“Goodness is the only investment which never fails.” – henry.david.thoreau
It was the first solo leg of my journey and my first big travel day–I was taking a bus from Lisbon to Seville and crossing into the second country on my adventure. To be honest, I was hopelessly lost. It was stupid really–I was only trying to find my way from the metro station to the bus station of the same name. They weren’t connected, but they were right next to each other. Or…well…they were supposed to be. The metro station had too many exits and directions and although I thought I was following the signs for buses, I kept ending up at trains. I had plenty of time, but I was walking in circles and my bag was heavy and I was hot and worst of all, I was frustrated. Frustration makes it doubly impossible to find where you are trying to go. Under the cloud of frustration, maps grow blurry and signs become mocking.
As I stood on a street corner under the hot sun, trying to decide which direction to try this time, a woman approached me and asked me, in english, if I needed help. I admitted sheepishly that I did–I am not very good at needing help. I told her I was looking for the bus station and instead of just pointing me in the right direction, she offered to walk the short distance there with me. She walked alongside me and asked me about my trip, about the places I was going and the places I had been. She told me about Lisbon. She informed me that she liked speaking English, but that she never got to use it so she was happy when she had an opportunity to practice. (She had shown another young English speaking pair to the same bus station last week too). She even offered to come to the ticket counter with me, although I assured her that this wasn’t necessary. “Obrigada, obrigada,” I repeated profusely. Had I wandered around longer, I probably would have figured it out on my own eventually…but it was incredibly nice that I didn’t have to.
Most of the time when I share my travel plans with people I am met with a lot of caution. Strangers, articles on the internet, and those closest to me all instruct me to make sure to be careful. Knowing that I am a normally trusting person, I have been warned not to be. I have been told to suspect the worst, to keep an eye on people, not to let my guard down. While I know that all of this is well intentioned, and that it has it certainly has its place, I think that this narrative leaves out so much of the truth of traveling.
It leaves out the woman in Portugal who helped me find the bus station and provided the kindness I needed to continue forward.
It leaves out the woman in Milan who took the time to stop her scooter while driving by to ask me if I needed help when she saw me standing puzzled on a street corner with my backpack, desperately trying to make sense of the signs around me. I did need help.
It leaves out the Canadian man I talked to today, who joked about a Canuk-Bruins rivalry as we shared in the pleasure and camaraderie of a great view at the top of a steep hill.
It leaves out the couple who stopped me to tell me that unbeknownst to me, my backpack was wide open, leaving my wallet and my phone on full and accessible display.
It leaves out the people Amanda and I met in the hot springs in Sao Miguel who after hearing we were using a bus, generously offered us a ride in their rental car.
It leaves out the man in the ticket window at the train station who gave me back the $10 Australian dollars that fell out of my passport when I handed it to him and told me to keep a better eye on it (I’m not sure why I’ve been carrying around $10 AUD for over a year anyway).
It leaves out the group of friends who interrupted their selfie and rushed over to me when I tripped and fell loudly onto the concrete, asking me if I was okay and offering me a hand to stand again.
It leaves out the bartender in Barcelona who, although tending to a full restaurant, took it upon himself to explain each of the dishes on the menu to me in English, and who gave me extra tapas simply because he wanted me to have the opportunity to try them.
It leaves out everyone I have met so far who has asked me about my journey and told me about theirs, everyone who has provided recommendations along the way.
It leaves out the friends with whom I have fallen out of touch who have openly hosted me, and the friends who send supportive messages from home or who make grand plans to meet me somewhere distant.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, the narrative of fear and distrust that we so often associate with travel–especially foreign travel and solo travel–leaves out the fact that people are good.
Traveling is a lot about having faith. A large part of this is a faith in yourself and in your own resourcefulness and strength. But so much of it is also a faith in others. It is choosing to recklessly believe that people are good, even when the world is trying to dissuade you or tell you otherwise. It is daring to trust, even when you don’t have any reason to. It is learning to admit that you need help. To ask for it. To accept it. Traveling is realizing that no matter where you go in the world, people, on an individual level, are good.
I am starting to think that I may just move to a complicated place and stand on street corners looking for lost people–I certainly know what one looks like after having spent so much time being one. I have been in five different countries and aside from a working proficiency in Spanish, I have had very minimal language knowledge in each country. But, I always make sure I know how to say thank you. No matter how small an action, I want people to know how much I appreciate their help, their kindness, their reminders of the goodness of people when I need them the most. I do not take this goodness for granted, but I also do not find it surprising. I have always stubbornly believed people to be good, even when the world has sometimes made it hard to do so.
Traveling is a beautiful, vulnerable reminder to have faith and to persist in goodness.