What I love about traveling — well, there are a lot of things — but what comes to mind right now is the way it brings people together. We cross borders, we learn about other cultures, we put ourselves in another’s shoes for maybe a day or a week or a month and we try to understand each other.
That natural curiosity and motivation to experience those things is shared by travelers like myself or Andi or Sami.
On our plane from Reykjavik to London, I sat next to a couple who were passionate about travel and excited to offer me tips for our trip. Their names were Shea and Ashley. Both live in Denver, Colorado, (which I pointed out is near my alma mater, Nebraska), but Shea is originally from Germany. He’s a microbiologist with wild curly black hair and arm tattoos; she’s a spunky redhead with a lip ring and various tattoos around her arms. They’d spent a week in Iceland with friends, seeing sites that few travelers make it to (like a Sorcery Museum in the north).
As I got on the plane and took my seat next to them, Ashley pulled out the barf bag and put it in an easy-to-reach location.
“Just in case,” she said. I gave her what must have been a wary look and she said, “Don’t worry, I’m just a little hungover. The Iceland hospitality is too good!”
I laughed. They told me that they went to dinner at a nice restaurant with a friend of a friend the night before. They’d planned to drop a huge chunk of change on the dinner – she ordered lobster tail and wine. But when they finished and waited for the check, their host – the friend of a friend they had just met – told them it was taken care of. He knows the owner of the restaurant and they’d taken care of the (clearly very expensive) bill. To top it off, he insisted that they borrow his car for their cross country adventures and topped it off with a hearty, “Next time you visit, you stay with me,” when they left for London.
I was in awe of the kindness he showed them.
“I treat people that way, so it’s just nice to have it in return sometimes,” Ashley said.
I told Ashley and Shea where our travels were taking us for the rest of the summer and they excitedly gave us tips and hole-in-the-wall places to go. Because that’s the thing about travelers — we help each other out.
Kind of like when Andi and I were traveling back from Perdido Bay with our friend Wongani back in March. Wongani had a friend she met at a National Leadership Forum in DC whose family lived in Memphis. They’d never met us before, and Wongani just sort of knew their daughter. But she reached out and asked if they wouldn’t mind hosting us for a night so we could split up the 20-hour drive and get some rest. Their daughter, Wongani’s friend, was out of town, and her parents were at a party when we got to their home — but they took us in, no questions asked, and gave us the entire second floor of their home for the night.
I thanked them profusely for offering their hospitality to us when they got home later that night.
Their response was humble, simple, and inspiring: “Well isn’t that what the church is all about? Loving each other and helping each other out?”
It’s kind of like how Kate and I had only met once, but she still hosted us in London and spent an entire day with us seeing all the touristy things she’s seen before. What a blessing it was for both of us to stay somewhere for free and bond with an American so early in our travels when we were still gaining our footing and learning what it looked like to backpack through Europe with a limited budget.
Andi has a friend who just hitchhiked her way through Australia by herself. She was gone for three months and conquered something that we’ve all been taught is dangerous, wrong, and scary. But for her, it wasn’t. It was a way of finding herself, and by extension, finding others — friends she didn’t know she had, experiences that can only be had by intimately knowing locals, and a new comfort zone to challenge herself with.
Jesus was a wanderer, too. And when he went places, he stayed in the homes of strangers, of friends he’d just come to know. The early church was built on the idea of hosting one another, coming together, creating fellowship with strangers, and seeking friendships in the most unlikely of places.
Sometimes that looks a little different in today’s society. But most of the time, it doesn’t.