Why travel teaches us to keep our promises

Why Travel Teaches us to keep our promises

It will be here, just wait. I promise

How many times have you stood at the side of a dusty broken pavement and just stared at the road, waiting for your bus?

Your backpack is strewn on the floor, sweat pouring from your temples and armpits, turning your t-shirt a sticky shade of grey, anticipation, anxiety, heart pounding – the build-up of your next adventure, just waiting to happen. Just waiting for that bus.

It still amazes me how travel works in South East Asia or Indonesia, you walk into a small air-conditioned shop, you know the ones with the sliding door? You take your shoes off and you tell them what you want, where you want to go – 5 quick minutes and it’s sorted.

Or you talk to a guy manning a street stall,  selling drinks and cigarettes, with a handwritten sign or a printed piece of paper above the stall, “bus and boat tickets“. You ask for a price, maybe barter and then you hand over your cash for a bus ticket. In exchange for this cash, you’re given a flimsy bit of paper, sometimes with writing in English, other times, you have no idea what it says and then you tell this stranger where you sleeping. They pick up an old Nokia phone and have a short direct call in Thai or Khmer, a sentence – maybe 20 words, a nod follows. The phone call is ended.

“You will be picked up at 7 am, ok?”.


That’s it. A promise has been made with a stranger. It’s been written on a piece of paper and you just have to trust it will be ok. You have to trust the bus will turn up.

why travel teaches us to keep our promises

I don’t know if I’ve been extremely lucky or just in the right place at the right time, but I’ve never had a promise broken by a stranger with a bus ticket when travelling.

I’ve waited for buses everywhere. On street corners, in hotel lobbies, in dirty bars with plastic chairs.  I once waited for three hours in the pitch black dead of night, in an old derelict bus stop in Thailand, cockroaches crawling at my toes. The bus always comes. The promise has never been broken.

I once slept on a boat port floor waiting for a connection, curled up with my sarong, nestled in with about 25 other backpackers,  damp, tired and hungry, we were told to wait, the boat would come. After hours of hopeless waiting,  the sun started to light the sky and the air slowly started to grow warmer, you could see on the horizon, the boat was on its way.

There have been times when I thought I’d been set up, or led on. I thought there is no way a bus will come here, not a chance. But the boat always came, the bus always turned up. The promise has always been kept. Even if I just had to wait a while.

Why travel teaches us to keep our promises

And this is where I learned the value of a promise. The value of a scrap of paper. The value of a stranger living up to their word. I learnt to be vulnerable. I learnt to be afraid. I learnt to be patient.  And this what promises are all about.

I believe in keeping my promises and travel has taught me that promises are all about trust and patience. There is so much power in a promise.  That’s why we need to do our best to keep our word. 

You’ve heard the quote, “the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them” – Ernest Hemingway. Well, the same goes for promises. How do you know if someone will keep their promise?  Trust them, take a risk and lean into a world full of promise. Travel has taught me how to trust in people and in uncomfortable situations and most importantly, in myself. But don’t rush, sometimes we can be waiting for people to keep to their word, it might take a little longer than we would like, or they might even need reminding, but a promise is a promise. No matter how long it takes to come true.

All of the promises that people made to me whilst travelling, the promises they kept, only fueled my passion for keeping my own promises. If a stranger on the other side of the world, will keep their word, why can’t I?

**Did you like this post? I’m writing a new series, once a month I’ll post a lesson that travel has taught us. Last month I wrote lesson #2 – Why travel teaches us to be afraid. Other posts in this series include, lesson #1 – Why travel teaches us to say goodbye. I’d love to know what you think or if you’ve got any lessons you want to share.


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