What is one of your favorite travel memories that happened completely unexpectedly. Maybe from the kindness of strangers? Maybe a random adventure? I know it might be hard to pick just one!
Traveled with a friend once to a small village in Poland. By small, I mean one street lined with houses, a store, bus stop and a cemetery.
My friend was looking for relatives that were from the area. Not a Polish speaker he had printed off a translation of his mission.
We go to the cemetery and find a few ancestors. Determined that the family line is still in the area we walk to the store. No one speaks a word of english. They laugh at the translation and off we go. We decide to wait for the next bus that comes through, meanwhile we can see people looking at us through their windows. An older gentleman approaches us and conveys that he would like us to follow him.
We are welcomed into a house and given hot whiskey drinks. eventually the man's son arrives and speaks english. They are my friends relatives! They have pictures as well as old letters from generations passed.
The day ended with a ride back to the Train Station. I'll always remember these people's generosity and willingness to open their home to family and a stranger they had never seen before. Since then I've never let a language barrier put me off or stop me from trying to connect.
We were travelling on a bus tour in India when we came across a wedding. We stopped to take some photos and were invited in to have some sweets with the guests and stayed for over an hour. This unexpected stop saved us later in the day when we were stopped and had to make a detour around a village where one of the local politicians had been assassinated by a motor cyclist. The local crowd was busy burning all vehicles that came near. Six buses had already been burnt! Without our unexpected top, we would have been caught in the middle of it
My second experience WOOFing in New Zealand turned out to be a lengthy adventure. Upon making a last minute arrangement for a farm stay in the town of Nelson. I was surprised that the free spirited host was on her way to a festival and invited me to come along the next day. Of course, I accepted. The 3 day festival was the best time, and afterwards we scored a ride back on this hippie-bus doing some partying and camping along the way. Fun times and you never know what is around the corner when your off the beaten path. :)
A heavy overnight snowfall blanketed the northern slopes of the Jungfrau in Switzerland in early October. The next morning, my wife and I weren't able to take our 2nd favorite hike (Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg) so we took our most favorite hike (for about the 5th or 6th time - Kleine Scheidegg to Wengernalp) and started hearing loud "cracking" sounds coming from the Jungfrau. Looking across the ravine next to our trail, we saw avalanches breaking loose on the slopes and spent about an hour watching (and hearing) several dozen avalanches roar down the slopes just across from us - yet we were perfectly safe due to the snow rushing into the deep ravine, and not over to our trail. The sun rose some more... the warmth changed the condition of the snow... the avalanches stopped... and we continued on our way feeling most fortunate to have seen this awesome display.
Mentioned in this answer:
This is not my favorite memory but pretty unexpected and cool (this was before 9/11). I took an impromptu bus trip from Philly to DC by myself without any real plans (no schedule and no place to stay). I hadn't been to DC in what seemed like years so I hit the national mall of course. I eventually steered my way to the White House in the early evening. As I was taking pictures, a Secret Service Agent offered to take some pics of me and suggested locations/angles for the best background and framing. After chit chat and asking what my plans were (none really), he offered a tour of the White House. So we go through the little security house and I show all my IDs and bag and we're through. It's just the two of us walking around through the White House. I was able to get this amazing, not-your-typical White House tour. He took me to the Oval Office and I got to take a look at Bush's furniture and decorations (It left a lot to be desired), showed me the burn marks from the 1814 fire, did a little bowling in the basement bowling alley, viewed the Jackie rose garden, made like I was the President at the podium in the room where they do press events, looked out over DC from the balcony, and went to the rooftop. He told me to stay low because of the snipers on surrounding rooftops. Pretty cool!!!
About a year ago, I landed in Chiang Mai and was surprised to learn that the annual Flower Festival parade was scheduled for that very afternoon.
The parade was spectacular, with floats decorated with nothing other than flower parts, similar to the Rose Bowl parade each January 1st in Pasadena. It gave me a chance to semi-participate in Thai culture and celebration without feeling intrusive.
The real surprise, however, was the parade's length. It began at about 3:00 PM, and the last floats, contingents, and marching bands did not pass by the judges' stand until 9:00 PM
While trying to get from Koh Chang back to Bangkok, our boat wasn't running on schedule and they didn't expect one to run for another few hours. We (teachers on break from Korea) kind of loitered around and talked to a few other folks that were in a similar position. A family from Denmark (who seriously lived in a castle) were awesome enough to offer to share their minivan with us all the way back to Bangkok. It was a wonderful journey getting to know them & their children. It perfectly ended our time in Thailand and confirmed all faith in humanity.
During a 2 week break from photography school, I decided to drive up to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks to camp and photograph wildlife and landscapes of that area. I had been numerous times before when I guided tours through, but it had always been a short, 2-3 days at a time.
On previous trips I had seen most of the larger animals that people usually look for including bears, moose, elk, bison, etc. On this trip I wanted to concentrate on wolves and two animals I'd never seen before; badgers and river otters. This was in 2003, so the wolves were still primarily being observed in the Lamar Valley. I knew that I just had to look for groups of people with spotting scopes for the best chance to see them.
Ideally, I wanted to get some awesome wolf shots, but they weren't close enough on that trip. The people with the scopes were really friendly though, and I was able to see them from afar, including a few pups playing outside of their den! During some down time, when nothing really seemed to be going on, I asked if anyone had seen badgers. One guy tells me to come over and he points his scope across the valley. I look through, and see a badger! I couldn't believe it! All that time, all I had to do was ask, and it would be pointed out to me. It was definitely unexpected.
I was feeling lucky, so I asked about river otters. Another person was like, "oh yeah, sure. Just head up the road a bit and take a short hike to this lake. The trout are spawning right now, and a mother and her young come out a few times a day to fish them out of the creek." I headed over immediately.
I hiked in and saw a small group hanging out on the far side of the lake on a hillside. I headed over and got the scoop. This was the best spot to wait for them. It was really cool to find out who I was sharing that hillside with. PBS Filmmaker Bob Landis was there filming the otters for a documentary. Another guy, Doug Dance, took a year's leave from his job and was spending every day for a year photographing Yellowstone. His book, "Once Around The Sun in Yellowstone", came out a few years later. It's an impressive book.
I spent 3 entire days hanging out there with Doug and photographing the otters. On one occasion, a coyote came to the creek and fished out a trout, and looked straight at us with the fish hanging from its mouth. Doug got a great shot of it, and it was awesome to see that moment published in his book.
That trip could not have gone better. It inspired me to return several times since to photograph badgers and otters, as well as other wildlife.
Holy cow, I've got a sackful of these. For some reason, the first one to pop into my head this time was getting stuck in a Christmas parade in San Jose. There was a Star Wars themed float that broke down, confusing everyone aboard it. Something about it made me laugh way harder that I would've expected.
Snorkeling on the The Big Island of Hawaii, we go to this one spot, Two Step and there were over 30 wild dolphins swimming around us for hours. They swam around us, underneath us, and would jump out of the water, like putting on a show for everyone. They weren't really afraid of us, as they would swim right past, close enough that you could reach out and touch them.
We'd just come off a harrowing two-day bus journey through northern Vietnam and across the border into Laos. We'd been crumpled on tiny buses that were so full some people were riding with their butts hanging out the windows. We'd been screamed at and physically threatened by a bus driver when we refused to pay quintuple the price we'd already agreed to. We'd stayed in a bleak $5 hotel in Dien Bien Phu where the receptionist was trimming her cuticles with a full-sized meat cleaver.
When we got off the bus in our destination, Muang Khua, Laos, it was about gloriously warm, the sun was shining and butterflies were fluttering around everywhere. We dropped our bags at a riverside hostel and went for a walk around the village. We stopped to watch a few guys who were playing a rousing game of petanque as the sun started to go down. As we were standing there, one of the guys ordered a big bottle of Beer Lao, poured two glasses and brought them over to us, gave us a huge smile and said "sabaidi!" It was such a simple but kind and thoughtful gesture—and extended to two complete strangers!—that I'll never forget it.
When traveling in Ireland~ we would ask the locals the best place to go next and they would direct us. Once at that place we would do the same. WE had the best unplanned trip in Ireland and saw so much of the country and met some great people. I felt like when we were in Dublin we were around mostly Americans~ but when we went driving the country on the advise of the Irish~ that was the most amazing experience.
Many travelers spend a lot of time describing the horrors of air travel. But we once had the exact opposite experience returning from Rome to LAX. First, our flight was 20 minutes EARLY because there was about to be a baggage handlers strike at Fiumicino Airport. We were the last flight out! We arrived at O'Hare International Airport to transfer to our connecting flight. It was leaving adjacent to where we came in (do you know how RARE that is?) and found that they had upgraded us to Business Class. When we arrived in Los Angeles our luggage was the first off. We went outside to call for a shuttle to our home in San Pedro. There was one waiting. Wow! Karma was on our side for this one.
Mentioned in this answer:
My hostel in Venice took us all out to an awesome reggae concert!! Apparently it was the last day of the festival, so tickets were only €1. Definitely my most memorable surprise travel experiences.
While on my first trip to Europe, I met a charming German expat in Barcelona. He took me on the back of his Harley around every nook and cranny in Barcelona over a four day period. We even made the journey to Sitges a wonderful artist colony and beach town with lovely vineyards nearby.
My impulsive decision to ride around on the back of a motorcycle with a complete stranger, forged my most happy travel memories. It was so exciting to see the city through the eyes of a local. I've never felt so unfettered and free. That single choice to trust a strange man in a strange city forever changed the way I travel and was the beginning of my great love affair with Spain.
Making our way out visiting one of the many shrines in Japan it started pouring rain. As we huddled on the side under one of the building’s roofs hoping the rain would lighten up as it was getting dark and we still had to make our way back to the train station, a small car pulled up and a very, very kind lady without a word quickly handed us two umbrellas and then drove off....
On this same trip my camera’s flash stopped working and in my search for a camera shop I ended up asking, in my very limited and sad attempt at Japanese, a man at a food counter in a Dept. Store if he could direct me to one. He sent his younger helper to find out and ask someone. Upon his return rather than just verbally directing me, he walked me to a photo shop in the mall who then suggested another place. He then walked me outside the plaza, across the street and 2 blocks down – my camera couldn’t be repaired, but what AMAZING HELP and SERVICE!!! I would expect most people to just say they didn’t know or just point in the general direction that I needed to go...
Of course this turned out to be one of my great memorable trips!
We must have been travelling during carnival season or something because when we were in Reims and later that week Munichand Berlin there were childrens' carnivals set up that we happened to wander into. I love carnivals so it was thrilling for me, also really neat to see children on the other side of the globe enjoying a good old carnival. The best was probably the one in Berlin along the road that divides Tiergarten, we went on the giant ferris wheel and had great views of the park, Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag
Mentioned in this answer: