Smiles Away From Home: Acts of Kindness That Saved the Trip


Smiles Away From Home: Acts of Kindness That Saved the Trip

Because of a rental car mishap, it was well after dark by the time Catherine Dupree and her father arrived in Canakkale, a city in northwestern Turkey, during a vacation in 2006. As they drove around the city, trying in vain to navigate to their hotel (this was well before the days of reliable mapping apps, like Waze), Ms. Dupree’s father spotted a man walking his dog and asked him for help.

“He somehow communicated to us that he had to bring the dog home and then could show us the way,” said Ms. Dupree, now 51 and living in Los Angeles.

The man did, indeed, gesture for them to follow him to his home where, the dog secured, he got into his own car and led the pair for miles, winding through the city’s streets, until he jubilantly pointed out his window to their hotel and then disappeared into the night.

“Our bafflement turned to incredulity turned to gratitude,” Ms. Dupree said of the experience. “My dad passed away in 2020, and he always wished he could have thanked this man for his help.”

As we dive into summer travel, it can be easy to get caught up in the frustrations that often accompany what promises to be another hot, crowded, potentially turbulent season. And yes, there will be flight delays, packed attractions and inevitable inconveniences. But it’s also an opportunity to consider what’s possible when you’re out exploring the world: the kindness of strangers.

Late last year, we asked you to share the memorable acts of kindness that you have experienced while traveling. Your stories are reminders that sometimes, the most memorable and joyful parts of travel can arise from challenging moments.

When Clark Peters was in his early 20s, he and a college friend were backpacking through Europe when disaster struck: They woke up on an overnight train in Italy to find that their cash, checks, Eurail train passes and his friend’s passport had been stolen. Even worse, it was Mr. Peters’s birthday. The two friends disembarked in Milan to regroup, and headed first to the U.S. Consulate to replace the passport and then to an American Express office to replace their stolen traveler’s checks. There, they encountered a family from Ohio, Mr. Peters’s home state, whose daughter was studying abroad in the city.

“They insisted that we stay with them and treated us to a wonderful home-cooked meal, surprising me with a birthday cake,” Mr. Peters, who is now 58 and lives in Columbus, Mo., recalled. “The day turned from disaster to the best experience of our trip, and I’ve never forgotten the family’s immense generosity.”

While plans can, and often do, go awry, sometimes a lack of proper planning can lead to surprisingly delightful results. A few years ago, Carolyn Rose Friedman was hitchhiking from Chile to Argentina through Patagonia, where national parks are linked by a nonintegrated border — meaning border facilities for each country are about 20 miles apart. Some pandemic restrictions were still in place, strictly limiting the number of vehicles that could cross the border, though Ms. Friedman, traveling with a group of women, managed to get a ride across on a truck. But when the truck stopped just before the Argentine side of the border, the driver demanded that hitchhikers get out of the vehicle. After a two-hour wait, the women finally had their passports stamped and crossed into Argentina, where they ran into yet another hurdle.

“Underprepared and exhausted, we had not realized we would also have to find somebody to help us get from the border to the nearest town, a good 15 kilometers away,” said Ms. Friedman, who is now 25 and living in Bogotá, Colombia. As they lugged their heavy packs, they spotted a vehicle tucked into the woods just off the road. They detoured to investigate, and happened on a family gathered to celebrate a granddaughter’s fifth birthday. After listening to their pleas for help, family members said that they’d be happy to give them a ride, as long as they didn’t mind staying through the celebration.

“We pulled out our camping stove and made popcorn for the birthday girl, and over shared maté, despite the three languages between us, spent the next several hours building a beautiful and unexpected friendship,” she said. “If we’d done our research properly, we never would have met them.”

Sometimes the simplest acts that can turn a travel nightmare into a fond memory. Several years ago, Briana Boston, 42, was traveling home from a family road trip without her husband and with her three young boys when she stopped for a bite in Lakeland, Fla. The children were tired, hungry and not on their best behavior. When an older woman approached her, Ms. Boston, who lives in Central Florida, braced herself for a snide comment or worse.

“Instead, she kindly patted my arm and said, ‘It’s long days and short years when raising kids. Enjoy them now when they’re young, and don’t worry what anybody else thinks. You’re doing great.’” Ms. Boston burst into tears. “I’ve never forgotten her words of kindness,” she said.

Of course, going out of your way to be kind to someone comes with its own reward. But sometimes, those good intentions can lead to even more benefits. Yana Mihailuka, 39, was driving back from a winter hike at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California when people at a car on the side of the road flagged her down. Thinking that they needed help, she pulled over.

“It was snowing, and we thought their car had broken down,” said Ms. Mihailuka, who lives in Paris. “It turns out this wonderful family had made too many tamales and wanted to share with us! It was so touching and wonderful.”

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