Last month I signed up to follow and write about being a Voice for Compassion. February 20th is the day for everyone participating in this movement to share their thoughts – so here I am!
When I think of compassion in relation to travel, I think first about the selfless people who travel specifically to help others. Maybe it’s spending time somewhere in the U.S. helping to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. My cousins Bill, Karen, and their three kids journey from their home in upstate New York to volunteer through their church to help a community in Central America every year.
Travel with the sole intent of volunteer work is an incredibly selfless and compassionate act. To those of you who travel this way – well done, you!
But what about for the rest of us? Can compassion and kindness find a role in purely recreational travel?
Does compassion play a role when you’re sipping a pina colada by the pool in Cancun, or touring London on a bright red, double-decker bus? I think it should. I’m going to veer a little off the path by referring to compassion and kindness more or less interchangeably. I don’t think that’s a stretch, do you?
And since I love to travel to Europe, let’s start there. How can I demonstrate compassion during one of my favorite ways to travel in Europe, on a river cruise?
On a cruise of any kind you will find yourself interacting with certain staff members throughout the vacation. One team of housekeepers will be responsible for cleaning your cabin throughout the trip. If the cruise has assigned seating for dinner, you will have the same waiter for each dinner. (On river cruises there is no assigned seating, but it’s been my experience that people seem to gravitate to the same seating area and waiter or waitress throughout the trip, anyway.)
These friendly, customer service-oriented people are advised NOT to share much information with you, beyond very surface chit chat, answering your questions about where they come from, etc. Since they’re working, it would be difficult to engage in prolonged dialogue, but this much I know: these smiling, hard-working people leave their homes and families for months at a time to earn a wage they would be unlikely to find at home. They are sharing cramped quarters and working extremely long hours with little time off. In short, while I’m having a grand old time floating down the river, they are working their butts off!
How can we show compassion for these people? Well, be NICE. Tip generously! Learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in their language and be courteous and respectful at all times. Look people in the eye and SMILE. We’re all just folks trying to get along with each other in this great big world. I am beyond grateful that I have the good fortune to be a tourist, to enjoy seeing the world from a river boat with pleasant staff to take care of all my needs. I truly appreciate the men and women who make it such a wonderful experience.
When it’s time to leave, shake hands or offer a big hug or whatever feels comfortable to you, and say THANK YOU. We are ambassadors every time we visit foreign shores. On a ship, in a hotel or café, at every museum and street market – spread compassion and kindness with your smile to all you meet.