Destination X: How The Kindness of Strangers Breaks You Out of Loneliness
I needed a getaway. I’d been toying with the idea since Anywhr’s inception, but this time, I had something to push me. It was late April, and I was fresh out of a relationship. I’d spent the past few years planning my life and my trips, and this time, I wanted nothing more but to give that up to someone else.
So I read a few reviews, found out they planned trips for families, friends, and (most important to me) heartbroken people, and booked myself a trip.
It was pretty bare bones — I picked the “Experience” trip theme because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to deal with anything involving heights, and paid for the cheapest available 4 day trip.
Two weeks later, it was time.
I brought my stuffed penguin, Momo, and we whisked ourselves away to a country I’ve never been to before. It was pretty terrifying, but I was excited. I stayed up all night at the airport, waiting to check in for my 7am flight.
Related Article: Do You Travel With A Stuffed Toy? You're Not Alone.
But when I reached my destination, any sign of tiredness in my body dissipated. It took me about an hour — during which I looked at Grab prices (too high for me to even consider), checked how much a taxi would cost (even more expensive than the Grab), and tried to make sure the drivers understood what I was saying (nobody did).
Finally, a kind taxi driver told me that if I took a private bus, it would cost me only 10% of what a Grab or Taxi would.
This kindness continued for the rest of my trip. It sounds so millennial — and maybe some people would disagree — but I realised that most people are nice and willing to help you out, even if language was in their way.
My favourite parts of the trip were the missions given by the Anywhr team. Without them, I’d have probably just spent the entire time cooping myself up, watching Netflix on my tablet and sobbing my eyes out — which would have completely defeated the purpose of a getaway.
It was raining at the end of the second day, and I’d budgeted way too little for dinner at a restaurant (the rest of my money was in the airbnb). They didn’t take credit cards at that establishment so I was stuck. My preferred mode of transport around the area was walking, mostly because I couldn’t cycle like Anywhr had suggested.
As the sky turned darker and the rain grew heavier, I saw a small provision shop plastered with a huge sign — English / Korean Visitors. This was a huge relief since not a single person had spoken English to me since I arrived. My main form of communication mostly consisted of smiling sheepishly and playing the world’s most unimpressive game of charades.
One of the missions was to have a meal with a local, or ask them for directions, so I tried to ask for recommendations for places to eat that would be within my budget, and if anyone would like to join me for dinner. They offered to take me someplace, but I was too afraid of motorcycles to get on another one. I took a Grabbike on the first day — the first time I’d ever been on one. I didn’t even dare to look at the open road, too focused on clutching the drivers shoulders because I was so sure I’d fall off.
Then they asked if I’d like to stay for dinner.
At the start of the trip, I didn’t know how I was ever going to have a meal with a complete stranger, but here I was, being invited to dinner at the home of a complete stranger.
When I asked if one of the girls would sing with me, the girls linked a bluetooth system to their phones and sang a Chinese song —something from Meteor Garden — with me using YouTube and romanised subtitles. Their mum gently squeezed my shoulders as I was told to finish the meal of noodles and pork belly, and told me (as translated by her daughters) that I was too skinny.
I stayed up way too late even though I was afraid of getting back to my airbnb after it turned dark outside. We bonded over old English songs and new Kpop singles. And when I called a Grab at the end of the night, the girls made sure the driver brought me back safely.
It was the best meal of my trip — sweet pork, springy rice noodles, fish sauce and chilli padi all in one comforting bowl. That was the purpose of the missions: to push me out of my comfort zone, so I could become that person who would dare to do something more, so that I could be a little less sad. It didn’t make me any happier at that point, but I felt fuller than I ever did.
It was tough travelling alone to a country that doesn’t speak your language. My airbnb host’s family took care of the place while he lived in the city. His parents barely spoke any English, but they still made sure I was okay. They taught me the name of their dog (Vicky) and gave me lychees and longans and tea. They waited for me to get on the private bus back to the airport, and spoke to the driver on my behalf. In short, they cared for me.
I didn’t expect any of the kindness I received. Before travelling with Anywhr, I’d mostly travelled with other people. We never spoke to anyone else in those trips, only each other. Sometimes I think back on those vacations, and they just seem to blend into one another.
I’d met strangers who became friends before, but this was the first time I was the one who made the effort to say hello. This is what we all look for when we travel, I think. This sense of connection, of feeling larger than oneself, of belonging, even in a strange place with strange faces. Those 4 days might not have fixed my broken heart then, but they were the first signs of mending I clung onto.
I could be whole again.