175 days ago, I boarded a one-way flight from New York to Kenya. In those 175 days, I weaved through 2 continents, 14 different countries, trekked through desert, walked through bush, and met some amazing people.
What did I learn from all this? someone asked me recently. Good question. I didn’t have an answer at the time. (Don’t you hate when that happens?) But as I fell asleep in a truck depot in Berlin three days ago, it occurred to me that I knew the answer all along. A friend I met in Swaziland months ago summed it up like this: “traveling makes you realize how much kindness there is in the world.”
I learned this from an old hostel owner in Lesotho. She could have charged my travel mate and I any absurd amount; it was freezing and her hostel was the only place to stay for the next sixty kilometers. But she asked for four times less then the normal rate so that we could stick to our budget and spend a warm night inside.
In South Africa, a combi driver insisted on bringing me to a hostel instead of leaving me alone at the bus station. When the hostel was full, he suggested that I stay with his family and to drive me back to town the next day. In Kenya, I was approached by a tour guide to rent a bike. Offin ended up treating me to my first meal of nyama choma and showing me around his village for the next three days. Of the two months I backpacked through Europe, I spent only one night in a hotel. The rest were spent in the homes of new friends who made sure I had a place to stay.
And finally, when I was stranded outside a friend’s flat at 3 in the morning in Nowheresville, Berlin, a livery driver offered to let me borrow the cot in an empty truck in his warehouse. “When I drive home in the morning”, he said, “you are welcome to come meet my family and have breakfast with us.”
Sound crazy? Probably. But only because we are so conditioned to doubt the sincerity of others that we forget to trust our gut and acknowledge when kindness crosses our paths.
As I sat with Obi and his beautiful family at breakfast, I was reminded once again of the incredible warmth and generosity of complete strangers. What I’ve realized is this: luck guides you in encountering the right kind of people but your attitude determines the richness of the bonds you make.
I could’ve easily stayed at a hotel or politely declined conversation, but then I would have never gotten to know Obi, see his beautiful home and meet his amazing family. I would have never fallen in love with half the countries that I did because I would not have experienced them with the people who guided me along the way.So here I am at the airport in Paris, waiting to board a flight to back to New York. I’ll be going back to where I started. But somehow, I feel 175 days wiser.