One of the best parts of independent and slow travel is the people you meet on the road! Connecting with people when travelling means a lot more to me than seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. There’s so much you can learn from them, they can show you more about their culture and country than any guide book or museum ever could!
I still recall the friendliness of the Scottish and Thai people I met, I can vividly (well, more or less) remember the drunken nights I spent with some Albanian locals; and the Bulgarian women that gave me a lift and a home for the night will always be engraved in my memory.
But some people just ticked that extra box. They let me be part of some special moments, they let me into their lives and hearts and without them my experiences would never have been the same. This is a tribute to them!
1/ Zibi from Poland
I was standing in a milk bar in Krakow, staring at the indecipherable Polish menu. In the communist 1960’s Polish milk bars (bar mleczny) were cafeteria’s offering cheap food to labourers. Nowadays they serve an endless queue of students, pensioners and whoever’s in need of a traditional basic cheap Polish meal.
I must have looked pretty desperate when a middle-aged man approached me asking if he could help. He introduced himself as Zibi and asked me if he could order some real Polish specialties for me. We had lunch together, but Zibi insisted on telling me what he ordered after I finished the soup. It tasted alright, so I wasn’t too worried…
I liked Zibi’s company and after he finished his job at the liquor store, he took me around Krakow to taste some more delicacies. I had a great time tasting dried and half-dried sausages, cheese and of course the famous bison grass vodka, known as Zubrowka! Before we said goodbye, Zibi told me that the name of the dish I had for lunch was ‘Flaczki”. Never knew that tripe soup could taste so good…!
2/ Silvia from Spain
It was during my first volunteering experience in Spain that I met Silvia, the cleaner of the boutique hotel I was helping at, and a proud inhabitant of Cartajima. Silvia was involved in the local women’s organisation and invited me to celebrate Easter with her and the other women of the village. A few weeks after our first meet, she met me at the village club house to help preparing platters of ham, olives and cheese. I found myself amongst a group of gossiping Spanish women, feeling blessed that I could be part of all this! The next day, there was a huge celebration on the square, where I ate and drank with the locals as if I were a true part of the community! All this thanks to Silvia!
3/ Umar from India
I met Uma near Connaught Place, one of the most modern parts of New Delhi. He was looking shy and handed me a little ‘Mars’ chocolate bar to welcome me. I had been chatting to Uma for a while via the “Virtual Tourist” forum ( a website for and by travellers that unfortunately ceased its activities in February 2017) and we decided to meet up during my trip to India. Uma asked me if I wanted to eat at a typical Indian place. “Nothing fancy” he said “the only thing on the menu is chicken and you have to eat it with your hands!” I was the only foreigner and the locals had a great time watching me eating the saucy plate without putting it all over me. I felt truly privileged! Uma was a very educated man but above all a very sweet person! I truly hope to meet him again one day so he can teach me more about this very fascinating place on earth, called India!
4/ Shaqe from Albania
We were walking around the market/carboot sale of Berat, Albania. “We” means Shaqe and I. I met her while helping out at Berat Backpackers. She was the local cleaner and although she spoke as much English as I spoke Albanian, our smiles seemed to connect instantly. We communicated via signs and Google Translate. She taught me some Albanian and I taught her how to count in English. Every morning Shaqe gave me some delicious byrek (Albanian cheese or spinach pie) to start the day. Shaqe and I were the perfect example that you do not need to speak the same language to understand each other!
She was sitting quietly on the garden swing, as if she was contemplating. This timid looking girl was called Kinga and just like me and about 70 other people, she had come to Valeggio sul Mincio, Italy, for a travellers meeting.
Kinga was a well-travelled girl, she left with 500 dollars in her pockets to America and came back 5 years later, having hitchhiked all over the world! All over, except the African continent, which was her dream. I met Kinga a second time in Belgium for a night of drinking and dancing and again she came across as a timid, contemplating soul, a free spirt as she liked to call herself.
In 2006 she finally made her dream come true and left for Ghana! On the 9th of June, the sad news reached me: Kinga had died of cerebral malaria. I still cherish the book she wrote about her big hitchhiking adventure: “Led by destiny”. Her friends and family have created the Free Spirit foundation for the Ghanian children Kinga worked with . I still often think about Kinga and if anyone has been an inspiration, it would definitely have to be her!
What about you? Have you met any “special” people on the road? Would love to hear your stories!