My Travel Angels | Saved By Strangers

Part of the magic of travel is when you’re in one of those sticky situations in a foreign country, usually where you can’t even speak the language, and a complete stranger ends up helping you. They’re your travel angels. Travel angels help you to find your way when you’re lost, reach a goal you couldn’t meet on your own, or sometimes they just brighten your day.

You’ve likely never met them before, and will probably never meet them again. Yet you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Especially if you’re from a western country where most people are just too busy to help.

After 60 countries, some multiple times, mostly in my own, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several travel angels. And had many simply brighten my day. All my travel angels are worth their weight in gold.

Stories Of My Travel Angels

Lost, Then Saved, In Old Cairo

On my first solo trip to Egypt, I wanted to see Old Islamic Cairo, or Historic Cairo, which is packed with historic Islamic architecture and loads of history. My style of travel is that I love the exploration of it, so often try to find a place on my own two feet. This one was a bit of a challenge, but I thought I could do it.

The guy working at my hostel gave me walking directions, which I followed. Soon, however, I found myself walking on a curved overpass (not a place for pedestrians!). The walking space between the cars and me going over the edge of the bridge was only about 2’. Crazy! Yet, of course, I decided to go on (lol). My thought process was that I was probably halfway through the most dangerous part of the walk, so why not.

There was a policeman directing traffic in the street. When no cars were passing, he walked over and asked me where I was going. He rolled his eyes (signalling that I was a crazy tourist) and stopped the next driver and asked me to get in he strangers car. Of course, I did. The driver couldn’t speak English, but the policeman told him where to take me. I was thinking that maybe this was crazier than walking on the overpass, but did it anyway.

Since the driver couldn’t speak English, we tried making small talk through gestures as we drove. As we got closer, I gestured that I wanted to leave him a tip for his kindness, but only had big bills. I have no idea how I managed to convey this, but he got it.

He pulled up bedside a car driving by and explained that I wanted change….which we did through the window while we were both driving. When we got to Islamic Cairo, the guy dropped me off as the policeman asked him to do. He was also super happy with his tip. I’ll never forget the grin on his face and I sincerely hope he wasn’t late for work because of me.

I walked Islamic Cairo, nearby Coptic Cairo, and the citadel for a many hours, thoroughly enjoying all. By then, it was about 5 PM and I wanted to go back to my hostel. I decided to catch a taxi to get back to my hostel, since I had no idea how to walk back (and didn’t have wifi service for Google maps nor know how to download it offline at the time).

Old Islamic Cairo

Two taxis stopped when I signaled for one, but when I told them El Tahrir Square, they both refused to take me. I wasn’t sure why, but think it was because it was rush hour and it would take too long to get through traffic. Needless to say, I was completely perplexed. I’d never had a taxi driver refuse to take me anywhere. It wasn’t about me being American (Egyptians love Americans) and I was dressed appropriately, so I don’t think it was anything I was doing. I would have been happy to pay whatever the cost was at this point, but they said “no” and drove off. I felt completely lost.

At the same time, a local noticed my distress and asked me where I wanted to go. We were standing on the side of the street talking. Suddenly, there was a group, 4 or 5 people discussing how I should get back. I had no idea what they were saying as they weren’t speaking in English, but I remember being impressed as their conversation seemed fairly involved.

Finally, one of the guys stepped away from the group and talked to me. He wanted to guide me, but wanted me to walk in front of him a few feet and while he directed me from behind, quietly saying left or right. Again, I was perplexed by this, but he seemed sincere. I didn’t really have many other choices either.

He guided me to the subway walking several feet behind me. He told me to get on the female only subway car (which I was thankful for as I didn’t even know there was such a thing). And he told me which station to get off at to transfer. There, we reconnected and he guided me through the transfer the same way. When I got on the next train, we parted ways as I knew how to get off at El Tahrir Square and walk to my hostel. I was incredibly thankful.

Due to the language barrier, and cultural differences, there are so many things about this day that I may never understand…like why the guy in my hostel thought the directions he gave me were safe, why the taxi drivers wouldn’t pick me up, or why the guy at the end wouldn’t walk beside me. There were so many places on this journey that things could have gone horribly wrong. I actually had multiple travel angels that day. Yet, as crazy as it was, I still smile when I think about this day.

Getting Help Making A Flight In Tangiers

The key to this crazy story is that it happened in October, on the day that Morocco was supposed to change back to Standard Time after Daylight Savings, but decided not to at the last minute.

I left my hostel in Fez at about 9 AM to catch a 10 AM train to Tangiers for a 9:30 PM flight (over 12 hours later). The train should have only taken 4-5 hours, so it should not have been a problem. There was plenty of time (supposedly).

I was so proud of myself, finding my way through the souk to the Blue Gate to hail a taxi, even though I did so in flip flops in the rain, with a cold, and no umbrella. The passenger seat of the taxi I found was wet as the driver had left he window open, but I got in and sat anyway. I was already wet from walking the souk. We haggled over the taxi cost and I finally gave in agreeing to a little extra, as it was really only a buck or two more for me. Sometimes haggling too much just isn’t worth it.

At the station, I stood in line to buy my ticket. When it was my turn, the guy told me the 10 AM train had already left. I was really confused. I looked at my iPhone and it said it was about 9:15. Hmmnn. I looked at him again, but he looked insistent. Then I looked at the clock on the wall and it said 10:15. Argh! Morocco decided not to change the time back at the last minute, but my iPhone, which was set to local time, changed back an hour anyway.

I had to wait for for the next train, passing my time talking to a local sitting next to me. There was still plenty of time, so I wasn’t worried. When it arrived, an hour or so later, we all stood on the platform and got on he train. For some reason, a few minutes later, an official got on the train and yelled at us to all get off. I have no idea why. We obliged. We had to wait for the next train. Finally, another hour or two later, one arrived. Most of the people on the same train were pretty irritated by now, and I was worried about making my flight!

The train was separated into compartments and a couple of girls with children invited me into their car for the journey. I accepted. They didn’t speak English, but we chatted through gestures for hours on the ride to Tangiers. They were super sweet, offering me snacks and a blanket (it was a cold and damp day). We got chummy.

Somehow, after hours of talking I managed to convey my situation. Not too long after this, one of the girls handed me her phone. I was confused, but took it. There was a man speaking English on the other end. At first, I thought he wanted something from me, as if it was a scam of some sort. But them I realized he was offering me a ride Fromm the Tangiers train station to the airport. I was angry at myself for being suspicious in the first place, and accepted his offer.

When we finally arrived in Tangiers, it was really late. I had almost no chance of making my flight, but had kind of given up at this point. It had been a long, crazy day. The ladies and their kids rode along in the car too. I don’t think they realized how late I was as they wanted me to come to their house first for a snack. So sweet. The guy explained that I couldn’t, so we dropped one lady off with her kids. The other girl, the one that had befriended me the most, continued on to the airport with us.

We arrived at the airport at about 9:10 PM for my 9:30 PM flight. The girl wanted selfies with me before I left. The whole situation seemed so unreal, I went along with a few. In the dark, in the airport parking lot. I didn’t want to be impolite after all their generosity. After photos, we exchanged WhatsApp numbers and I ran into the terminal. I startled the poor guard standing there, and maybe I should be glad he didn’t shoot me as I was running with my luggage rolling behind me like a crazy lady. He finally figured it out, as I tried to frantically explain, and let me in.

When I got to check in, I was so late, there was no one at the counter. Or nearby. I had to walk down the hall and ask someone if I could get checked in. I’ll never ever forget he guy I found saying, “you expect to arrive at the airport 15 minutes before departure and get checked in?” Gulp. Yes. Sorry! Brief train story here. He got an agent over to the desk and they checked me in. I was pretty much in zombie mode at this point…just going through whatever steps I needed to take as they didn’t explain much. They weren’t too happy with me and I didn’t want to push my luck.

Funny thing is, that when I finally got to my gate, the plane had been delayed an hour. This was a small airport with no signs flashing times, so I had no idea until I got there. Thank goodness! My flight was going to Malaga, Spain, who did change their clocks back that day, so the flight from Morocco had to wait. At least that’s what I think happened. Anyway, after all that, I even had time to order a quick dinner by the gate while waiting to board the plane.

My travel Angel that day was named Soad, the girl on the train. It was her friend that picked us all up and drove me and her to the airport. She’s still in my WhatsApp contact list. We still occasionally exchange emoji messages, since we can’t communicate. I’ll never forget or, or that day.

Lost, Then Saved, In Alexandria, Egypt

Years after the incident of getting lost in Cairo above, I still prefer to try to find my own way places by walking, which means I still get lost. Maybe I’m crazy, but this style of exploration also gives me a chance to see more of the city and its people.

In Alexandria, Egypt, I wanted to see a few sites, all within a few miles of my hostel. This time I was using GPS, via a downloaded map from I made it to my first site, Kom El Dikka, some ancient Roman ruins.

The distance between these ruins and my next stop, Pompey’s Pillar, was about a 30-minute walk through town. Following my GPS, I ended up in a very crowded fruit and vegetable market that got confusing. I kept going back and forth, yet couldn’t figure out how to get out of the market to my destination. The aisles were enclosed and very narrow. I felt trapped.

One of my travel angels saved my in Alexandria, Egypt.
Roman Ruins In Alexandria

I stopped and asked a guy at a fruit stall. He couldn’t speak English, so asked his neighbors to get a guy that could speak English. When the guy that could speak English arrived, it took a little back and forth to understand where I wanted to go as I was using the English name and he knew it by its Egyptian name. Finally, we got it sorted out and he set me off in the right direction. My travel angel for the day.

Getting To See The House My Grandmother Grew Up In In Belgium

I visited the areas of Bruges, Thielt, Ghent, Kaprijke, and Sint-Marguerite, Belgium, which is where my dad’s family is from, to meet some distant relatives.

I had met some relatives in Bruges, which was lovely, before visiting Thielt to see a windmill that my great-grandmother supposedly lived in. My next stop was to visit a little bakery where my grandmother’s father once worked (my grandmother came to America as a child). It’s still owned by her father’s brother’s family, Roland and Linda Blondeel, the Blondeel Bakerji in Kaprijke.

They didn’t know I was going to visit and I didn’t know they didn’t speak English, so we were both a bit surprised. They were the only two working at the bakery, but although they were busy, they took a few minutes to try to talk.


My taxi driver, who was kind enough to come inside with me, helped to translate. During the conversation, he learned that the house my grandmother was born in, the Blondeel family home, was not far away in Saint Marguerite. He explained what he had learned and asked me if I wanted to go. I agreed. He had just become one of my travel angels.

As we drove we chatted, and he explained he had a relative with the same last name, saying maybe we were related in some way. Very possible. When we got to the house, we got out and walked around it. It was empty. There was a note on the window stating it would be torn down soon. I was so lucky to get to see it while it was still standing and lucky to have him as a taxi driver.

Hitchhiking, Safely, 4-5 Hour Ride From Issyk Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is an off-the-beaten-path type destination full of stunning nature and warm, friendly people. The difficulty here is that because it’s not a big tourist destination, there’s not much public transportation. In fact, it’s not easy to get around at all. Especially for tourists. Transportation is not planned for touristy spots, and it’s not easy for outsiders to understand the system. Plus, most people speak either Russian or Kyrgyz, both of which are tough languages for westerners.

The local transportation is via old Soviet mini buses, called marshrutka. They date back to when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union. The marshrutka leave the bus station when full, rather than according to a schedule. Plus, they use the Russian name of the destination on their sign, which can be a bit confusing. If you like a challenge, it’s actually part of the fun of visiting (really).

I stayed in Bishkek, the capital, which makes a great base to explore the city. A few of the sites I wanted to see are located around a massive, snow-capped, mountain rimmed lake called Issyk Kul Lake. One day in particular, I wanted to see Fairy Tale Canyon by Issyk Kul Lake. The closest city is Kaji-Sai, which is 180 miles (290 km) away from Bishkek, over a 4 hour drive!

I was so proud of myself for figuring this part out on my own, catching the correct bus at the station (which is not easy), and not getting overcharged. When I arrived, I learned that Fairy Tale Canyon was still 10 miles (16 km) away. To get there, I would need to hitchhike. Now I had read warnings on the US Government travel website before leaving and it warmed to never get in a local vehicle, so, naturally, that was one thing I swore I wouldn’t do. Now, I had to do exactly that.

One of my travel angels saved me when I visited fairy tale canyon
Fairy Tale Canyon, Kyrgystan

As luck would have it, there was another solo traveler, a male, that was at the same spot I was, also looking to get to Fairy Tale Canyon. This emboldened me a bit, so we decided to hitchhike together. We found a ride very quickly, in just a few minutes. It was a couple going that direction. I later learned that it’s common for locals to act as taxi drivers, charging a fee for giving others a lift, specifically because it is difficult to get around this beautiful country. We offered them cash, but they politely declined.

Even after this ride, however, we still had about a mile walk down the dirt road to the site. The site was well worth all this effort, full of rock formations carved into fantastical shapes by centuries of wind and water. There’s also a mini painted desert here, like in Arizona.

Of course, getting back was even more challenging as I had to hitchhike solo back to the stop I arrived at. Although I now felt more comfortable doing that. Plus, with no set schedule, I had no idea when the marshrutka would arrive at the bus stop. I had heard the last bus back to Bishkek was at 6 PM. It was about 5:30 PM when I got to the stop. So I was just hoping it would work out. The journey down had taken so much longer than expected, so I had used up all my time!

I ran into several other tourists trying to get here or there from that same stop. One being a group of guys hitchhiking off to Song Kul Lake. I became even more emboldened by their hitchhiking adventure. By this time, it was 6:00 with no sign of my marshrutka and it would be dark soon. Afraid of being stranded, I stuck out my thumb.

Immediately (literally immediately!), a while van stopped. The driver didn’t speak English, but I told him I wanted to get to Bishkek. He threw out a dollar amount. Being ultra bold, and assuming he was overcharging me, I shot back a price about half that. He nodded and I climbed in the front seat.

I wrestled with the stupidity of what I was doing in my head a bit, but had a good feeling in my gut, so decided to just relax. After me, he picked up about 6 other people, mostly locals. One had a baby and one had a TV. All were going to Bishkek. By this time, I was certain I was safe and had met another one of my travel angels.

Seeing the Painted Desert while visiting Fairy Tale Canyon
Painted Desert I’m Fairy Tale Canyon

It was a very long ride. The driver even stopped at a rest stop during the 4+ hour ride, as well as stopped and had his tires rotated along the way (!). I had a cold at the time and he kept pointing to me and saying “medico”, which meant he thought I better see a doctor. I used my few phrases of Russian and Arabic (as many Kyrgyz are Muslim), and we got chummy. After that we tried chatting through gestures and I learned he had kids.

By the time he dropped me off, I felt completely honored that he got me safely back from the long journey. It was late, I don’t remember what time, but it must have been around 11 PM. I felt bad about my original price negotiation and ended up giving him exactly what he requested the first time. Another journey that warms my heart every time I think about it.

My Water Taxi Angel in New Zealand

I spent about a month in stunning New Zealand, seeing the sites and getting in some amazing hikes. They have what they call “Great Walks”. There are officially 10 of them located around the country. To protect them, they’re government managed with dorm-style huts. They range from one day hikes to 3-4 day hikes, or even more. They’re backpacking adventures where you carry your own food and water, using the gas stoves in their facility to cook your food.

I hiked three: Routeburn, Tongariro, and Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Cape Brett Walkway is not officially one of the Great Walks, but equally amazing in my mind. It is government managed like the others though (you can book at Each were unbelievably amazing in many ways, but this story is about my one of my travel angels, the water taxi driver for my hike at Cape Brett.

This remote hike starts in Oke Bay in Rawhiti near the northeast part of the island. The hike is very challenging, up a steep hill, 10 miles (16.3 km) to the tiny hut you see in the lower left of the photo below. The hike takes about 8 hours each way.

One of my travel angels saved me on my hike on Cape Brett walkway.
Cape Brett Penninsula

Having seen photos of the vistas online, I was super excited about it. To get here (without a car), I had to hire a water taxi driver from Paihia, which took 45-minutes on the water. She raced me over to the start of the hike, a beautiful ride amidst the 144 islands in the Bay of Islands. At one point we were even accompanied by a pod of dolphins!

When she dropped me off, I quickly came to a house with the owner outside on the upper balcony. I was surprised when he immediately shouted to me not to do the hike. It was hard he said. Strenuous. I shouldn’t do it alone. But I had just paid a lot of money to get here and was determined to do it. I told him I hiked a lot. I’d be fine. By this time, his wife had joined him on the balcony and they both waved me off, wishing me luck.

The hike was hard, but I loved it. It took me all day to get up to the peak, where the hut was (the former house for the lighthouse keepers). And it was definitely worth the hike. At least to me. Stunningly beautiful. When I got to the hut, I was surprised to find it locked. It was a hut with 23 dorm style beds, so I expected others to be there. But no. They had given me a code, which I used to get in. The place was empty, and it looked like no one had cleaned it for a while, as there were empty bottles and cans from other visitors stacked in corners.

I had a few of those freeze dried meals you buy from camping stores in my backpack. The kind where you add boiling water. And I had my pan to cook it in. Unfortunately, I was not strong enough to turn in the gas or the water line myself. With no one around, this meant that after my 8 hour hike, I had to nibble on the fruits, nuts, and bars in my pack and use my water sparingly. It was late and I was tired, so I watched the sun set and fell asleep alone in the massive, empty dorm. Yes, I was a little afraid, but I was too tired to worry too much about it.

View of Bay Of Islands from Cape Brett hiking trail
Bay of Islands

I had arranged to have the water taxi lady pick me up at a bay, partway down the mountain the next day. I knew I wouldn’t have time to stop and swim in the way up, so saved this for the end of my journey. Still savoring my limited water and snacks, I hiked down the 4 hours to Deep Water Cove and went for an amazing swim. I did pass a couple walking up from the cove. The only people I saw on my hike except my taxi driver and the couple telling me not to hike.

While swimming, I ran into a stingray! I gave him (or her) some room, but tried not to let it scare me too much. This bay is beautiful!

Suddenly, I noticed clouds rolling in, so I got out of the water. I had arrived super early as I didn’t have anything much to eat or anyone to talk to. By the time I dried off, the water taxi lady surprised me by arrived several hours early. She amazed me! First that she arrived at all (as I had paid for the full fare in advance), and second, that she came early to get me because a bad storm was rolling in. One that would have been too rough for the long journey in the little water taxi back to Paihia, 45-minutes away. She became a other one of my travel angels that day.

Learning Philotimo In Greece

I fell in love with the Greek people on one of my first overseas trips back in 2001, when I was stranded in Greece with a friend over 9/11. The people were so kind to us! Since then, I’ve been back to Greece many times. One of those times, I volunteered to teach yoga, fitness, and dance at a refugee camp in Serres, Greece.

One of the requirements was for me to have a cell phone with a local SIM card in it, in case of emergency. Unfortunately, my US phone was locked at the time (as many US phones are). Because of this, I was not able to get a SIM card. They suggested I buy a local phone. To make that affordable, I searched for used phones on Facebook marketplace in Serres.

The first person I contacted seemed more interested in dating me than selling me his phone. And when he sent me a pic of his privates, I had to delete him and find another. Definitely not one of my travel angels! I met with the next seller at a public place after he got off work. He seemed honest, so I bought the phone.

Unfortunately, when I got back, I was not able to erase his history and enter mine. I contacted the seller and he agreed to meet me again. If this had happened in the USA, I probably would have been out of luck. He wanted to see if he could get it to work. He couldn’t. Not sure what to do, he wanted to talk to some friends, so we agreed to meet again in a few days. At this point, he said he had to take back the phone and have a professional fix whatever was wrong with it (I think he had incorrectly deleted his personally information). By this time, I had learned to trust him, so gave home the phone, without asking for my money back.

He fixed the phone and brought it back two days later, becoming another one of my travel angels. This time teaching me a Greek value called Philotimo. I learned about it when telling a Greek lady working at the refuge about my experience. She immediately said, “that’s philotimo.” Philotimo is when a Greek person goes out of their way to do what’s right, even when it’s not easy on their part. It’s a wonderful concept, dating back many centuries. And another reason why Greece, and the Greek people will be on my travel list over and over again.

Opportunity To Teach Yoga On A Sailboat In Croatia

Another one of my travel angels is the guy that offered me a role teaching yoga on a sailboat in Croatia. I got to spend a week sailing, stopping at a different island along the Dalmatian Coast each day starting from Split, to Hvar, Brac, Vis, Korcula, and Mljet, before reaching Dubrovnik.

I call him one of my travel angels as I was in Albania at the time, getting ready to meet a guy I was dating in Spain. Unfortunately, he ended things before I could get there. I was crazy about him at the time, so pretty devastated. Making things worse, I wasn’t really crazy about Albania (although I want to give it another try in the future). Plus, the next day, there was an earthquake while I was in my room, really shaking me up (literally…lol).

So I decided to look at my options. I was not far from Dubrovnik, and had really enjoyed it before, but didn’t feel like traveling solo at the time. I needed a distraction to un-break my heart. As I had heard about this sailing and yoga opportunity in the past, I reached out to one of the owners asking if, by chance, he needed any help. Turns out the yoga instructor for the cruise in a few days could not make it. What are the odds? I couldn’t believe my luck!

All I needed to do was to get to the Spilt Harbor in 3 or 4 days. Then I needed to prepare to teach yoga in the morning and either mediation or yoga at night in each location. Pretty cool! And easy on my part.

In each location, my role was to find a spot to do the yoga, usually the courtyard of an old church, or in the harbor. Once a church overlooking the island of Mljet (image below).

Mljet island is a popular stop while island hopping in Croatia
Mljet, Croatia

My travel Angel helped me turn my breakup into an opportunity to connect with others, explore Croatia, and grow as an individual. Pure gold in my mind.

And about that guy that broke my heart? Well, we’re still in touch. He lives in Norway and wants to meet up again on one of my adventures. Yet he doesn’t understand why I’m hesitant to reconnect…lol. At least not romantically.

Returned Credit And Debit Card In Cyprus

This is crazy, but I lost a credit and debit card on the last night of my trip to Cyprus. I arrived from the opposite end of town before my room was ready as I had a flight out from that area the next morning. I sat at a sea-side cafe eating lunch while I was waiting, with my luggage at my side. As I only had one day left here before flying back, I wanted to get a few sites in, so was anxious to check in early.

They finally contacted me, telling me I could come over early. I raced, not properly collecting my things, to find the room. Although it was a nice seaside room, to get there, I had to walk through the alleyway and parking lot, where somehow, I managed to drop my credit card and debit card. I’m not sure how I managed this (ugh). The only two things I dropped!

Glyki Nero Beach, Cyprus

Not realizing it yet, I checked in and went up to my room (I had paid in advance). This is when I noticed them missing. The only explanation I could think of was that they must have fallen out of my wallet in the parking lot. I ran down and retraced my steps, but couldn’t find them. It’s likely that a car was over them when I ran down, as I didn’t see them. I came back up to the room and checked my bank account. No one had tried to use them yet, so I decided not to panic.

Miraculously, about 15-minutes later, there was a knock at my door. Someone had found the cards and the hotel had matched the name to my room. I’m not even sure who that travel angel was, but I am definitely forever in their debt!

Who Are Your Travel Angels?

I actually have many more stories of travel angels. The travel angels above, however, are my favorite. Because of them, I now go out of my my to help others on the road too. My way of paying them back. Paying it forward. Really.

If you have a travel angel story, I’d love to hear about it below. Or send it to me via my contact page.

Safe Travels!


Want to learn more about me? See my About Me page to understand why I love traveling so much and my philosophies on travel.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie


  • Dan DeMark

    Great stories! You have good ones, thanks for sharing. I’ll have to think about my own travel angels.

    So ironic that just today, I lost my credit card and driver’s license at a restaurant this morning. . I went back tonight and it had been turned in. Sure, the $9 was missing but I would have tipped that and more. And then to follow up your story, when I went to withdraw some $ from an atm, it was denied! No connection to the other card, was not lost, etc.

    • Julie

      So glad you got them back…but strange about the $9 charge and denied ATM. Sounds like your 2023 is off to an interesting start!

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