Travel Karma

Some trips are blessed, some cursed.

We are all connected, as this detail from a Jain temple in Rajasthan, India shows

My son’s friend went off a cliff on a defective scooter on the Greek island of Poros. He had to be flown to Athens on the orders of the local doctor whose limited English had him explain, “I can see his mind.” In other words, a big gash in the head.

My rented jeep was confiscated when the owner saw a wrecked scooter in the back. My son’s scooter was confiscated when he rode through town during siesta looking for help. Bad travel karma.

We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. They did not speak for the rest of the trip.

My two friends and I met Ahmed on the train in Morocco from Rabat to Fès. Ahmed was middle-aged, skinny, snaggle-toothed — too much sugar in the mint tea — and extremely talkative. He was a nice man and we had three hours to kill. We heard about his nine siblings and his extended family of 45, who prevent him from selling his father’s riad since he can’t get everyone to sign the papers. Ahmed worked for the leather cooperative.

He wasn’t pushy but he gave us his number. When we called, he sent Abdul, who guided us to the tannery and gave us a tour of the medina, two hours, more than five miles, much of it uphill. He led us through the rat’s maze of streets and the crush of people and didn’t seem to mind that, although we bought leather, we didn’t buy anything else. A nice guy showing people his hometown. Good travel karma.

Bad travel karma can haunt you for years.

We were told by the guide in Zimbabwe that if charged by a lion, we must not run and we must not panic. We set off on foot through Matusadona on Lake Kariba. A female lion crossed the dry riverbed we were walking down. We stopped. She disappeared into the bush. We went on. She charged when we came even with her and her two cubs.

A charging lion makes a noise that shakes the earth, a growl that starts in the soles of your feet and travels to the back of your neck like a lightning striking. We all froze. The guide raised his gun but did not cock it. We stared at her. She stared at us. The guide whispered, “Back up.” We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. The guide scooped her up with one hand while still aiming at the lioness. The bride and groom did not speak for the rest of the trip. Bad travel karma is a bad start to a marriage.

Good travel karma can be accrued.

In Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, taxis are often shared. You give the driver your destination, but if there’s room, he may stop and pick up somebody else. Sometimes even if there’s not room. Cabs never use their meters and never have change. Pay it forward. How much for the lady in the front seat with the two gallons of olive oil?

A little global goodwill goes a long way, and you may earn so much good travel karma that your Airbnb host serves a lunch of tagine with fresh sardines and warm bread.


How to Accrue Good Travel Karma

  • Don’t give money to beggar children; give pencils.
  • Always give away leftovers.
  • Pack used clothes to trade at street markets in sub-Saharan Africa. They can be worn or sold. Used jeans, and you’re royalty for a day.
  • Pose for pictures with people. I am in the family albums of more Indian families than I can count, often with their children in my lap.

Karma goes around and it comes around, the original global energy. –Rebecca