I jolted up in bed. Retching. It was 4 am on the morning of my 30th birthday and all I could hear was the unmistakable sounds of someone being sick. Vomit. Heaving. Convulsing. Choking.
Jumping up, racing to open the bedroom door, I saw my 9-year-old golden retriever leaving neat piles of regurgitated seaweed on the cream Air BnB carpet. Happy Birthday! After a brisk pre-dawn walk, soapy hot water and sympathy scolding, I was back in bed. Unknowing, the events were foreshadowing the rest of the celebrations to come on the 1st day of my 30th year.
Travel has taught me so many things, but the thing I’m most grateful for is the lesson of kindness. I’ve received so much kindness from strangers. I’ve helped other travellers in far corners of the world, I’ve been a shoulder to cry on and a helping hand and I’ve been opened to trust more. All because of travel. All because as travellers; we are vulnerable and naive, we are wise and afraid. But in the midst of some scary situations, I had the realisation that we are all only human. We’re just people. As an enthusiastic American once told me, “We’re just people helping people“. We’re all we’ve got.
My 30th Birthday restarted with a champagne breakfast on the beach and beautiful sunshine filled walk and a packed car ready for adventures. Music playing, dog on my lap, I nearly missed the jolt, the slowing down of the engine and the knowing sigh from my husband. We pulled over as the car broke down and waited to be rescued.
When has someone helped you whilst travelling? How has someone shown you kindness? Have you helped others? What stories can you now tell all because someone reached out, trusted and was trusting – I’d love to hear your stories.
After three and half hours at the side of the road, we loaded the car, the dog and our bags onto the recovery truck, success. But it was now dark and late and the driver could only take us half way. Dropped off at Lymm Services on the M56/M6 interchange. A tourist hotspot and dangerously interesting place to Google. We sat in the car and continued our wait. It was only when I saw the rat scurry from out of the bin and crawl under the stranded McDonalds wrappers only to then start running across the moonlit empty car park dragging a double cheeseburger wrapper with its tail, it was only then when I started to laugh. I spent my 30th Birthday in a grotty Ibis budget hotel, with my dog, who continued to be sick.
Travel teaches us to be kind because we see other people, with so much less than ourselves, giving more and enjoying more. If those people can be happy and offer whatever they can. How can we possibly not do the same?
Morning came and I already knew I was going to be late for work, but with the promise of another recovery, we were hopeful. Hopeful until the driver refused to take my dog. My husband left with the car. My dog, that still smelt of seaweed sick, and I were stranded at the service station on that cold September morning. Dogs and service stations aren’t ideal. I sat outside of the McDonalds contemplating the theory and thresholds of a 30 something crisis.
And then my stranger appeared. And they showed me such kindness.
I don’t even know her name.
If I hadn’t travelled and been shown such kindness in vulnerable situations before, I would have said no. I would have been too scared. I would have hesitated. But travel taught me most people are good. Most people are kind. Yet this realisation brings a challenge. Are we good? Am I kind? How can we translate this lesson into our world here and now? How can we show love and respect to the strangers in our everyday? It’s easy to share your phone charger in a hostel. Or to give away your furniture to some travellers who are just starting out on their work holiday visa. It’s easy to give kindness when we are broken out of normal routine. But it’s then in the mundane broken and boring Tuesday when a stranger will most need your kindness, your compassion.
My stranger finished her long and noisy shift, that started at 4:30 am and drove me and my seaweed sick smelling dog home. A stranger helping another stranger. She didn’t want money. I don’t know her name and I know I will never see her again. But she showed me such an enormous amount of kindness and trust, all I can hope to do is someday repay the favour to another stranger. I was anxious and tired. I was alone and cold. But as I sat in the back of the car with my dog, I knew it was the best Birthday present I could have been given.
I love writing about all the different things travel has taught us. Here are some of the other posts I’ve written in this series:
P.S Hitchhiking isn’t my normal mode of transport, you need to weigh up the risks and ensure you feel safe. There are some great tips here.
P.P.S Although there was also the time in the heatwave. 43 degrees midday, in New South Wales Australia. We’ve missed out stop on the bus and needed to walk three miles to our campsite. There was no sweat left. It was becoming dangerous to continue walking with 20kg bags and no water. It was inevitable and terrifying but I stuck my thumb out. Someone would stop. Surely. After 30 minutes and limited shade, we were about to give up, when our Aussie angel pulled up. Can of 4x gold next to the gearbox, we loaded our bags to the words, don’t worry pommies, I’m not an axe murder as she drove off in the opposite direction of our destination…