Travel Stories That Will Restore Faith in Humanity

Continuing from my last post on uplifting travel stories, here are a few more that will make you believe that people are good everywhere and restore your faith in humanity.

Thank You For You!

One of my first solo travels abroad was to Morocco. I spent three weeks volunteering at a women’s empowerment center in the capital city of Rabat. My assignment was teaching conversational English to anyone who wanted to learn. Since there was no formal structure, I made the lesson plans, and delivered them alongside one other instructor. Often times, I would come up with creative ways to engage the students by talking about Moroccan food, weddings, places to visit, etc. Now that I think about it, I myself wanted to learn about these things.

having faith in Morocco
Students at the women’s empowerment center in Rabat

My students were 18-70 year old women and only one male. Though it was a “women’s” empowerment center, men were allowed to attend classes for free as well. The reason these people enrolled for English lessons also varied – some wanted to get ahead in their careers, attend an international conference, or travel abroad, others simply wanted to watch the television show “Desperate Housewives” in its original format!

In terms of their English proficiency, the students were all over the map, from beginner to advanced. Most of my students attended class every day for the time I was there, but most likely had periods of discontinued learning.

So for three weeks, we spent a few hours laughing, learning and sharing. The women would show me their wedding photos, while I would encourage them to explain traditions involved in a Moroccan wedding to me in English. They would write out family recipes in English and hand them over as homework assignments. They did a presentation about the best weekend destination getaways around Morocco and how to bargain at the souk (market).

On my last day at the center, the students threw me a farewell party, which came as a surprise. No staff person had instructed them to do so, it was purely the students initiative. When I arrived in class that day, a table was set up and chairs moved into a circle. There were homemade cookies, fresh brewed mint tea, presents and notes.

travel story from Morocco
Farewell party in Rabat

Needless to say, I was deeply moved by their gesture. Though their English proficiency had not drastically improved through my teaching, their faith in humanity had. They asked me why I took my precious vacation time, spent my own money to travel all the way from USA to Morocco, only to teach English to these strangers who I had never met before? It sounded like a bizarre idea, but they thanked me for it. As we had our last conversations around the table, they turned to me in their broken tenses and said, “Thank you for you!” I don’t know if they meant thank you for being who you are, or simply thank you, but it stuck in my head, and nine years later, I am still sharing this heartfelt story.

Your Home Is My Home

Couple of years ago, I was invited by the US Embassy in Bucharest, Romania to represent USA at one of the biggest book festivals in Europe. I stayed a few extra days to explore the rest of the country with a female run tour company – My Romania.

Read more about my books and representing USA as a children’s book author at BookFest Bucharest.

Ramona was the the proprietor and guide for My Romania. She and I spent a week together, driving the northern and western parts of Transylvania in her SUV. On our first day, she picked me up from Cluj-Napoca airport and we headed to a small village in Maramures.

We checked into a family-run B&B in a village named Hoteni. All I could see on our way there was vast agriculture lands, hay stacks, farm houses and narrow roads. When we passed the old wooden gates (typical architecture of this region), and entered the grounds, there were two houses on either side of the lawn, as well as a farm in the back. I was the only guest staying at the guest house, while the owners lived in the other structure.

humanity in Romania
Ramona and neighbors at Hoteni

Over the next few hours, I met a Romanian lady, Ana Pop, who owned the place. She and her husband were famous singers/ musicians who recorded albums and performed internationally. They ran the B&B as a side business, mainly to host their friends when they were visiting Romania.

The Pops extended families also lived down the street. One of Ana’s sisters cooked breakfast and dinner for the guests. Another sister, who lived down the road, stopped by to “check in” on the latest arrival. With not many things to do in the sleepy village, news of anyone visiting traveled quickly. Soon, people were dropping by with fresh cut roses, cherries from their backyard trees, and bottles of local wine.

Ana and her sister didn’t speak much English, so Ramona translated our conversations. We sat on traditionally woven carpets that covered every inch of the poorly ventilated wooden home, sharing stories, and laughing for hours. Ana showed me her photos performing in every part of the world. When I insisted, she sang me some songs from her album. Her voice was beautiful! The sisters dressed me up as a traditional Romanian bride and took photos of me around their house. The clothing brand Anthropologie had done a photo shoot here so I pretended to be a model. We all had so much fun!

travel stories from Romania
The Pops enjoying dressing me up in Romanian outfits

After dinner, one of the sisters, Ileana, asked me if I wanted to visit her house. I only understood this through Ramona’s translation. I accepted her offer and went with her alone in her car. Neither of us spoke the same language. We didn’t have a translator. But the language barrier wasn’t as big of a challenge as you may think.

A few minutes later, we arrived at her place. Ilena lived alone in her family home in the same village. Her husband has passed on and her adult kids worked in the big city. She split her time living in the city and the village. I understood all of this without translation. She took me inside and showed me her white lace textiles and woolen rugs. These are considered prized possessions among Romanian women, and often passed on through generations. On a pleasant summer evening, we walked in her beautiful garden filled with fruit trees and flowers. I understood that gardening was one of Ilena’s hobbies. She plucked a prized red rose and handed it over to me, “as a gift,” she said, with sparkles in her eyes.

Then she took me around the house to show me where she kept her spare keys. She explained to me that I could return to Romania anytime, take the keys and stay at her place even when she wasn’t home. She asked me to bring my husband to Romania next time and consider her place to be my own.

Ilena and I had met for the first time only the day before. We didn’t communicate much verbally, but bonded with our hearts. In just a few hours, she trusted me so much that she offered me her home. Such is the power of a human connection.

Ileana and I still keep in touch through Facebook. She messages me in Romanian, I reply back in English. Sometimes I use Google Translator to write longer sentences. But between Emojis, GIF’s and photos, we seem to convey our feelings to each other. Someday, I plan go back to Hoteni and use my spare key.

A Driving Angel

I flew from New Delhi, India to Kathmandu, Nepal for a 10-day volunteer vacation with Volunteers Initiative Nepal. The organization helps villages in remote areas of Nepal with various initiatives such as education, women’s empowerment, infrastructure building, sanitation and more. Their coordinator had arranged for an airport pick for me.

humanity in action in Nepal
Volunteers at VIN Nepal

On my arrival, Danish, my driver, was waiting at the airport with a sign that had my name on it. In an old battered car, we drove toward Thamel, the heart of Kathmandu City, which was going to be my home for several days. On the way, we saw dirt roads, broken street lamps, and almost no traffic lights. There were traffic jams, incessant honking, chaos all around – similar to India, but worse. Nepal looked like what India would have 30 years prior – without roads and rules.

After dropping me off at my budget hotel, Danish gave me his cell phone number (he had an old flip phone) and told me he would pick me up the following day to take me to the office for orientation. But if I needed anything in the meantime, I could call him as well.

In just a few hours, I started coughing violently, possibly due to the pollution in Kathmandu Valley. Though Nepal has some of the world’s tallest mountains and vast open ranges, the valley traps in heat, exhaust and pollutants in a densely populated city.

The next day, when Danish came to get me, I asked him to take me to a pharmacy. He helped me purchase a mask, antibiotics and nasal spray. That helped somewhat, though I ended up developing fever and cold as well.

Still, I continued to take breaks and work for few hours each day, visiting villages and projects. One afternoon, Danish drove me to Nagarkot, a village at the rim of the Kathmandu Valley known for its views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. The higher altitude would do me good, he suggested. On our way back, we stopped at a rest stop for samosa, chai and mo-mos.

travel Nepal
View of the Himalayas in Nagarkot

We had interesting conversations during our long drives together. We talked about our families, cultures (how Indian and Nepali are similar but different), religions, hopes for education, peace, and much more.

One day, Danish came to me apologetically. He said he won’t be able to drive me tomorrow because he had to travel to another village for his sister-in-law’s wedding. It was a remote location and he probably wasn’t going to have cell service there either. He promised to return the following day though, so as not to inconvenience me. I assured him that I would be totally fine taking a taxi (which are super cheap and safe in Kathmandu) and that he should enjoy the wedding for as long as needed. “No need to rush back,” I said.

When I lay in bed that evening, I received a call from Danish. I was alarmed because I knew that he would have been engaged at the wedding around that time. “Is everything allright?” I asked him. He said that he felt really bad about leaving me alone in Kathmandu, so he stepped out and went to a pay phone in the village to check on me. Because I was a guest in his home country, he wanted to make sure I was well looked after. And he felt guilty that he was attending to personal needs over professional duties.

Even though, I don’t think he could have done anything from miles away, Bhumi was more concerned about my comfort than his family wedding. I thanked him and told him to have some laddoos (sweets) on my behalf.

Did these travel stories help you restore some faith in humanity?

Have a Laugh At The Merry Cemetery in Romania

Death does not have to be dark and gloomy. In fact, it can reflect art and humor, as I learned during my visit to a small village in Transylvania. I stayed with a local family at their country farm B&B in Maramureș, perhaps the most charming place in Romania.

Traveling With a Local

My guide Ramona Cazacu of MyRomania and I did day trips to see weekend markets. There we saw wood makers, wool weavers, painted churches and charming villages around the area. It was a stark contrast from the capital of Bucharest, the northern part of Romania we were at. Also, it was mostly rural with friendly people and lots of authentic culture.

merry cemetery in Romania

An Open Air Museum

We visited the Săpânţa-Peri Monastery, also known as the Merry Cemetery. It is said that one of the local carvers, Stan Ioan Pătraş, thought people needed to cheer up after losing their loved ones, and decided to make headstones in bright blue colors. These intricately designed geometrical crosses reflected the life of the person buried in pictorial stories, as well as firsthand narrations of how they lived and how they died.

The cemetery became popular as more and more people started asking for these intriguing and fun headstones (and still do today).

It’s best to have a translator with you so they can read out the funny stories (written in a local dialect) as you stroll through the rows dotted with 1,000 plus headstones.

merry cemetery in romania

Comedy in Death

Some also include comic poems, limericks and stories of deceit, cheating, beheadings, road accidents, disease, and dirty secrets – in a light hearted way!

One of the crosses says, “Underneath this heavy cross. Lies my poor mother-in-law. Try not to wake her up. For if she comes back home, she’ll bite my head off.”

Another one reads, “Ioan Toaderu loved horses. One more thing he loved very much was to sit at a table in a bar, next to someone else’s wife.” 

merry cemetery in romania

Use of Symbolism

The colors used in the images also have meanings. Green represents life, yellow fertility, red for passion, and black for death. The deep blue background represents hope, freedom, and the sky. White doves are for the soul, and a blackbird is a symbol of tragic or suspicious death.

Stan Ioan Pătraş died in 1977, but his talented apprentice, Dumitru Pop still continuing the work carving the cemetery’s crosses. He has turned Stan’s house into the Merry Cemetery’s workshop-museum.

A Romanian book – “The Crosses of Sapanta” lists all the epitaphs in the cemetery along with descriptions and insights into the meaning of the messages.

If you want an authentic, personal and cultural experience in Romania, please contact us info at goeatgive dot com to customize and book your trip.

Travel Abroad With These Women-Owned Tour Companies

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to especially recognize women in travel.

Travel is a powerful tool that helps women become independent, gain self-confidence, empower, be economically and socially impactful. Over the years, I have met countless women who worked in the tourism ministry, as travel agents, tour guides, and more. Here are some inspiring women that I met who are successful travel entrepreneurs.

Kelly Campbell relaxing on her dow in Lamu, Kenya

Kelly Campbell, Kenya

Kelly Campbell is a native of Indiana and founder of The Village Experience, a responsible tourism company. Kelly travels year-round taking groups of people to fund projects in Kenya, India, Egypt, Morocco and Guatemala, improving the lives of women and children, and providing water to remote villages.

I stayed with Kelly at her charming house in Lamu, Kenya, where she has been living since 2016. After spending a few days with Kelly, I really feel she spends every single waking minute thinking about other people. Her tour guides, personal chef, dow boat operator, hotel owners – everyone seems to have been impacted by Kelly at some point.

Read How This American Woman is Changing Lives

Veselka and I having dinner in Split

Veselka Huljic, Croatia

Veselka and I bonded instantly when we first met at a travel show in New York. But it was over a glass (or few glasses) of Dalmatian wine and delicious pasta in Split, Croatia, that we shared more personal details about our lives.

Like me, Veselka quit her corporate job so she could be her own boss and spend time doing what she was passionate about. Veselka founded an adventure tour company – AndAdventure Croatia, which focuses on biking, water sports, wine and culinary travel across Croatia.

Read Charming Small Towns in Croatia

Ramona at a view point in Transylvania

Ramona Cazacu, Romania

In her 30’s, Ramona was tired of her desk job. She enjoyed being outdoors, hiking through Romani’s countryside, chatting with locals, and introducing travelers to her native country. Her ability to speak many languages since she was a kid helped her create MyRomania, a tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.

Soon, Ramona’s husband quit his job too and joined the business. They moved into their parent’s home in one of the villages, where they bring up their 2 kids. Ramona is one of the friendliest people I met during my travels and it seemed that everyone knew her wherever we went in Romania.

Read Why Romania Should be on Your Travel List

Justa at a spice farm in Zanzibar

Justa Lujwangana, Tanzania

Justa Lujwangana is from Tanzania and lives in New York. She worked in the healthcare business before pursuing her passion for dance and travel. Starting with just a Meetup group she called Curious on Tanzania (COT), she went on to form an experiential travel company offering tours to Tanzania.

During the trip, you will stay at Justa’s family home in Dar es Salaam, eating home cooked meals, attending Sunday mass in her neighborhood, meeting her friends, and learning the Tanzanian way of life.

Read more about my experience in Tanzania with COT.V

Khishigjargal walking on the sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Khishigjargal Dorjderem, Mongolia

Khishigjargal has lived and studied abroad, speaks multiple languages, and runs Voyage Unique Mongolie, a customized travel company operating in Mongolia. As her personal guest, Khishigjargal and her husband drove me around the country for a week, making me feel as if I was on a trip with friends, rather than tour guides. We would drive through the barren Mongolian countryside for 8 hours a day and still have so much to talk about!

If you are looking to experience a nomadic life, walk in the Gobi Desert, or witness the historic Naadam Festival, Khishigjargal is your gal!

Read more about my travels to Mongolia

Divya riding a shikara at Dal Lake, Srinagar

Divya Pahwa, India

I met Divya Pahwa through friends of friends, as I was looking for a partner agency to organize Go Eat Give trip to India. Divya grew up traveling all over India and was always interested in travel. She worked in a Delhi based tour agency before starting her own travel agency – Explorer’s Travel Boutique. She has a team that oversees everything from Indian weddings and corporate travel to individual and group travels all over the world. Her entire business is based on word of mouth referrals.

While traveling with Divya (we were recently in Kashmir), I could see that Divya works non-stop, answering her phone at every hour of the day, and addressing to the smallest client request herself.

Veronika, founder of Aroha Tours

Veronika Vermeulen, New Zealand

Born and raised in Germany, Veronika fell in love with everything about New Zealand, so much that she moved there and opened a luxury tour company – Aroha Tours. She loves the Māori culture, landscapes, nature, culture, wine and all that the country offers. She is married to a dairy farmer and lives on a 600 hector farm with 1200 milking cows.

Veronika and I have not met in person as yet, but I’m looking forward to traveling with her around New Zealand this November.

Go Eat Give will often refer to or partner with these women to book your customized tours to the countries they specialize in. By supporting other women in travel, we commit to have a long lasting impact in the communities we visit, and show you the very best of the local hospitality.

Why Go on a Free Walking Tour in Bucharest

People often ask – Isn’t traveling abroad expensive? Seasoned travelers will tell you that traveling abroad can sometimes be cheaper than living in the US! With so many platforms such as discounted airlines, HomeExchange, AirBnB, work exchanges, etc. it is cheaper to travel now than it has ever been before.

One of the best ways to save money while traveling is my taking Free Walking Tours. These are great ways to explore the city on foot, with a local guide, while getting some exercise. And the best part is they are free, though I do advise you to tip your guide generously 🙂

During my recent visit to Bucharest, I took a walking tour of Old Town Bucharest with Unbelievable Bucharest Tours.

Enjoy free concerts at the open air atrium near University Square.

I met my guide, Catalana at the guitar statue near University Square. I was the only one on the tour that morning, so I had the guide all to myself.

We made our way through the main streets, crossing church into Old Town, while Catalana explained to me some of the history of the city as well as the Parisian style buildings we were looking at.

I find it fascinating when people tell me the “behind the scenes” story of unassuming buildings we would pass by, not realizing what they are truly used for.

This palatial looking building is used as a hospital!

Statue at the entrance of Old Town that represents the birth of Rome.

Biserica Sfantul Anton church used for coronations

Stavropoleos Monastery has beautiful Turkish architecture and a courtyard to take a break

You can easily get lost in historic Old Town Bucharest. With hundreds of bars, restaurants and souvenier shops, it may look very touristy but the locals also hang out here (you just need to know the right spots). Plus, there are interesting places to see that you will miss if you didn’t know where to look, such as the remains of an underground carvan sarai attached to a church or a Soviet era apartment building.

This building was the original stock market

When most people think of Romania, the first thing that comes to mind is Dracula. Catalana explained to me that the fiction novel Dracula is based on the emperor Vlad. He never drank blood, rather impaled his prisoners in public as was the tradition during Medieval times. Growing up, Catalana was told heroic tales of Vlad as he defeated the Romans against the Ottoman empire.

She also pointed out some good places to eat, which I returned to during the rest of my stay. Finding out where the locals go eat is another great tip to gather on the free walking tours.

Hanu Lui Manuc is one of the oldest restaurants serving traditional food in a beautiful courtyard and live folk dance performances.

Caruicubere is a Romanian brewery and restaurant designed to look like a palace.

Pasajul Mazza-Villacrosse is a Parisian style covered alley with the best hookah bars.

I had a great Lebanese lunch at Finikia in Old Town.

Catalana also pointed out that I could see bullet holes in the building across from my hotel from the Romanian revolution.

Sample free fruits, cheese, ham and honey at Piata Obor market.

Further, she gave me tips to where to spend the rest of my stay in Bucharest. Since I am most interested in food, I went to see the Piata Obor market where locals come to buy fresh vegetables, flowers, cheese and spices. Another money saving tip – you can always find cheap street food and free tastings at the fresh food markets. Just ask for a sample!

To learn more about Unbelievable Bucharest private and free tours click here.

Have you had a great Free Walking Tour experience? Do share in the comments section below…