Paying it forward while traveling

Travel is sometimes considered a selfish act – when we travel, we are constantly taking in the beauty, the culture, the experiences that come from being in a new, different place. We inevitably learn, grow and change as a result.

Along the way, there are people guiding us in some way – and whether it’s by giving directions, translating, offering a room to sleep in, or just by giving a welcoming smile, these encounters are essential to our experience and are often the most significant and memorable parts of the day.

Usually, a smile and a “thank you” is enough to show our appreciation, but in some cases, we might wish there was more we could do. The women behind Spreading Hearts came up with a simple solution on their trip to Africa: They brought several small, pewter hearts and gave them away whenever they felt moved to.

“We would say to an individual something to the effect of, ‘This is for you,’ placing a heart in their hand, and softly acknowledging, ‘You have a beautiful heart, and it touched mine, thank you.’”

I’d heard of Spreading Hearts before I left for my trip a few months ago and thought it was a nice way to spread good while traveling. I was reminded of the concept this week after reading this post, The gift that changes everything on So Many Places blog.

Three weeks before bloggers Kim and Brian leave for their RTW trip, some of their closest friends gave them a gift of money, which came with a letter:

“ … During your travels, we want you to give all of this money away in whatever way you want. You can give it here in the U.S., or in some foreign land. You can be serious in your giving, or be totally crazy, funny or hare-brained. You can give it away visibly or anonymously. You can plan how you are going to do it, or just give it spontaneously in the moment. You can give it to people, to children, to animals or the environment. You can give it all away at once or you can spread it out and give a little bit here, a little bit there. You can give it away in any combination above.  We don’t care!

… At the end of the day, the money itself is just paper. What gives the whole experience meaning are the thoughts, emotions and feelings that come along with giving it away in ways that make you smile and make your hearts sing. While doing this bit of creative philanthropy isn’t going to cure cancer or save the rainforest, we hope it can bring a bit of happiness and joy to folks you meet along your adventure- and that it will give you even more fond memories to look back on.”

I think this is a great idea (not to mention a perfect gift for people who are getting rid of all their belongings and don’t need material items). It adds a whole new layer to travel, and it can change our entire outlook on the people we encounter and things we observe every day.

When we travel, we’re stepping on someone else’s turf and accepting the help they naturally want to give us. It only makes sense that we’d give something back – and I like this approach because it’s not only giving, but giving in a way that’s personal, unique and meaningful.

Of course, we can also help in other ways such as volunteering or donating larger sums, but I like the idea of giving on-the-fly, in little ways as well. I don’t think it’s essential – as truly a “thank you” and a smile is often enough – but it does add a new dimension and remind us that traveling is not just about ourselves.

I don’t have any pewter hearts or specific funds set aside for donating to others during my trip, but I do hope to embrace this idea as I go along and will give however I can, whenever the feeling strikes.

What do you think? Do you have a special way of giving back while you travel?

Posted by | Comments (4)  | May 9, 2012
Category: General

4 Responses to “Paying it forward while traveling”

  1. Josh and Caroline Says:

    We are traveling now with 200 of the pewter hearts from Spreading Hearts in our backpacks and have given them out in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. It’s been a great way to recognize kind people that we meet along the way. Sometimes there’s a language barrier but people’s eyes light up when they receive the small heart.

  2. Jeanne Says:

    Josh and Caroline ( are our first official “long term” missionaries w spreading hearts. We are thrilled they are touching lives – out of the blue- leaving a small pewter heart with a person as a reminder that they are loved. If you’d like to join the movement visit Thanks for the mention!