Great adventures and kind things happen when you’re bike touring.
People spontaneously approach you with offers of place to stay for the night. Others drive 50km to buy you candies and drinks from the nearest store (yes, this really happened to us) or simply stop to check that you’re okay.
Sometimes, the generosity is far too much, like the group of women in Turkmenistan who insisted on stuffing a crisp 10,000 Manat bill (about $1) into our panniers – a small fortune in this relatively poor country, but one the women were determined to give us.
When kindness like this starts to flow your way, it’s always nice to give something back to the people you meet and the communities you pass through. Here are our ideas for restoring the hospitality balance while you’re bicycle touring:
- Get Thank You Cards (and use them!)
A thank-you card is so much more than a piece of paper. It’s a formal acknowledgement of the time someone took to make your trip more enjoyable. And if you think sending a card is old fashioned, we’re here to tell you about the countless stories of disappointment we heard from people who helped other cyclists, only for the biker to ride off down the road without ever getting in touch again. So before you set off on your next bike tour, take the time to put a few thank-you cards in your panniers or make your own bicycle-themed cards. Hand them out with a personal note when someone does a good deed for you or get an address and send one from the next town. Trust us, it won’t go unnoticed.
- Pack A Few Surprises
Andrew’s mother had a strategy at Christmas. She always kept a box of wrapped chocolates in the closet, ready to go in case someone unexpectedly showed up with a present for her. Bags full of chocolates might be a bit much for a bike tour but what about balloons to hand out to kids? Small pins from your country or region work well too (they often give these out free at the town hall) or any other lightweight trinkets you can round up from places like the local dollar store. You have to be a bit careful here – giving things out indiscriminately can sometimes encourage a view of tourists as cash machines – but when you’re on the receiving end of unexpected kindness, a few small tokens of appreciation go a long way towards making a good impression.
- Have A Few Tricks Up Your Sleeve
I’m far from the world’s most talented person, but even I’ve managed to learn how to fold a decent paper airplane and juggle 3 balls – side shows that came in handy countless times, especially when we didn’t share a language with our hosts. Take the time to learn something cool before you leave home and then use your newfound skill to put a smile on people’s faces and make a personal connection.
- Make A Donation
Supporting a local non-profit organization is a fine way to make a lasting difference to the communities you cycle through. Take the time to visit a charity while you’re on tour and see what they need. It could be as simple as giving school books to the local teacher. Maybe you can gather your friends and raise some funds, as we did for the kids who live at the dump in Phnom Penh. And if you want to support cycling more generally, check out the list of bike-related charities put together by the Adventure Cycling Association.
These are just 4 ways to give back to the communities you pass through and the people you meet. How many more can you think of? Tell us about your thoughts by leaving a comment.