What goes around comes around

Ron was only coming over for a week. Maybe two, he said. Then he'd go back home to Scotland, or at least move on somewhere else. And this is the guy who would eventually be stopped at a roadblock outside a Queensland fruit farm and thrown out of Australia for overstaying his visa.

Clearly, he didn't hang around for just a week.

When Ron arrived, he had orange dreadlocks, no money and a plan to make the most of a brief visit to Australia. When the Department of Immigration eventually showed him the door 18 months later, he had a shaved head, no money and a feeling that he had succeeded. (He also carried the shorn dreadlocks around in a plastic zip-lock bag. But that's another story.)

In between, Ron spent about six months living on the couch in my student apartment, meaning he not only overstayed his visa but also his welcome - by about four months or so.

Sometimes he worked at a bar, sometimes he sat on the couch watching reruns of The Simpsons. He developed some worrying kleptomaniac tendencies during those six months and most mornings, my flatmate and I would have to go downstairs and round up the various traffic cones and street signs Ron had stolen and attempt to return them.

What's this got to do with anything? Well, now I'm in Sweden, and the favour is being repaid. Not by Ron, although he did go on to show extreme generosity to my brother and me a few years later. This time I'm leaning on some new friends, hoping they'll welcome me in their native land with similar goodwill.

Their names are Johan and Isabella, and they're only young. Both 19, I'd met them in Spain a few months earlier. We'd been there to study Spanish, but had spent most of our time studying the inside of Seville's tapas bars.

"Come and visit us in Lund, we'd love to see you," they'd said when we parted ways, probably fairly sure that I'd never follow through on the invitation. But they hadn't dealt with a globe-trotting sponge like me before.

Soon I'd sent them an email and I was on my way north. I've never been to Sweden - what better time to visit than when you have friends to show you around?


So here we are now in southern Sweden in a warm little cavern of a bar, a cosy place with arched stone ceilings and high wooden tables. The guy who's pouring the beers is enthusiastic about his product - he's got stuff from Germany that's brewed with volcanic rocks; he's got Belgian ales that even the monks haven't heard of. He brings thick, strangely coloured brews to our table, smiling as he plonks them down in front of us.

I wouldn't have found this place without help. And neither, it turns out, would Johan and Isabella. After receiving news of my visit they'd decided they should take me out to a bar, to give me a taste of Lund's nightlife, but they'd had trouble choosing a venue. The issue was that they'd never been to any of them.

"We asked our parents for a recommendation," Isabella says a bit sheepishly. "They said this would be a nice place to visit."

Part of me feels bad that the two of them have gone to all this trouble. They haven't been out to a bar in Lund before because it's too expensive - students do their drinking at home around here.

And Johan and Isabella's generosity won't stop here. Tomorrow, the young couple will take me out on a tour of Scania county, borrowing Johan's father's car to show me sights such as Ale's Stones, the Swedish version of Stonehenge, and the little town of Ystad.

I don't feel too guilty, however, because this is the sort of thing travellers do for each other, with the knowledge that somewhere, sometime, other travellers will repay the favour. What goes around comes around.

I joined the great wheel of travel karma when Ron the mad Scotsman walked through my door. Ever since then I've been shown oodles of kindness from people from all countries and all walks of life. It's been enough for me to cancel out Ron's stay and rack up a serious karmic debt of my own - my time in Lund with Johan and Isabella is adding to it.

After our day trip in Scania I'll be invited to their respective parents' houses for dinner. I'll be cooked wonderful meals of fish and meatballs and potatoes and lingonberries. I'll be treated like family while far from home.

If that's what you get in return for putting up with a dreadlocked, kleptomaniac Scotsman in your house for a few months, then I'd recommend it to anyone.


Have you ever let a traveller crash at your place? How was the experience? Have you stayed with people you barely knew overseas? Post your comments below.