Paying it Forward in Portugal

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I was at the train station in Santa Clara e Velha, Portugal, waiting for the thrice-daily train to take me to the city of Faro, where I would catch a bus to Spain.  I had just spent three glorious days at the Quinta do Barranco da Estrada — better known as “Paradise in Portugal.”

How was it?  Simply fantastic.  The name is no misnomer — there is no better place in Portugal to relax and unwind in a spectacular natural setting.  But you’ll be hearing much more about the Quinta soon.

During my time at the Quinta, I got to know two guests better — a couple from the UK.  One of them spent two years backpacking the world twenty years ago, including a full year in the United States.

As you can imagine, we had lots to talk about!  Hearing about the days of backpacking before the internet was fascinating — he would be so eager to receive letters from home, relishing every quotidian detail of life back in the UK.  Seeing how much my family worries about me, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for his family to have so little contact.

While his travels were far from fancy — no way did he stay in Paris apartments (click here for the best deals) or luxury hotels, but he did well on the cheap.  You could do crazy stuff back then — like book an Amtrak ticket for any random route in the US for a low set price.  El Paso to Seattle?  Why not!

We also traded Southeast Asia stories.  Twenty years ago, Cambodia and Vietnam were closed to foreigners, and Thailand was quite rough in the way that Laos is today.  He hadn’t heard of Koh Chang, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it hadn’t been developed whatsoever for tourism back then.

My backpacker friend and his wife came to see me off at the train station — and then he told me a story from two decades ago.

He was in the United States, on a train heading up the east coast, and he began talking to an older lady sitting next to him.  After he told her about his travels, she was effusive with praise.  “I just love what you’re doing,” she said.  And she gave him five dollars, with one instruction: “Pay it forward.”

Flash forward to 2012.

I’ve been waiting to pay it forward all this time,” he said.  “And I know you have your technology, but…”  He tucked 20 euros into my purse.  “I’m sure there’s been a lot of inflation since then.  I just want you to know that I love what you’re doing.

How nice was that?

I believe in paying it forward.  I was lucky enough to receive kind donations from my readers after the shipwreck last year, and I’ve been paying it forward to travelers in need since then, starting with my shipmates.  To this day, if I meet a traveler struggling with money, I help out.  A little or a lot.

These 20 Euros are different.  They will be paid forward — with inflation — to a traveler who truly inspires me.  I look forward to meeting that person.

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26 thoughts on “Paying it Forward in Portugal”

  1. Great story, Kate. This is one of those ‘restore-your-faith-in-humanity’ type moments, and it’s reassuring to know that there are folks out there doing this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree with John here, definitely a “restore-your-faith-in-humanity” moment. I really enjoy hearing about or experiencing those (and occasionally I try to do random nice things which might restore someone else’s faith in people, sometimes it even works). Thanks for sharing.

  3. Awww, how awesome!! I love stories like this.

    I had a reader “pay it forward” to me a couple months ago — he used his frequent flier miles to book me my round-trip flight to Ottawa for my week in Canada (on the condition that he got to pick the destination). He said someone had helped him out when he was traveling a decade or so ago, and now that he was in a position to help another traveler, he wanted to.

    You had better believe I’ll be paying it forward myself in the future.

    1. What an amazing idea! I hope I can do that for someone someday (and maybe have someone do that for me today). Plus it is an extra bonus that he picked the destination… genius!

  4. I love this post! What a cool guy. Ahhh!

    I had something kind of similar happen to me. Before I left on my travels I was tossing up whether to actually go. I found a 20baht note on the floor of the sydney airport (where I’d arrived to work for a few months with no future plan). I never find money, and so for me this was a sure sign to go. I did, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I also used that 20baht as meaningful money! Donated it to the most talented busker I’ve ever seen.

    Cool story though, I hope to do something like in future! xx

  5. This story made me smile. It’s meeting people like that who make your travels worth it. It’s nice to be reminded that people are genuine and kind.

  6. Oh I have to get back to Laos! This story made me laugh – I was in SEA in 89 – Cambodia was a war zone, but I did get to Vietnam – but couldn’t get permssion to leave HCMC – which was fun in itself. I finally got back to Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos) in 04 and HCMC hadn’t changed that much – just the cyclos had become tourist attractions!

    In 89 I thought Thailand was very touristy, organised and western – I had just spent 3 months in India and Nepal though! In 04 – I thought it was as modern as Malaysia (while in 89 Malaysia was a lot more modern than Thailand)

    I agree with the paying it forward thing. I remember entering Israel from the Sinai and having no Israeli currency – someone paid my local bus fare and wouldn’t take my foreign currency in exchange. I’ve paid for a few foreigners in similar situations over the years – because of that

  7. This is my favorite part about traveling: the people you meet along the way. I’ve had some great conversations with people I’ve met abroad. Not all of them turn out to be life long friends, or even Facebook acquaintances but all of them have touched my heart in some way. The human element is a beautiful thing when exploring the world.

  8. What a great story. And traveling two decades ago, I’m sure he had loads of very inspiring stories to tell, about the not so fancy travel we have today.

    I also believe in the paying it forward concept. I have received and gave lots of times during my few travels. It is always a very nice feeling when you’re in trouble or struggling and seeing no way out, and then someone out of nowhere comes to your help 🙂
    and then it’s karma role. you have to pay back that help to someone else who’s in need, inorder to receive more the following time and the cycle goes on!

  9. When I first moved to Australia, I met up with a friend of a friend (everyone I knew seemed to know someone in Australia) in Sydney. We grabbed lunch, and when the bill came, she immediately grabbed it–“When I first moved to Australia and was traveling and had no money, someone treated me to lunch and told me to do the same once I have a job and meet another traveler–so no worries.” I eventually got to pay it forward after working in Melbourne for 6 months and going out with an American who had been driving around the entire country with her boyfriend–such a good feeling!

  10. Great story, Kate. Interesting to hear a little bit about how backpacking was “back in the day”, so to speak. It’s people like the couple you met that have made things possible for travellers nowadays, to an extent. Keep on exploring 🙂

  11. I absolutely love this story. This makes me excited to travel even more. The seed has been planted and I hope it comes to fruition soon. Hopefully I meet some amazing people like that on my journey.

    Thanks for sharing Kate! 🙂

  12. What a great story. It’s things like this that make you believe the world isn’t going to destroy itself after all.
    When I went to Los Angeles with a friend, we also took a 2-day trip to Las Vegas. When coming back to LA from LV we had only our last night left before leaving bakc home in the morning.
    We’d booked a very basic room in a motel near the airport because we had an early flight out.
    On the flight from LV back to LA, however, we got talking to this guy who didn’t think it was right we’d be spedning our last night in LA in a motel, so he took us out to dinner and booked us a room at the Sheraton LAX (that,s right, the Sheraton!). Of course we were a bit suspicious, but that was without reason, so it turned out.
    He did what he did simply because he admired us for having struck up a conversation with him. Because he never dared to talk to strangers and he thought it was so cool that we were being social.

    Best last night on a trip EVER.

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