How Do You Show Gratitude When You Have Nothing?

I pull up to the house of yet another Internet friend, whom I’ve never met in real life. It’s dark, cold, I haven’t showered in days, and I’m welcomed inside and offered a beer. A towel was already set out for me and I insisted I’d use the one I have in the van. I used the one that was set out for me. Wearing fresh new clothes I head down to the basement to get a load of my smelly clothes going before we head out for the night.Tanner Olson hiking in Acadia National Park

This isn’t the first time this has happened and I’m sure it’s not the last. My charm, kind smile, and long hair have nothing to do with receiving acts of kindness like this. I’m only describing one recent moment of hospitality and kindness that I’ve been shown scores of times this past year. Staying with someone, most of the time it’s someone I’ve only met online (Sorry Mom!), has been new for me. In the past I’d opt to meet someone for food or a beer and get a hotel room for the night if I was in the area or passing through. Those were also the days when I was bringing home the salary of someone in the banking industry. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful or didn’t want to socialize, I just felt uncomfortable. It felt like I was imposing or something of the sort.

Traveling on a shoestring budget has forced me to do something I haven’t been great at doing and that’s accepting others’ kindness. Within a month of living vanlife full time I was “forced” to break out of my comfort zone and accept the help of friends, and sometimes strangers. Over time I became more and more accustomed to accepting help from others in the form of giving me a place to grab a shower, sleep for the night, and sometimes even a meal. But then something began to weigh heavy on my heart.


How the hell do I show the amount of gratitude I’m feeling to someone who’s opened the doors to their home and lent me a helping hand, when I have nothing more than a sincere “Thank you?” The thought of gratitude and how to show it, aside from sincerely saying “thank you” more times than I can count has weighed heavy on me most of the year.

An overarching theme I’ve noticed as I’ve met so many people that have lent a helping hand has been that they’ve been shown some sort of kindness and hospitality during their travels. Complete strangers, friends, and family have shown them the same kindness when they were hiking the Appalachian Trail, on an extended road trip, or on a cycling trip, to name a few. Their stories resonated with others they met on their travels and were shown some sort of kindness. Lending me a helping hand is their best way of returning the favor and showing gratitude to others that have helped them.

Say you’re like me and don’t really have any way to show the gratitude you’re feeling at the moment. You may not have a way to repay someone at this point in time. But I’m willing to bet that at some point in the future you’ll have the ability to repay the favor in the form of lending a helping a hand to someone else. Some would call it paying it forward.

I look forward to being able to lend a helping hand to someone I don’t know. Until then, I’ll work on sincerely saying “Thank you.”