. We have hundreds of stories of hospitality, generosity, good humour, and friendship—brief and protracted. Often the kindness is demonstrated in relatively brief encounters. Back in 2017, we were parked beside a suburban hotel in Turkey, tapping into free WiFi, and an elderly, conservatively dressed lady approached the Landy. We had been there for a few hours, rushing to meet deadlines. Instead of admonishing us for loitering, the lady presented us with a freshly baked cake and a cold bottle of Coca-Cola and returned with a smile to her modern home. We accepted the offered food graciously. Luisa and Jessica returned the washed cutlery and did not return to the Land Rover for three hours. They made a friend who did not speak English but baked snacks and brewed tea and chatted with our girls merrily, employing Google Translate. Before Luisa and Jessica were allowed to leave, they were presented with bags of food, body lotions, and perfumes. We had nothing to offer in return, but nothing was expected of us; we were guests in her country, and we left with warm bellies and glowing hearts.

a welcome meal while traveling

Often the people we meet become part of our large, extended family. In Colombia, the Botero clan took us in after we had driven La Linea, the highest pass in Colombia, with a failed brake system ravaged by the endless Andes. The family and their community welcomed us and made us feel at home. We repaired the Landy and cooked, ate, and laughed together. We became family and shed tears when we finally said goodbye.

friends met on the road

Ron and Cherie opened their home to us in Florida and gave us the opportunity to rebuild our Landy. Ergun and Asli “adopted” us in Turkey. Steve and Shelley took us in during a venture into the United Kingdom, and Thomas and Sabine entertained us for a week and liberated our son for six weeks in Bavaria. All are now our family, and these stories of friendship, love, and respect help make the years of hard work and sacrifice for a life on the road worthwhile.

mechanical help on the road

 

building a camper

There is, however, a quid pro quo. It is our responsibility, as good people, cultural ambassadors, and relatively vulnerable travelers, to be worthy of the kindness and generosity which we receive. We know of travelers who abuse the generosity of hosts, and this is never acceptable. When we are invited into a new friend’s home, we provide food and drink, cook meals, wash the dishes, clean up after ourselves, and help with household and other chores. We are guests, but we do not expect to be served. We have been known to cut the lawn, fix a car, paint a bedroom, prepare firewood, or build a website. Often we may have a skill that our host does not, and we “pay” for our host’s hospitality by being a resource rather than a burden. Stay as long as you are welcome; leave when you must. And remember to speak well of the host’s country, regardless of the challenges you may have encountered.

driving in London

 

a friend in Turkey

For more Humanity stories, see Those Idahoans, and The Kindness of Strangers.

Got a Humanity story? Expedition Portal is looking for people-helping-people stories: feel-good tales that start out not so great yet end on a happy note when travelers are helped on the road. If you have or know of a compelling Humanity story, send your ideas to https://overlandjournal.com/write-for-us/

Article length is 500-750 words, and excellent photography is a must. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Graeme Bell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with his wife and two children he has spent much of his adult life chasing momentous experiences and campfire smoke across five continents. He has traveled overland to Kilimanjaro from Cape Town, circumnavigated South America, explored from Argentina to Alaska, Europe to Asia, and across the entirety of coastal Western Africa, all in a trusty Land Rover. Graeme and the family are now encouraging their self-built Defender live-in camper (and permanent home since 2012) to find a way from Cape Town to Vladivostok. Graeme is a member of The Explorers Club, the author of five excellent books, and an Overland Journal contributor since 2015.