The Deeply Misunderstood Nature Of On-The-Road Hospitality

During a recent post-film Q&A, someone stood up and said:

“You said you received a lot of hospitality wherever you went, and that people were always happy to give you food and shelter, even those with very little to give.”

So far so good.

“But didn’t you feel like you were just taking advantage of people the whole time?”

Oh. A loaded question. Got you. Thank you very much for asking, madam.

The implicit question was: “You were just taking advantage of people the whole time. How can you justify that?”

Firstly, I could see exactly where the questioner was coming from. I think it’d be asked much more often if it wasn’t such a direct and possibly unreserved and impolite challenge to a fundamental element of this kind of journey.

(We’re British, remember? Polite and reserved is in our blood. At least, until we start writing comments on the Daily Telegraph website.)

But it’s also the kind of question that brings into sharp focus the way that bicycle travel can challenge preconceptions on a level so deep that you didn’t even realise that you were predisposed to think that way.

And that is what this question was really about: preconceptions of right and proper behaviour, and of the way in which we subconsciously interact with the world.

Luckily for me, up in front of a couple of hundred people, I’d been round and round in my head on this issue in the past and made peace with it. And so I was able to deliver with confidence the response: No, I did not remotely feel like I was taking advantage of people.

And I’d like to share and expand on why this is the case, because I think it has much broader relevance than in the context of receiving hospitality on a bike trip. There are a few key causes.

To begin with, it is absolutely true that bicycle travel often involves receiving regular, unconditional hospitality. The questioner is not mistaken here. It’s also true that this happens regardless of material wealth. In fact it’s been noted by many that there seems to be an inverse correlation between material wealth and generosity. (Perhaps this is because the materially impoverished have less to lose, and a stronger handle on the value of what they do possess.)

I think that one of the causes of discomfort is that in modern society we become accustomed to interacting with people in one of two ways.

The first is how we behave with friends, family and other ‘trusted’ associates. We let down our guard and our behaviour becomes (I hope) generous, helpful, unconditional and generally well-meaning.

The second is the way we interact with strangers; those outside of our trusted inner circle and with whom we’re not expecting to form any kind of lasting bond. We treat these people as players in the free market economy that dominates public life; if someone gives us something (products or services) it is because they are expecting something back (cash, or at least something tangible) in return. In a society that suffers from a general and indoctrinated fear of strangers, restricting interactions to economic exchanges eliminates much of this perceived risk. This is simplistic, of course, but it serves to illustrate how certain behaviours become ingrained.

We are very, very good at injecting our own subjective experience into the actions of others in order to make sense of their motivations. And I think one of the principal misunderstandings of the hospitality scenario is the way in which strangers are perceived to be motivated when they offer us hospitality.

It is almost always the case that they do not expect something in return. But we are predisposed to assume that they do — at least to begin with, hence the shock, surprise and revelation you’ll read about in countless bicycle travel blogs when we realise that they don’t. We eventually build up enough similar experience to see that there are huge numbers of people in the world whose brains are simply not wired up to perceive interactions with strangers as economic transactions in the way that we understand them.

Because this is so hardwired, we may respond to hearing stories of hospitality with surprise (that it happens) and guilt on behalf of the storyteller (that he or she did not appear to compensate the stranger). This leads to confusion, frustration, and on that particular day a needling question in front of a hall full of people.

Let me propose a couple of alternative ways of explaining the scenario; why I don’t feel that accepting it is to take advantage of anyone; and why I don’t feel there’s any need to ‘bring stuff to give back’, which is a related (and slightly irritating) assumption I occasionally hear feeding into people’s plans. One concept is simple enough; the other is a more fundamental shift in worldview.

Firstly, I would argue that by accepting hospitality you are very much giving something back; it’s just not something material or tangible. Personally — and I am sure that if you think about it hard enough you will feel the same way — when I have a guest to stay, I enjoy their company, their stories and the new perspectives and experiences they may bring. I enjoy having my routine enlivened by something new. My guest doesn’t have to be a close friend, nor to give me presents or money, in order for this to be true.

Viewed from the opposite point of view, as a guest in a stranger’s home you are giving the experience of hosting a guest simply by walking in through the front door. You may also, without realising it, be giving your host the opportunity to act according to a faith or cultural tradition which encourages unconditional hospitality. In any case, there is an exchange going on here; intangible, yet still of mutual benefit. And it has been demonstrated in numerous studies that people derive as much pleasure from giving as from receiving, whether that be material or not.

Secondly, I would argue that by feeling that you need to ‘give something back’ directly to your host in order to validate the exchange, you are perhaps subconsciously expressing a preference for individualism over collectivism. This is not a criticism, just an observation that should be taken into account: many people think primarily in terms of the greater good when making decisions; others are more self-centred.

When offering hospitality, many people may feel, again subconsciously, that by expressing goodwill towards a traveller who realistically cannot compensate them with anything more than good company, they are putting that goodwill into a kind of collective ‘pool’ which will manifest itself at some unknown point and place in the future.

This is horribly wishy-washy, I know, but in its simplest form, being given unconditional hospitality on a bike tour may inspire you to act in the same way towards travellers you encounter in the future when you have the opportunity to show them the same hospitality you once received. (This is a common theme among experienced bicycle travellers.)

That might extend to generally being kinder and more helpful in all walks of life, and thus the goodwill has, in the grand scheme of things, not just been paid back but multiplied. I think most of us would agree that if everyone in the world became just a tiny bit more kind, helpful and generous in their actions, the result would be an astronomical paradigm shift.

I am not proposing that this thought is what drives people directly to express hospitality towards cycle tourists, but I feel that it is a thought that resonates naturally with all of us — which might explain why it is a core concept in so many successful dogmatic belief systems.

For a far better summary of the concept than I have delivered here, see the film Pay It Forward. (Keep a sick bucket handy while you do so.)

There are exceptions. There are regions where compensation is generally expected in exchange for help, and there are occasions on which you’ll need to use a little common sense and intuition. But the general principle stands.

So while I absolutely do not feel that accepting the outpouring of hospitality is to take advantage of those who offer it, maybe that response should be appended with the caveat: “so long as I pay it forward”.

Like any discussion that involves challenging core values, beliefs and behaviours, this is a topic that has in the past been a source of heated discussion controversy. What do you think?

Comments (skip to respond)

43 responses to “The Deeply Misunderstood Nature Of On-The-Road Hospitality”

  1. Carlos Clarke avatar
    Carlos Clarke

    Cycle touring is full of hospitality. Altruism is just part of our human nature. That’s all there is to it. I think that at least 50% of my friends I have met on the road and this list is getting longer all the time. I have been made to feel welcome everywhere I have been, apart from one country and one country only. By the same token, whenever I meet a cycling comrade, they always get my address and tel. number in case they need a shower, a meal, a bed with clean sheets and a place to rest for as long as they may need it. Of course I do not expect anything in return. In fact I would be insulted if they offered me money.

    Take good care Tom.

  2. If your not expecting their hospitality. Bring something to them. Whatever that be because it is gift exchange not charity or you giving someone an opportunity to practice faith. How you see it is how you make it. Bring it forward before you are even offered. There is something revolutionary in that. Down with global and racial inequality.

  3. Out of all the comments yours speaks volumes. 

    My take on this is:
    Show appreciation and respect for whenever and wherever you can by being observant and aware of what can be given immediately or afterwards. In the west we have privileges many people do not, travel is one of those privileges, exchange can be beyond money but it doesn’t have to be beyond the immediate frame of giving back in the moment, whether that is a genuine appreciation, or noticing something that can be given whether that’s skill, time, energy, interest in others and listening to them, play… whatever it is. After all we are guests in people’s homes, it can be more than paying something forward, it can be bringing something to them directly, and that can be beyond money, but does take awareness, well meaning, and a good understanding of the best thing for that moment, and if not, perhaps a card afterwards will do. It’s nice to be recognised, otherwise it falls into a category of a well privileged western traveller voyeuristically spanning the globe witnessing inequality but still residing in the place they have in it, and justifying that somehow, inaction is a kind of action, if you can see inequality fight against it, and respect what you are given by people regardless of how you conceptualise it.

  4. […] travelling, and who might quite enjoy having guests once in a while. Such hospitality is a two-way exchange, not an accumulation of […]

  5. Very nice article and solid arguments, Tom. I’m from Holland, living in the USA now, and the Dutch are by nature less hospital than the people from poorer countries.
    I did not travel that far on bikes, in general 3000 to 5000 km during vacations in Western Europe and starting from Holland but I had also my experiences with hospitality along the road. I was invited to dinner and a stay by two Italian girls near San Remo and a night in a tent near Marseille by a Dutch couple on my first long tour in 1970. Later on I was invited to a hearty breakfast by an older English couple in their camper near Biarritz because I looked like their son who was killed in a motorbike accident. I was invited to a dinner in central France by an older couple because the local restaurants were closed for various reasons. They lived in a farmhouse from the 1600’s with walls over a meter thick. At Corsica I was invited to a dinner by an older widow after I could get her car to start. She lived in a sort of mansion with a maid for the day. I noticed creaking doors and loose door handles and being an engineer, I could not live with that. While dinner was cooking I made my rounds with an oil can and my tools and fixed as much as possible. She was delighted and said that my effort was worth more than a hundred dinners and I replied that her hospitality was worth more than a hundred repair jobs.
    In all those cases I felt a slight form of embarrassment if I could do nothing in return. Where I could I always send the people a Christmas card with a big thank you.

  6. alex retana avatar
    alex retana

    I really like ready these posts. This topic I find it fascinating because I think in the western world we are programed to be self sufficient and when someone offers us help and we accept, this means we are insufficient and do not meet the socio economic standards of self sufficiency. I do not know to what extend we are supposed to resolve that at some point in time in our lives it is ok to accept help and a kind hand. What ever its call, faith, karma or what ever, we are all need to be aware of the give and take and cause and effect which in my book it can not always translate to money, or equal material exchange. My two cents worth of input do not worry about paying the two cents back.

    1. Bang on. Competition rules; co-operation sadly doesn’t. (It does seem better up norf…)

    2. John Drescher avatar
      John Drescher

      I think the key to happiness is pegged here, for some. Yes, money makes anything possible it seems, but it really just makes what can be bought “seem” like everything. In minds uncluttered by greed, bought things are often only necessities and truly valuable things come from the imagination. As crazy as it sounds to call money evil or bad, we often have more than we need to be happy. To be rich is to have enough. I’ve chased the dragon and lost track of my true dreams amongst the bills and responsibility it comes with. Like sailing for several months in clear blue waters. Thankfully, Electric bikes have reminded me of my original goals and I plan to go beach hopping (on both sides) when I have my mobile business showing people Ebikes exist prepared. Asians have over a half billion bikes on roads, as can be seen on camera views of Asian streets. That’s enough bikes. It’d be nice to be commonly understood by drivers and have more bike lanes here in eastern USA, but it’s in the bike stone age. I hope I’ll be able to leave the Americas when I’ve had success. Your eloquent blog inspired me to do my own, which is lonely, being so new. Feel free add to it. Thank you Tom, and best of luck for the future.

      P.S. More on reciprocation. From the opposite standpoint this is all hippie hot air, if money is truly all you need, I’d like to inform you Do Not mistake kindness for weakness, someday the kind will have many brethren (brothers and sisters) to help them when they’re weak, and I wouldn’t trade them for all the money. Bless a villian and he’ll curse you, curse a villain and he’ll bless you. Like a dog, the more you beat him, the more he loves you. But we’re not the ‘dogs’ of society, as is popular to imply. But it is hard for me to understand what’s hard about helping someone who doesn’t have as much as you now. Faith in humanity is not for sale, but it’s earned by people who work hard to find it. Now I’m just repeating everyone else. Aloha!

  7. Hi Tom,

    Read your post and thought of a Robert Louis Stevenson essay which might interest, ‘An Apology for Idlers’ well worth a read in a spare moment, — ” I know there are people in the world who cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at the cost of pain and difficulty.”

    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge. I’m planning to leave on my bike and your site has been invaluable for my plans.

  8. Great piece and I’m happy for once to have the internet connection to offer my thoughts! Reading this got me thinking a lot over the past few nights about a subject that I seem to be thinking, reading and talking about a lot more recently. Which is exciting. My partner Emma and I travel without money. There are various reasons for this. For one, we were running out of money but did not want this to mean that we could not experience travel anymore. We had been lucky enough to meet a handful of money less travellers who were a huge inspiration and whose eyes gave us a window into another possibility. And we had been reading and thinking a lot about alternative economic models, such as gift economies. Anyway, one of the more difficult issues we grappled with as we counted down to our last pesos was “the guilt”. The moneyless travellers we had met before had told us that “Opening yourselves up to the world” is one of the most beautiful things you can do. For me, at that time, when I was fairly stressed about money fairly regularly, I couldn’t help but think about exactly that: money. How in hell would we get by?! Or was I thinking “Who will pay for us?” Back then, I see now, I was still looking at things in a financial sense, placing the value of things on their cost, for example. When you look at things like this, when you are stuck seeing this as costing that and that as costing this, then the world can seem a pretty limited place. 

    Of course, this is a ridiculous. I know that when people have helped us with food, shelter, rides for thousands of miles etc they have not expected money. Just as when we have helped people we have not expected any money. In fact, I doubt it has even crossed either their mind or ours. Now, the thought of proffering money at any of these lovely people after they have helped us seems inappropriateand sometimes even offensive as if to say “This is the only way we can think to value this experience.” 

    In my experience people only help each other if they want to. And though it may sound pig-headed, I know that many of the people who have helped us have taken just as much from the experience as we have. They are, after all, shared experiences.

    And, as you suggest, the kindness we have received has instilled in us a sense of (happy) duty that we now carry with us everywhere. Whenever money comes our way it is a shared resource with whoever is around us. More importantly though, so is food. We meet plenty of other hungry people and animals who appreciate bread as much as we do. And we work much harder now than we used to, seeing our time at farms where we volunteer as a gift. 

    I think the reason we felt guilty was because we were wondering whether we deserved to continue to travel when we hadn’t any money. And of course we do, just like the countless others who feel unable to. Though many of them might never and many really cannot, I hope that at least the small percent that we have spoken to feel that they can now. They certainly have the right to, and they will always bewelcome whenever we have a door to open up to them.

    I’m a huge fan of your blog and am regularly inspired by your candid approach and the subjects you address. So thank you!

    1. May your travels continue. Your words bring hope to this man..

  9. experienced traveler avatar
    experienced traveler

    When a traveler accepts hospitality, the gift he gives in return is that he has opened up an opportunity for his host to express his very highest self, the side of himself that is selfless and other-people-oriented. In my own city I enjoy extending hospitality to strangers, whether by giving a bottle of water or a snack to a homeless person or taking the time to share a conversation with them. I’m always the better for it. I feel glad and connected to the rest of the world when I reach outside my normal routine to include a stranger into my circle of love. An ancient proverb says, “Freely you have received, now freely give.” That idea is a normal practice in the more economically challenged parts of the world. I find less wealthy people are often richer in generosity and the the joy of giving than many with greater material assets.

  10. Every time I see someone raising money for what is basically a personal vacation, I ask myself the same question. 

    Why do people think it is OK to ask for money for their vacation, but not OK to ask for money for a new TV, or a new car? It is more than a valid question. 

    I think hospitality is something that should be appreciated, not taken advantage of. I’ve offered hospitality to some people, only to learn later than they tried to get meals and lodgings and other things out of everyone they met along the way. And some of them could’ve paid, but deception was their “money-saving strategy”. I felt cheated when I realized what was going on. 

    When a wealthy person goes incognito to a soup kitchen to get a free meal, are they simply making the soup kitchen staff feel good so it’s fair game, which appears to be your rationale? Or is that person just taking advantage of others? 

    Your article is nuanced and I generally agree. But there is definitely a line that can be crossed.

    1. I don’t really understand your point. What do holidays, soup kitchens and fiscal wealth have to do with spontaneous hospitality on the road?

      1. To me, there is a difference between hospitality and people taking advantage of hospitality. If someone is a bum and I give them money, it is different from someone pretending to be a bum and me unknowingly giving them money under deceptive pretenses. This is an issue of honesty. 

        Similarly, I make a distinction between someone asking for a ride because they run out of gas, and someone asking for a ride because they don’t want to spend their own money. To me, this is the issue of selfishness. Some people think they deserve X and it should be given to them or they simply don’t want to pay for it even though they have the money. They abuse other people’s generosity through their own selfishness. 

        “Spontaneous hospitality on the road” is one thing. Strategically milking your way across the world through the generosity of others is another thing. There is nothing spontaneous about strategically depending on handouts.

        1. There is indeed a difference between hospitality and people taking advantage of hospitality. And it’s just as likely to be the host who invites a traveller in on false pretenses and then later demands payment. In fact, it’s far more common to hear these kinds of stories. It’s happened to me several times, and to most long term travellers I know.

          But it’s the exception, rather than the rule, and it’s not what this article is about. Your examples of people pretending to be bums, demanding rides and ‘strategically milking’ the generosity of others do of course happen. But they are exceptions to the rule, and I would have hoped that most readers of this blog would understand that.

        2. Steve Sylvester avatar
          Steve Sylvester

          Witold, the “life” you’re suggesting is a life in which we are constantly appraising whether we ourseslves or the other person is in “enough” need to warrant hospitality. A life requiring so much calculation, especially when we are often entirely ignorant of the situation of the other, is not much of a life. I certainly do that, i.e. calculate in my head whether someone “really” what they claim to be or is just “pretending” to be so, but after the fact I’m always aware that this kind of calculus is beyond me and I’m just protecting what is “mine”. Hospitality is not about being “deserving”. It’s about being human.

          1. Well said. And part of being human is about having faith (nothing religious implied). I’ve been stiffed by ‘hosts’ in the past; that won’t stop me having faith in the next person that invites me into their home. Some people take the piss out of people’s hospitality; that won’t stop me having faith in the value of expressing my own. As you say, when the calculations are beyond you, you have two options: act according to your values regardless, or default to protectionism and avoidance.

  11. I hate to generalise but i have found all through my life people with less wealth are better people in general, so many times has this been rubbed in my face to the point where I am forced to accept the generalisation as a solid truth (with obvious exceptions like very rule), the more you feel you have to lose the more suspicious and defensive you get towards those you see as possible wanting the same things you have who may be willing to acquire them by taking yours, money being the mightiest and most defended and sought after possession of all to some. This was most heavily portrayed to me in my 20’s as i worked door to door as a team leader raising awareness and funds for big name charities, we went all over the UK from the roughest and scruffiest council estates to the top end gated communities of footballers and exclusively posh and colourless villages or rural England and the like which are scattered far away from the big city misery and poverty, the places we got the warmest genuine welcomes and also raised the most funds were always the scruffiest run down areas, the people were always warm and welcoming and keen to help other people worse off than themselves, in the ‘upmarket’ areas we would often go street after street without even getting a door opened, you would see the curtains twitch they would see the charity tabards, armbands and jackets and just ignore the door. Got to the point where i accepted it as a dividing line i never wanted to be on the wrong side of

  12. Larry Barnhill avatar
    Larry Barnhill

    Tom, this is undoubtedly the best explanation I have ever read on the phenomena “offering or accepting hospitality” Thanks you very much for putting it so succinctly into words. Also, I’m proud of you for having the gall to formulate it so well. You’ve become a virtual philosopher.

  13. Once again Tom thank you for your article. It puts into perspective the troubling feelings I have when cycling and using Warmshowers and Couchsurf. I hope by opening my home to strangers to put back the kindness I have recieved.

  14. What an inspiring post. Since our sons started travelling our lives have been enhanced in many ways. We have adventured vicariously through their blogs and having heard of their encounters with complete strangers who have offered them a bed for the night, a meal or just a conversation we have hosted travellers which we have found enlightening, enjoyable and rewarding. It brings to mind my school motto ‘must give else never can receive’. Our encounters have always been positive and we have never felt taken advantage of.

  15. Tom right on the spot! Hospitality without personal material gain. We love sharing our home and resources with strangers staying. When they leave we are no more strangers to each other and we have learned from the experience. We look forward to open our minds and be welcomed by people of the world.

    1. Good on you! I hope when I stay in one place for long enough I can do likewise…

  16. Excellent post Tom, this does not effect just the cycle tourist but overlanders and backpackers also even though it may be to a lesser degree. We found this a lot, especially in Siberia and Tajikistan. Some places though it seemed that, as we had a 4x4, we must be loaded! which you wouldn’t get on a bike, even though some cycle tourists have bikes more expensive than my 4x4. Will share this on our page too, very well written, thanks.

    1. It’s encouraging to hear that overlanders and backpackers have similar experiences. I’ve always worried that the ‘loaded’ image you mention would have a depressingly negative effect.

  17. Very interesting. When I was 18 I went backpacking around the middle east. The incredible generosity I experienced quite profoundly shaped me and how I interact with ‘strangers’ today. So yes the pay it forward theory rings true 🙂

    1. I too have found that my experience of the Middle East has had a particularly keen effect on the way I see things, on a level that is difficult to explain. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  18. Steve Sylvester avatar
    Steve Sylvester

    Great article. Thanks. I think hospitality is deeply misunderstood. At the root of the ancient tradition of hospitality is not generosity, but vulnerability. The reason the poor are more hospitable is not because they are more generous. It’s because they are more in touch with vulnerability. If the world is not beating on you, begrudgingly giving you what little you have and always trying to take even that little away, you don’t have a hardwired sense (or ingrained cultural custom) of obligation to care for and protect the stranger. As you note, this is about an understanding that community is survival and life and apart from community you die. Our present privileged society see life as being unencumbered, when in truth the detachment of owing nothing to anyone is no life at all.

    I love backpacking and canoeing in the the wilderness. The older I get, however, the more drawn I am to cycle touring, and precisely because of the different way people respond to are because of my vulnerability.You’re also quite correct that to accept a gift is a great gift to give. We would never be able to give anyone anything if we were always saying, “No thanks. I’m fine.”

    1. Thanks, Steve. I think this is spot on. If you’ve experienced vulnerability, you’re more able to recognise and empathise with it, and the bicycle traveller certainly projects this image.

  19. Good post. These topics go way beyond the remit of cycle touring and cycle touring is probably not the access point for most people to challenging these preconceptions. Your argument may be that you are making your small change on your niche area; fine, but I hope you aren’t frustrated that your considerable interllect isn’t reaching a much wider audience.

    1. I would be interested to know if you were concerned by this or not.Could just be my delusions of grandeur and projecting my desires into this.

      1. I’m not particularly concerned, no. I’m privileged and grateful to have a regular readership for this and many other topics I care about and write about, which is enough. My hope is that encouraging bicycle travel will lead people to experience these same revelations, and ultimately to make up their own minds.

  20. Hi Tom,

    Another brilliant read and quite a controversial topic touched indeed! I think in general the perception of “give and take” is a bit spoiled since it usually includes the terms “expect” and “return”. However, hospitality is a genuine and as you said unconditional act. There’s no “because” or “in order to” in it. I think it’s more than a flowery phrase that “material poverty” generally goes along with “ethical richness”. They might be less worried about their possessions (which may end up taking possession of themselves) and therefore be less distrustful or maybe not having lost faith in humanity (yet).
    The people offering hospitality to (travelling) strangers simply “do”, maybe out of a “human reflex”. They do not expect anything in return and it’s still sort of an exchange nonetheless! I agree on your point of view indicating how this is an enriching and transforming for both sides indeed! 

    I think the core point that may decide on the level of enrichment might be following: awareness and gratefulness. Not in the sense of giving back, but in not taking hospitality and generosity for granted and never lose a sense of marvel for these acts of kindness; some of the purest forms of humanity. You would take advantage of people if you act “calculating” and lack the awareness and gratefulness mentioned. Otherwise it may be simply a tacitly agreement with benefits for both sides exchanging goodness and occasionally goods as well… 🙂

    There’s also a saying assuming “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet”, maybe another decent explanation for “hospitality” or humanity in general!?

    Another inspiring and thought-provoking “mind’s stroll” Tom, thanks for taking us along… 😉

    Take care,

    1. Oh, and thanks for introducing me to the “Pay it forward” concept, never heard of it before! I just went through the related Wiki article and find it most interesting…


    2. Thanks for your input on the topic. I think you’re right on the money with what you’ve said here.

      1. Tom , thank you for putting into perspective the feelings I have when a stranger gives of themselves to me. While I’m not a world traveller like you, the kindness I have recieved in Europe has always amazed me. Hopefully I can give back as much as I have recieved. As a Warmshowers and Couchsurf member I am trying to reciprocate the help I have recieved. Thank you once again.

  21. I have experienced a lot of generosity whilst on the road. I think the key here is that I never expect it, and if it comes I feel genuinely humbled. It’s important to remember that people want to give, and I think that we, especially in the first world, can learn a lot from people that are able to give with no expectation of anything in return, they give because they have it in their hearts and it appeals to the side of them that is concerned in life with doing the right thing. Personally it makes me much more aware of opportunities for me to give to others. I remember sitting on a train in India once, a guy opposite me unpacked his tiffin and offered me some. I told him that I couldn’t do that, that it was his food. His answer stays with me to this day, he replied, a total stranger, “it’s not my food, it’s our food”
    Wish I had a mindset that could respond like that!

    1. You are absolutely right about never presuming to be offered hospitality. I have made the mistake in the past of assuming that it’ll be there on tap (usually after spending too long cycling on my own), only to be punished by circumstance for doing so. Strange how that happens, but probably a good thing!

  22. Fantastic post, Tom. I will send this on the next time I try and explain the concept of WarmShowers etc to a non-cyclist.
    Rather than the ‘taking advantage’ angle, I’m usually queried on the safety aspects of having random strangers turn up to camp in my backyard. It does seem sometimes mildly absurd when I try explaining it, but your post makes it all make sense.

    1. The more you own, the more you’ve got to lose — and the more protective and suspicious you’ll be. (Massive generalisation!)

    2. Hi Lyn,

      As a Warmshowers host I usually explain to terrified relatives or friends that someone who has cycled from the Netherlands to Bulgaria in February and aims for Istanbul or the Far East is definitely not a random person and it is extremely improbable that he or she is after my laptop or the miserable content of my purse 🙂

Something to add?