The Kindness Of Strangers On Vacation
How to leave more than just tourist dollars behind
After a long career in journalism, Scott Doggett never intended to become a facilitator of good deeds. But after a trip to Cambodia about four years ago, he found himself headed down just that path.
While on holiday in the southeast Asian nation, he and his wife, Susan Englen, encountered a man who’d lost a leg to a land mine—an unhappily common occurrence in a country that saw more than its share of war and violence in the latter part of the 20th century. The encounter led to Doggett visiting a workshop that crafted artificial limbs for land mine victims—but the workshop was unable to produce new limbs at the time because of a lack of funds to purchase the materials from which prosthetics were made, Doggett says.
“The short of it is, we spoke with the director of the workshop and learned that for $300 we would be able to pay for all of the costs of someone arriving at the workshop missing a limb, having a custom prosthetic made, having it fitted, and going through several months of physiotherapy and then walking out with a new leg and being able to resume their life,” Doggett told Good Turns recently. “Susan and I thought hard that night about how we were spending our money on the vacation, and we decided that it would be very worthwhile for us to make a donation not of $300 but of $1,500, which was quite a lot for us, we’re not wealthy people, but it seemed like such a bargain to be able to give five people the ability to walk again.”
“A leper begging on a street in Bangkok, that individual is not on the radar of any big international charity”
That might have been the end of Doggett’s good turn—and that would have been quite enough—but “after that I was hooked,” he says. “Every time I went on vacation I sought out people or animals in need of help and I helped them, and to be honest, they helped me, because I felt great every time I was able to help someone less fortunate than myself,” he says.
But it was a conversation with another couple—who wondered how on earth Doggett and his wife had learned about the prosthetics workshop in the first place—that inspired Doggett to start a website called Kind Visitor, where travelers can post stories of the kindnesses they’ve done while far from home, and where readers can get inspired to do the same.
“I spent a lot of time trying to find a website that would be a guidebook to how you go about being kind while traveling, but I couldn’t find anything like that. The idea behind Kind Visitor is that through the stories people have written about kind acts they’ve performed while on the road, they serve as an example to other people. They give you an idea about what you can do when you’re in another country,” Doggett says. “It leads by example. It’s not a how-to textbook, but rather if you read some of the stories, you will quickly glean from them the sense of how to go about looking for opportunities to help others.”
One reaction Doggett has gotten, oddly enough, is for people to question the need for such a site. “A couple of people have said, ‘Well, there are all these charities, big charities that are helping people all over the world. Do you really think there’s a need for Kind Visitor?’ I’ve actually heard that a number of times,” he says. “My response is that I’ve traveled a lot, I’m a former Lonely Planet author and LA Times reporter, I’ve been to more than a hundred countries, and I’ve often encountered need right in front of me. A leper begging on a street in Bangkok, for example, that individual is not on the radar of any big international charity. If that person’s going to be helped—and that person really does need help—they need help from the strangers who they encounter. I’m not putting down the big charities, I think they do wonderful work. But I also think that as tourists in foreign lands, especially in poor countries, we will confront people and animals in need, and have the opportunity to help them, and we should do it! it’s as simple as that. And not take the attitude that they’re going to receive help from their government or from some big charity, because that’s just often not the case.”
“My hope is that people will read these kindness stories, and when they travel they’ll take a little time out of their vacations to perform a kind act and write about their kind act on kindvisitor.org or on Facebook or whatever social media they use, with the hope that their kindness stories will prompt others to follow suit.”
And that is our hope as well. So the next time you travel, be a kind visitor. And don’t forget to tell us about it, at Kind Visitor, and also at Good Turns!
Posted April 13, 2018