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The Kindness of Strangers

People are wonderful, they really are. The city life can make you doubt this sometimes. We’re all bundled together, forced to wear the suits and skirts, we walk past each other blank faced and thinking only of coffee. We forget the simple wonderful feeling that comes with connecting with someone, enjoying someone’s company, and someone’s stories.

Backpacking can really bring this home to you again. You’re alone in a hostel in the middle of Thailand. Only a pack of cards and a few unknown Germans. At first, it seems like it’s going to be the loneliest night, but a few rounds of Slovakian Rummy later, and you’re hearing some of the greatest travel tales you’ve ever heard.

Today’s little thought is about the kindness of strangers. Those moments while travelling, when someone you don’t know helps you, for no reason other than kindness, and knowing that, if the situation were reversed, that’s how they would want you to react.

My friends in la Albufera
My friends in la Albufera by rabataller

As I’ve mentioned before, hostels are a friendly place. You can sit down next to most people and start a conversation. Or, when you’re sitting alone, someone will come and speak to you. I remember one night I sat on my hostel bed in a bit of worry. The friends I had made and been around for the past few weeks had all left. I found myself alone, and confused as to what to do next. Before I could even begin to think about it, my door opened, and two guys entered my room, both by the name of Dave.

They sat down by my bed, introductions were made, and for the rest of the day, we talked. We ate dinner together, discussed their lives, their travels, laughed hysterically and toasted almost everything we could think of toasting. I never even found out their last names, all I know is, by the end of that day I had remembered what travelling was about again. Random strangers feeling like your best friends, people you never met helping you out in a tough situation, or just helping you have the most amazing day. People make the dullest day beautiful.

So here are a few further tales of kindness. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below, share a smile and a story of kindness.

Companions in life / Compañeros en la vida
Companions in life / Compañeros en la vida by victor_nuno


Jet lag will make you feel stranger and dirtier that you ever thought possible. You fly into a heat drenched airport, on only 3 hours of sleep and a cramp in your neck that makes you feel like you just exited a Metallica concert. You grab your backpack and head for the local bus stop, and wonder why everything is written in such a strange squiggly language.

This is how I felt when I rocked up in Seoul, South Korea. For some strange reason in my mind, Korea was cold. Don’t know why I thought that, because it’s not. It’s really not. So in my jumper and jeans, with my life in my bag and a headache that tiger balm couldn’t solve, I attempted to get to my guesthouse.

I failed. I’ll be the first to admit. I got off at the stop I was sure was mine. I walked around the streets, I went back, I looked for signs, I tried all I could, but with no luck. I was lost in Seoul. Accepting defeat, I went into a 7-11 to ask for directions. The clerk stared back blankly as I tried my best to mime the words ‘Could you give me directions, please?’ I pointed at my printed map and gave her an English smile.

She took the crumbled paper from my hand and noticed a phone number for where I was staying. She smiled, gave them a call, and slowly and carefully said, that very soon, someone would come to get me. I would have hugged her, except I had heard Koreans aren’t big on hugs. So instead just beamed and thanked her. Soon after, as she promised, the guesthouse owner arrived, and whisked me away to my home away from home. This was my first introduction to South Korea.

The next day, feeling much more alive thanks to showers and coffee, I found myself once again wandering the street of Seoul. In wonderful Asian style, it suddenly went from boiling heat and bright sunshine, to a downpour that would have drowned a small Pokémon. I stood at a sidewalk quite amused. I can’t help it, I love the rain (I’m English, what do you expect?).

Suddenly, a man walks up to me, and hands me an umbrella. In broken English he says he is meeting his mother at the subway, I can use it until then. I thank him kindly and walk down the street with him. We share conversation about the city and his life there, the reasons I am here, and the best places to eat. At the subway his mother awaits, and a pass the figurative torch to her, bow kindly at my new friend, and wander through the city with such a grin and a simple thought in my mind “I love Asian people”


I awoke one morning in Port St John, a beautiful tropical village in South Africa. I had spent the previous day in a hammock, overlooking the beach and having John, the broadly smiling barman, make me custom cocktails. While this was a wonderful way to spend the day, I felt I needed something a little more from my time today.

I greeted the hostel owner, sat down for a coffee and a chat, and asked her what I could do today. She looked into the distance and thought for a few moments.

‘Do you like Horse riding?’ she asked with a patented smirk.

‘I’ve never been, but I’m guessing I do’ I replied.

She scuttled to the back, and a few minutes later returned with news that a local man called ‘John’ (Which was his name to us, for we could not make Afrikaans sounds) was going to be waiting on the other side of the beach with a few horses, he’d take me, and whoever else wanted to come, around the local area. I grabbed my things, and got a lift from some Dutch guys, also intrigued by the idea.

I spent the day on the back of ‘Jojo’, one of John’s horses, seeing the forest around the town, racing along the beach, and learning al about the history of Port St John. After a few hours, John led us to his home, where his wife was waiting. She had prepared a meal for us all, which we ate happily, and learned more about their life.

It was simply one of the most spectacular days I have ever had. The sights I saw, the history I learned, the friendship I felt. We all agreed to give John some money for this brilliant day, even though he initially refused. This wasn’t a business. This was a man who was willing to take random strangers around his town, share his food, and meet new people. A man willing to invite total strangers into his house, feed them, and welcome them, because that is exactly what he would expect anyone else to do for him


A Few days after the wonderful Port St John day, and many packs of instant Noodles later, I entered into the dreaded phase of any trip. A sickness; the flu to be exact. I won’t go into too much detail, but sufficed to say, it was coming out of both ends. I laid in bed for 2 days, wishing my mum was there to bring me a milky cheese toasty. Shivering and shaking and wishing I was anywhere but a hostel in Cinsta during this time.

Eventually the illness subsided enough for me be alert and notice anything that was happening. As I came too from the delirium, I noticed a small package by my bed. Packed together nicely in a basket, were paracetamol, lemsips, a cooling towel, some tissues, and many other medical apparel.

Confused by the gift I looked around, trying to work out exactly what had occurred. A Canadian girl in my dorm looked over ‘Oh you’re awake’ she smiled brightly. ‘Do you feel any better?’

‘Yes, thank you…do you know where all this came from?’ I asked politely in between coughs

‘Yeah, we collected them together for you, you sounded really bad through the night, so everyone chipped in a few meds’.

Maybe I was still mildly delirious, but I was so utterly touched by the beauty of this. A group of people who did not know each other, came together to make sure another stranger got through his illness. Utterly wonderful.


In a hostel in Melbourne, I made many a friend. Nights of Drinking, days of exploring, many fun times were had. Two others in this wonderful place, had found romance and love with each other, decided to make it official, and get married.

When the day had begun, the couple had expected to venture to the Botanical gardens, where their friend, who would say a few words, and marry them (While drunk he had discovered an online application to become a registrar). With little fuss or event.

But I couldn’t let that happen. This was supposed to be the most beautiful day of their life. They needed to remember this. And if there was nowhere more perfect to help with my mission, than a hostel full of summertime travellers in Australia.

I rounded up friends, colleges, fellow hostellers, made cards, bought flowers, got friends to make a cake, and started the plan.

When the bride finally arrived at the Botanical gardens, she had a juggler walking her down the aisle. She had 30 people humming the wedding march with waiting confetti. She had a photographer for the day, and she had many friends there to cheer when they said “I Do.”

The reception back at the hostel was a goon filled wonderful night. Messages from everyone at the hostel were collected and given as a gift, and a day of wonderful magic fulfilled.

While I know this tale isn’t about a stranger, seeing as I done it, I feel it is a story about the willingness of travellers to be nice to someone they hardly know. To try to make a day special for a stranger. Be it birthday, anniversary or wedding day, we’re simply always ready for a story.

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How and Why You Will Never Be Travelling Alone

“Aren’t you worried about travelling alone?” It’s a question I get asked all the time. Friends and colleges who have never backpacked always ask this. “Don’t you worry about making friends?’ The answer is always the same. Of course not.

Travelling alone is the only way I can do it. I’ve tried travelling with friends, and yes, it has its benefits, seeing a familiar face every day, having someone to eat with, talk to, and do things with. But, personally, I’ve always found that a well known friend on my travels stopped me from doing what I loved. Exploring, meeting new people, and finding new things.

So today I’ll dispel a few worried thoughts about travelling solo, share a few tales, and give a few tips for those who are still concerned.

kolour knowledge
kolour knowledge by Enjoy It As Us!

When you’re travelling alone, you’re rarely travelling alone. In any given hostel around this wonderful world, there are many others doing the same as you. Exploring a new part of the world with nothing but a budging backpack and a Mack in a pack. You have so much in common with every single person. Go downstairs early enough and you’ll find a lonely German who’s going to explore the local area. Come down at lunch and you’ll find an Irish clan starting to drink. Make you way down around dinner and some lonely English girl will want to go to the local cinema. You will not be alone unless you really want to be.

backpackers by Farley Webb

The beauty about backpacking, and living in hostels, is that everyone is your friend. You sit down on a bus to travel 12 hours back to Bangkok and the person on the seat next to you is suddenly your new best friend. In a hostel in South Africa; the person in the bunk above yours is your new buddy. You’ll sit down with your beans on toast in the dining area on a cold Austrian night, and the person opposite is your dining partner. This is the beauty of the backpacker’s world. We’re all in it together. You can walk up to any person in the hostel and start a conversation. ‘Where are you from, where have you been, where are you going’. Those 3 questions will keep you going for a long time (though I warn you, after 5 months of answering this, you can start to get a little bored, so try to keep things interesting).

Classic Backpacker Girls
Classic Backpacker Girls by primaverapvr

The best place to meet people is the dining area, or anywhere that has tables and chairs. If you sit there long enough, someone will sit next to you, or across from you, and you’ve got yourself a chatting buddy.

Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to break the ice. But here are a few tips of mine on how to make friends in a backpacker environment:

Cake Fishing

Go to the supermarket, buy a cake (or make one, if you have skills). Cut a few slices, sit down at a dining room table, and wait. I guarantee you that someone will come up and make a comment. When they do, put a slice in front of them, and invite them to sit down. You now have a new friend (this is based on the sound scientific reasoning that no one can be angry after eating cake). The bonus with this is that later on in the evening when people are drinking, they’ll remember you as ‘cake boy/girl’, and offer you a drink for giving them a slice. Cake isn’t a treat, it’s an investment.

CAKES…. by Pablo D. Contreras (ilexphoto)

Sock puppets

Go down to the dining area/bar with a sock puppet on, and just have a chat to it. Someone will eventually come up to you and ask what you’re doing. Introduce you’re sock to them, and have a round table conversation (it helps to have thought up a good back story for the puppet, name, where they come from, how the evil wizard turned them into a sock puppet etc). Obviously, some people will think you’re insane. But some won’t. Or some will, and will WANT to be friends with you because of that. Either way, you’ll get people talking


In my last article, I talked about the wonders of Goon in Australia. It is the classic friendship maker. Buy a box, sit down with a few glasses, and offer one to whoever ends up next to you. They will have had a Goon night, and will tell you their Goon story. You’ll probably have one of your own too. Share, reminisce and grimace away. Then do it all again

Have a Party

Many of those who are travelling are there to have a good time. We’re young, we’re free, we’re ready to explore, and we’re ready to mingle. We’ll take hikes, we’ll go to museums, and we’ll visit art galleries through the day. And when the eve comes, we’re ready to make something of it. So make something of it. Find an interesting part of the hostel and have a party. Play some music, get some balloons and whenever anyone turns up, party along with them. My favourite place to do this is in a lift. Lift parties are epic. People have to use them all night, so you have a steady stream of party goers. Give them some drinks, give them some party food, and make them dance. You’ll have a great one. (Warning- spending a whole evening in a lift can make you feel a little sea sick or rather lift sick). You can also use dining areas, receptions, your room (if your room mates are willing), smoking areas, cupboards, sofas, or any other interesting room a hostel possesses.

lounge party at Purple Nest Hostels (Valencia)
lounge party at Purple Nest Hostels (Valencia) by Nest Hostels Spain

Backpackers are some of the friendliest people in the world. They’ve come to another country, wanting to see new things, and meet new people, and all of them are happy to talk to you. So please, never be worried about travelling alone.

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You just had a little shiver down your spine when you read that, didn’t you? Which means one of two things- either you’ve traveled in Australia, or you can see the future, and your body is scared.

Goon is quite legendary. Not a hostel in Australia has a night where no one drinks Goon. It’s boxed wine (Plonk). Usually bought for about $10 for 4 litres. It’s cheaper than mineral water. And after drinking it you’ll realise why. It doesn’t taste good. Imagine the kind of bottle of wine you’d buy when you’re 14 and wanting to make an impression on your new ‘girlfriends’ family. Then imagine you poured the entire bottle over a mattress that someone which a quite violent flu had spent the week on watching old Jerry Springer reruns. You let that ferment for a week maybe, and then squeeze that mattress out, collecting every last drop. That’s the best way I can describe the taste of Goon.

goon! by I Don’t Know, Maybe

And everyone who’s ever had it has a story to tell about it. Seriously, ask any of your friends who’ve stayed in a hostel along the east coast of Oz

“So, what’s Goon?”
“Ah” as they shake their head “Goon…goon…goon…I remember one time on Goon…”

So far science has not been able to explain the effects of Goon. It is the only alcohol known to give you a hangover before you get drunk. You get a headache, you feel a little sick, and you start hating everyone around you.

There are rules to Goon. The official way it is to be drunk is in a mug. No one knows why, but drinking it out of a real glass is not acceptable. You may also use saucepans, jugs, or anything else that will make you look quite silly.

After 10pm, any Goon left on a table is communal. Well, it sort of is. Everyone’s so drunk you don’t really remember what’s yours.

Slap The Goon!
Slap The Goon! by Laura and Candice’s Photos

Goon should be drunk within the confines of a drinking game. Ring of Fire is a classic, Eyes on keeps you moving, shot a minute is not recommended, but Goon is never recommending in general. You can drink Goon solo and slowly, but it’s just stupid. Goon is there to get you drunk, very drunk, very quickly, very cheaply. Even if you will regret it.

Red Goon is rarely enjoyed. White Goon is the preferred option for many people. Officially it’s wine. So with a white wine, you can get a drinkable bottle quite cheap and it gets better with price. Red wine is different; you can’t go for cheap Red. Unless you really want to forget the night and wake up next to a guy named Mandy wearing only a leopard skin thong.

Goon is made with Fish and Eggs. It says so on the bottle. But don’t get freaked out, it’s just a finishing agent. And honestly, if you’re on a travelling budget, you’ll agree that if someone told you smoking a Mars bar would get you wasted, you’d probably try it. The best part about this fact, is that when you’re drinking with GV’s (Goon Virgins), after the 5th or 6th mug, you can point this little disclaimer out to them, and see the colour on their face change rapidly.

Ice is recommended. The only thing worse than Goon is warm Goon. Some like to make ‘Magic goon’ and add lemonade, or another mixer. However Goon Cocktails are very hit and miss, I do warn you.

Slap the goon with Westend Backpackers
Slap the goon with Westend Backpackers by NomadsHostels

Some feel that goon is not enough on its own. And these are the sort of people that invented the Goon Bomb. Some of you who are more party types will be aware of Jagerbombs. Where you drop a shot of Jagermesiter into a glass of Red Bull, and down the whole thing. Well, a Goon Bomb is like that. Only with Goon instead of Red Bull. Yeah. Take a minute to think about that.

A night on Goon is different every time. But they’ll usually be blackouts. They’ll usually be incredible mistakes your friends will not let you live down. And the next morning, you will completely re-evaluate your life. It’s the vomit equivalent of an epiphany. You’ll realise where it went wrong, what you need to do, and that you defiantly will never do it again. Until the next night of course…

Some of you reading this may wonder why we do this. Pure hedonists, don’t care about your health, don’t care about the consequences, blah blah blah. And you know what, you’re maybe right. Goon will make you feel worse than most other drinks. However, you’ll also have one of the most entertaining nights on the stuff. You’ll make friends quicker than you ever thought possible. You’ll sing the words to songs you never even heard. You’ll smile all night, and you’ll enjoy it, and to me, this is what backpacking is all about. Putting your body on the line to meet people, have a great time, and do things you never thought possible.