Never Knew Your Name: The Unsung Angels of Travel

One of the biggest things I have learned on my RTW trip is to appreciate even the briefest of connections. As an introvert, I tend to seek out deeper relationships. We introverts detest small talk and prefer to invest our limited social energy in a small circle of close friends. That luxury doesn’t exist when you’re constantly on the road. In fact, with many of the people that have stood out in my travels, we never even exchanged names.Nonetheless, they made so many aspects of my trip easier and became the unsung angels of the road.

Table of Contents

Giving directions in Iceland

The more I travel, the more desensitized I become to my mistakes. On my first morning in Iceland, however, I was so pissed at myself for leaving my basic black cardigan at home. I knew some things would go wrong over the course of the year, but seriously? I couldn’t make it 12 hours in? While I was brooding by the Lake Tjornin, someone mistook me for a local and asked for directions. Having noticed the museum he was searching for on my walk, I actually knew the answer, and my spirits were instantly lifted. Making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad traveler.

What sacrifices would you make for travel?

Returning my key in Barcelona

Wandering through the Boqueria market on La Rambla, I noticed something unusual. I was far more likely and felt more comfortable to make purchases from a female vendor. It was the first of several instances that forced me to confront how little I trust strange men, for better or for worse. The second came that night as I returned to my hostel. I was a bit nervous to hear a man call after me on the street after dark. Right as I approached my door, however, he caught up to me holding out my hostel keycard, which had fallen out of my bag when I pulled out my phone. The pros of staying in a more residential neighborhood rather than a touristy one.

Getting around a strike in Italy

My last morning in Naples, I was eating breakfast in the courtyard of my hostel when a fellow guest came out and asked everyone in the area if they knew about the train strike. Um, no. I went inside to get help from the front desk in checking the status of my booked train to the Amalfi Coast. Fortunately, it was still scheduled to depart as planned. But, gosh, if it had been cancelled and I didn’t know until after I turned up at the station? Not only did this fellow’s announcement about the strike help many people with their logistics, it was a total icebreaker for the group and many of us spent the rest of the morning chatting while we waited for our respective departure times. I even met someone who had also just begun a year-long RTW trip.

Finding a nuclear bunker in Croatia

I’m not sure anywhere I’ve stayed has been as much of an adventure as the Atomic Bunker Hostel in Zagreb. Just finding the place was a bit of a scavenger hunt. The directions given to me by the hostel were not accurate, so god bless the local fellow who noticed me walking up and down the street with my backpack. As he showed me the way, he talked about his experience living in the area and watching this hostel open. He said he wouldn’t necessarily want to walk down that street by himself – he definitely didn’t think I should. And man was he right. The tunnel leading to the bunker was not well marked or lit at all. I had been wary at first of accepting a strange man’s help, but he wound up being my absolute savior.

Finding the bus in Croatia

Flixbus sells tickets in Croatia, but turns out they don’t operate the actual buses. I learned this when I arrived at the Zagreb station and couldn’t tell which platform I needed to be on. I overhead a guy muttering to himself looking for the same bus as me and struck up a conversation. I wouldn’t have quite known what to do by myself, nor he, but together we split up the station and checked each platform until we found where we needed to go.

Getting to the airport in Athens

I thought I was so smart going to the airport straight from the docks at Piraeus when my time in Greece was done. My ferry from Santorini wasn’t due to get in until midnight. I certainly wasn’t going to go seek out a hostel that time of night. So color me surprised when several stops from the airport, the metro closed and everyone had to get off the train in lord-knows-where. How was I to get to the airport now? Fortunately, a French couple was in same situation. We started talking and figuring out together what our options were, and ultimately agreed to share a cab. Taxi fare to the airport is a flat rate of nearly 40 euro. I would have never been able to pay for that by myself – I don’t think I even had that much cash on me. Being able to split the fare, and not being alone in a strange part of Athens by myself at 1am were both total godsends.

An offering in India

If I never see the assholes that were at my hostel in Delhi ever again, it will be too soon. The student program that took over the dorms made the situation nearly unbearable, with men constantly in and out of my women’s dorm at all hours without even knocking, frequent PDA from couples, and a leader of the program actually shaking his finger in my face telling me I was full of shit and bad at my job when I had to politely decline an invitation to go out because of work.

The final straw came when a girl was making out with her boyfriend in the bed next to mine well after midnight. I tried to ignore it and just go to sleep, but then she started telling him she was tired and wanted him to leave. He wouldn’t listen. For the next hour, they alternated between weakly whispered arguments and more kissing and more of her telling him to stop. I finally felt my blood boil, shot up from my bed, and snapped, “Hey, if you won’t believe she wants you to go, believe that I do. It is 2am and this is a women’s dorm. Get out.” 

Clearly none of these people were angels, so why am I recounting the story? I wasn’t the only unwilling observer to their little affair d’amour. That evening a rather shy girl checked in to another bunk in the room, and was also trying to sleep during that unsavory scene. The next morning, just she and I were present. I was packing and she wandered over, holding out a Ferrero Rocher in her palm. I smiled and thanked her, and she went back about her business. We never exchanged another word, but it was such a nice gesture and I felt like it was coming from a ‘Thank you for being the hostel bitch and getting that guy out of here.’ place.

Public restrooms in Bangkok

Wandering Chatuchak market, I took a break at an indoor shopping mall to use the restroom. I often carry toilet paper, but didn’t have any in my bag that day. There was none in the bathroom stalls, and no paper towels in the dispenser by the sink. An older woman noticed me poking around, and handed me a wad out of her own purse. It was such a brief moment and a simple gesture, but I honestly think that kind of thing exemplifies being welcomed into a country.

Tubing in Laos

This was really not something I should have done by myself. Tubing in Vang Vieng has a bit of a reputation. Before the Lao government cracked down on illegal drug use, over-serving at bars, and dangerous rope swings on the Nam Song River, several travelers actually lost their lives while partaking in this backpacking rite of passage. These days it is safer by far, but I still almost lost my tube trying to get in the river by myself at the start point. At a mere five feet and trying to juggle the dry bag with my clothes, I managed to capsize, go under the water dry bag and all, and nearly lose my tube to the current. I wasn’t in any physical danger, but it also wasn’t among my more graceful moments on the road. I managed to catch my tube, but got a little help on reentry from a fellow who had been on my tuktuk to the riverside.

These are just a few moments that helped teach me it’s okay to be no more than ships passing in the night. Not every connection you make has to become a lifelong friend. You can have positive experiences with the people you meet in travel and never see them again, never even know their names, and it takes nothing away from either of you. I’ve certainly met other people who I befriended for a few days, and a couple with whom I’ve stayed in touch. But these people who helped me through my trip without even a name to put to the face deserve a little recognition.

We introverts notoriously detest small talk. Learn how to connect with introverts while you travel.

Have you had a stranger help you on a trip? Tell me in the comments!

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  1. Enjoyable read. These stories about the buses in Croatia and airport in Greece are funny – I had a similar situation in Lisbon where each bus company has their own bus station, and I was obviously on a wrong one 😀

  2. I can completely relate to this article. As an introvert I’m not a fan of talking to strangers either, but I’m very happy for some of the conversations I had on my travels. Sharing a taxi to the airport is always great. I did the same in Bali. I was so proud of myself. Haha

    1. Loving all the introverts coming out of the woodwork! And you are so lucky to have been able to split a taxi in Bali. They are crazy expensive, like way more than I was even expecting.

  3. I Love Everything about this post! I am also an introvert and the couple making out next to me would have pushed me OVER THE TOP! I also have noticed that many introverts are travelers…strange to most but to me, being on the road is when I am most myself! Cheers to these unsung angels!

    1. You’re absolutely right Maegan. I feel like travel has allowed me to peel away all the trappings and just focus on who I am and what I love.

  4. Love this post! Good for you for recognizing these small instances and writing them down! I have definitely had similar experiences and have to scold my judgmental self for even considering the situation could have gone differently. You never know, but times like the ones you just described really make travel worthwhile.

  5. I was driving from Dublin to Drogheda and had printed out directions to get to my hotel. However, none of the streets in the town actually had signs so I was totally lost! I stopped to buy groceries and the woman that I asked for directions was so sweet. She actually walked out of the store with me and pointed to where I needed to turn to find my hotel. I’ll never forget it because I would have been driving around forever without her!

    1. That’s awesome Erin. It’s always interesting how different directions can be in other countries! One thing I loved about Vietnam is literally every storefront had its address printed on the front, so no matter where you were you could look up and know exactly what street you were on. But I found that it was really tough asking for directions in Vietnam – people wanted to help but they would just tell me the next turn to take, not the whole way to get where I was going. lol

  6. What wonderful stories! Thank you so much for sharing! I particularly enjoyed the one where the man brought you your key card because I feel the same way towards strange men. I am always apprehensive at first, but I’ve also had so many friendly people help me out during my travels, men and women. I find that in Colombia they are extremely helpful and always wanted to walk me to wherever I was going.

    1. Exactly – it’s been a big struggle for me to know when to trust strange men and when to not, and it’s definitely still an ongoing process.

  7. I love this post!! Such a happy, upbeat article and it’s true, there are so many unsung heroes when traveling. It reminds us that people are generally good and the bad ones the news focuses on are the exception, not the rule. Thank you to all those people out there who help out a fellow traveler in a foreign country!

    1. I’m so glad this came across as upbeat. You’re absolutely right – no matter where you go, there’s usually someone who is able and willing to help you when you’re in need. And we should all strive to be that person for each other too.

  8. Fellow introvert here so I can totally relate to these! It’s awesome that your able to reflect on your own experiences and learn from them 🙂

    1. Awesome – thanks Lara. Introverts seem to get overlooked a lot in the typical travel community.

  9. Love those little BIG wins while traveling. Like airport taxi sharing and such. Keeping positive always helps even when a situation seems hopeless, because our Mood and Energy can affect the outcome of a situation.

    1. So true. Attitude is everything and it can keep a terrible situation from feeling even worse.

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