La Bonté Des Étrangers – Part 1


If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that people are people. It sounds like a no brainer, but the number one concern I hear when I say I’m going to travel places, is that I should be careful trusting the people there. What’s funny is… they probably say the same thing about us.

From traveling, I’ve learned that humanity is broad, colorful, diverse and beautiful. There is evil in the world, yes. Some governments are oppressive and some cultural norms stagnate the possibilities for individuals to rise to their true potential. But I will never allow the aspects of darkness to outshine the good.  The people who are selfless, stubborn and that build lives of beauty in places you might never consider beautiful are my heroes. And to celebrate THESE people. I’m going to share some stories of some awesome individuals I’ve met while traveling.

1. “Your Accent Is Cute.” – London, England

As an American traveling, it takes every ounce of self control not to fake a different accent. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m ashamed of the way I speak…only that I think it should stay on the home front. When I first arrived in London, England I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was using different money, there were way too many people everywhere, and I arrived at night – meaning I didn’t recognize anything the next day. On top this, the streets are backwards – which, honestly, almost cost me my life more than once.

When I first arrived in London I stayed about 30min north of the central city with one of my lovely couch surfing hosts. The second night I was out until after dark (which was like 6pm) and  had no idea how to get back to where I was staying. Deciding to just try my luck, I jumped on a bus that looked like it MIGHT be the same number that I came down on (it wasn’t) and then rode around in it for twenty minutes.

At this point I literally had no idea where I was. So brilliantly, I got off the bus and tried to use the map on my phone*. After wandering around in the cold a bit, I finally found a bus stop and waited until the bus came. Happily climbing on, it wasn’t until a few moments later that I  realized it was taking me BACK the way I came. So, getting off that bus, I got back on another random bus headed in the right(?) direction. At this point I was actually lost in London. My host wasn’t able to figure out where I was because I wasn’t able to figure out where I was, and I was sending frantic text messages. Fun times.
Finally I swallowed my shyness and asked the bus driver for directions.

He told me I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be going…but to go sit down and wait a while. I thought he was going to tell me a connecting route, but as the bus emptied of its last passenger, other than me, he called me to the front of the double-decker, after pulling over. He then whipped out his smartphone, and punched the address into his GPS. After finding the address on his phone, he pulled out of where he had parked and started driving and talking to me about where I was from. I told him Seattle, to which he said, “American? Well, I like your accent, it’s super cute.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a sentence every American woman wants to hear from an attractive British man.

As we kept driving, he let me know that we would be there soon. And only then did I realize I was being driven in a double decker bus, as the solo passenger, to the place I need to go. He dropped me off at the corner of my street, and drove away, waving goodbye. I’m probably never going to see that man again, but as far as I know, if it wasn’t for him I might still be lost in London. A cosmic “Thank you, sir.”

* Note: iPhone 4’s DO NOT work internationally unless you’re on WiFi, which doesn’t help if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

2. Never Euro In N. Ireland – Belfast, Ireland

If you’ve ever been to Northern Ireland you’ll know that tension flows through the air. I never really understood the stubbornness and hot headed nature of my Irish blooded family until I visited Northern Ireland and met the people there. Not to say this is a bad thing, but just that it was my observation.

When I was traveling around the UK, Belfast was the first stop on my backpacking adventure. I had travelled 20 hours to get there including two planes, a train and a two buses. FINALLY, when I got to Northern Ireland, I groggily hopped on the bus I was told would take me to my hostel. It was the wrong bus. So I hopped on another one the bus driver told me to take. It was ALSO the wrong bus. Finally, with 30 lbs of luggage on my back and 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, I got on the right bus and pulled out my wallet to pay.

The bus driver looked at me as though I was trying to pull a practical joke. “How much is the bus?” I asked. He looked at me one more time as though I was joking, and then frankly told me that they didn’t take that kind of money, and to get off the bus and go exchange it. I had just used the money in Dublin, so I was confused for why it wouldn’t work.

Note: Trying to pay with Euro is a “political statement” in Northern Ireland. Don’t do it.

Stumbling my way around the city, I finally found a place to exchange my money and went out to wait for the next bus. I FINALLY I got to my hostel. At the brink of tears, because I was so exhausted and my back hurt so much, I asked the front desk staff to check me in. But, (surprise) they also didn’t take Euro and I hadn’t exchanged enough money to pay the other half of the room bill. Completely out of my control, my eyes filled as I tried not to cry. The woman told me I couldn’t check in – which meant going back to the city center, finding another bus, coming back on another bus, and carrying my pack around for even longer.

At the same time, a guy in his 20s hopped down into the room and asked what was going on. The lady explained the situation and I just stood there trying not to cry. He reached down and handed me a key. I took it without asking any questions. The woman and I both had shocked faces as he told me to just pay the next time I went out and got change – an exception which was, apparently, totally against protocol.

His act of kindness was probably one of the best things during my trip; not because it was the grandest gesture, but because it was a small act of kindness in a moment when I just needed a break.

3. Ten Hours With A Stripper – Missoula, MT 

In four years of college and my entire life before then, I never pulled an all-nighter. (And to preface the sentence I’m about to say – don’t jump to conclusions.)

The first time I did, I was with a male stripper.

His name was Hank. He was tall and military trained and we met on the way to Seattle on a Greyhound bus. I had been staying in Missoula, MT for the week before and was coming back heartbroken and tired. Also, for reference, the Greyhound bus ride from there to here is about 11+ hours. So, about to fall sleep on my way home, I was suddenly interrupted by a guy across the aisle way. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but suddenly he was talking to me about my hat and how much he liked it. I’m pretty sure it was just a plain beanie.

We talked for a few minutes, but I was less than enthusiastic since I just wanted to curl up and sleep/die (heartbroken.). After the bus switch a couple of hours later, I walked back on and found that the girl I had been sitting with had left at that stop. So, I took my seat and the trek back began. Soon after, I heard someone trying to talk to me from the back of the bus. I turned around – him again. “I’m just going  to move up there so we can talk easier.” And Hank popped into the seat beside me.

After a while we started talking pretty naturally, mainly because I was by the window, and there was nowhere to go with a 6’6″ man sitting next to me. Over time we started talking about relationships and how we were both just getting out of some pretty swampy territory. We talked for 10 hours straight about everything from favorite movies to quotes we liked and political views. But, mostly, about our mutual broken hearts.

We were both crushed that things didn’t work out between us and our significant others, and sat there for hours talking through things, encouraging each other (not the fake kind) and figuring things out.

I honestly can say, it was better than any counseling session I’ve ever had. I was crushed when I left Montana, and by the time I got to Seattle I felt so much better. All of my problems weren’t solved. But having a stranger sit and talk to me about them for that long was insane. When I got off the bus at the last stop I couldn’t find Hank to thank him. I’ll probably never see him again, but the kindness of a listening ear is something I’ll never forget.

Stay tuned more more stories coming up…

Have I ever mentioned how much I love old cars?
Missoula, MT  

J’étais un étranger, et vous m’avez invité dans votre maison.


Missoula, MT
Missoula, MT

By every standard of normality, *Couchsurfers are insane.

I can say this because I’ve Couchsurfed before and, if you know me, you know I only believe in insulting things you’ve tried. Honestly, the  potential negatives of couch surfing are pretty transparent; all primal instincts scream that finding a complete stranger over the internet and staying with them/letting them stay with you is ridiculous. And, in a way, they’re right. But ridiculous is not always a bad thing.

The first time I Couchsurfed, I had approximately everyone tell me I was going to die/be abducted. After all, how DO  you avoid ending up on the “Missing Persons” page of the Times? Or, better yet, how on earth do you sleep soundly curled up on the couch of a complete stranger?!? Well, beyond the logical safety measures (3 C’s: Communication, Comments, and Contact) I would say it comes down to one thing – trust.

Reality: everyone you’re friends with now was once a stranger. Maybe you met them at work, in high school, or maybe your parents semi-forced you to be friends by having playdates every weekend of your childhood. But regardless, there was a time when you knew absolutely nothing about them. And whatever the circumstances, you had to start from nothing and build trust with that person.

Or, if you want to get more cozy – let’s talk dating. Because everybody likes blog posts about dating. When you first start dating someone, how much do you know about that person? If they were a friend before you started dating,  probably more than most. But, more than likely, you met at some kind of event/location and then ended up going out with this complete stranger until the two of you either decided to get more serious or one/both of you bolted.

By these standards, Couchsurfing is actually an upgrade. You get to look at reviews, talk with the person beforehand (via Skype, email or text), you see pictures of the place you’ll be staying, read bios and gather information. AND THEN, and only then, do you choose to stay with them – or continue to peruse the thousands of other profiles. If you’ve done your research (which was practically laid out in front of you) then you’re more than likely  in the clear.

For me, when I first started Couchsurfing, I did it because I needed a place to stay, wanted to explore and didn’t want money (or, rather, the lack thereof) to be a reason I couldn’t visit a place I wanted to (the other half of the reason is because I absolutely love shocking people).

My first trip I didn’t really know what to expect. I was picked up at the Greyhound bus station by my host and her pug and driven to her house, which was not too far away. I didn’t really know what the protocol was, so I just decided to act like we’d known each other for forever and were just meeting up again after not seeing each other in ages (#storyteller).

This, as it turns out, was actually one of the best things I could have done. That, and bringing pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I had baked the night before. After munching and searching through the newspaper for things to do, I quickly decided that she and I were going to be friends. Anyone who offers to teach me how to make books, and has a giant ginger cat, is fine by me. During my time there (Montana), we ate, we danced and we laid out under the November night sky for hours looking for shooting stars. It was sublime.

After that trip I knew I had to Couchsurf again, and every time I do I walk away with new friends and beautiful stories. I’ve gone line, Cuban salsa, and traditional Scottish dancing and I’ve loved every minute. I’ve eaten sheep intestines, seen Les Miserables in London, stared at originals by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Monet and had cooking lessons on how to properly make a “raw”/vegan meal.

I feel so enriched by all of my experiences as a Couchsurfer, because throughout them all, there is the overwhelming sense of (get ready for the cheese) love. As a Christian, I’m told to love my neighbor as myself, but it wasn’t until I showed up on the doorstep of a complete stranger, and she insisted on me taking her bed, while she slept on the couch, that I understood why.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” Matt. 25:35

When we place others before ourselves, it’s not just an act of courtesy. It literally changes a little piece of that person and with them, the world. It makes others feel valued, loved and accepted when they might not, otherwise. And, my favorite part, it allows them to then take that love and pass it on.

You might not have the means to make huge gestures for changing the world around you. You might feel stuck where you live, or not know exactly how to make a positive impact.

But, here’s a tip from one friend to another – value a stranger. Let them hang out on your couch. Listen to their stories and show them around your town. It might seem small, like a mustard seed, but sometimes that’s all it takes to plant a tree of hope, and change the life of a stranger.

*N O T E: : Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home; fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect, and experiencing the world in a way money can’t buy.


Missoula, MT
Missoula, MT
Missoula, MT
Missoula, MT

No Hablo Español

Missoula, Montana

It’s a truth universally acknowledged (at least in the Northwestern US) that a student educated in the art of speaking Spanish will be ten million times more likely to use it, than one educated in French.

I made that statistic up.

But, if you are one of the masses of people who chose to take Spanish as your educational language in school, I salute you – I was not.

My entire life I felt pressured to pursue Spanish. In school, I remember there being three Spanish classes filled with students (all with waiting lists) while we – the poor French class students of America – could barely fill two tables in our classroom.

Perhaps I was a hipster even as a ten year old, but I just COULD NOT understand why people wanted to take Spanish. Speaking Spanish felt like denim in comparison to the velour of the words I was used to practicing and perfecting. I obviously don’t share the feelings now, but you have to understand that I was an extremely opinionated and stubborn child.

And, as most people in love, I was hell bent on defending the honor of my darling French language, any time it was brought into question  – which was often. I remember adults telling me it would be better for my future if I took Spanish classes. That it would look “good” on my résumé and that I would be able to better connect with “my culture”…wait, what? Yes, people thought I was Hispanic (I am not in any way, in case you were wondering). But that’s another story for another time.

The one time I actually attempted to try out a Spanish class, I was entirely disappointed. They said “que” and I pronounced it like it was supposed to be pronounced, “Kuh”. They said, “No, no, no, Emilee – QUE.” Yes, I don’t have a hearing problem, I remember thinking. And the second time I over pronounced it the French way, just out of spite.

It’s true, I was a brat of a child. I knew what I liked and was fiercely loyal to it. *Disclaimer: I am, in no way, claiming to have grown out of this.

Now that I’m older, I understand the importance of all languages, but I also understand the importance of sticking with what you’re passionate about. Should I have taken Spanish because it was something that “everyone” would use when they grew up? Maybe.

But, if I took a poll to see how many words my high school friends actually remember from their FOUR YEARS of studying, I’m pretty sure I would have great directions to the bathroom and know the person’s name.

See, while doing what is “practical” might seem like the right thing at the time, sticking with what I love is now proving so much more useful in my life.

I like to think of myself as an advocate of impractical thinking. I highly encourage doing the “impractical thing” in order to stay true to yourself (as corny as that sounds). Because, when it comes down to it, you are ultimately the person who lives with the shapes you are molded into. And you never know when, in your future, you might need a couple nonsensical skills. While French was seemingly impractical when I was growing up, knowing Spanish now, would be of little use to me while living in the countryside of France.

As a result of learning a language I was actually interested in, and wanted to learn, I dug deep into the language and actually LEARNED it. I was able to find my own identity and go down my own path; one that’s leading me to some pretty awesome places now that I’m an adult.

I’ll be the first to say that if there was enough time to learn every language, I would. I’m not devaluing any, Spanish or otherwise, in any way – but I will say that taking it for me would have been a mistake. Not because of what the language was, but because it wasn’t where my heart was.

In a perfect world I think all languages would be available in school systems so kids could really explore and see what stuck out to them. Right now, I live with one roommate who speaks Russian and another learning German, and I can’t help remembering that those languages weren’t even an option growing up. Why?

There’s going to always be a standardized educational system that provides what they believe is “best” for the students they are educating. But my challenge is that dark horses like me are allowed to thrive in an environment that might not be the common choice. Who knows how many linguists we’re missing out on by limiting the options of school languages!

Oh, and for all my Spanglish speaking friends – I adore you. But, don’t think I won’t remind you how “que” should really be pronounced.

Glasgow, Scotland