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Should you talk to strangers on trips?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

When we included Philadelphia in our Best Trips 2020 a few people said, “Philly, really?” But to us it was fitting; Philly has a fascinating history—but that’s not our story. We focus on the creative people who are reinventing this interconnected community for the future. People like Widjojo family, whose tiny restaurant Hardena delivers righteous Indonesian flavors. People like Bela Shehu, a fashion designer originally from Albania whose modern cuts turn heads near Rittenhouse Square. And people like Brian Kravitz, whose retro-cool Philly Typewriter shop brings the clickety-clack back to East Passyunk.

People travel for people as much (if not more) than for sights. Sometimes we discover a bit of ourselves in a stranger; sometimes we learn how to be a better version of ourselves by learning from a local (scroll down for stories of kindness on the road).

I recently asked readers for tales of their own best trips. I’ll share a few responses in the coming weeks, but you may not be surprised at a common thread: Encounters with locals are what turn a memorable journey into a best trip.

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Children splash in Philadelphia's fountain-centric Love Park, which is nicknamed for its "Love" sculpture by Robert Indiana.

Today in a minute

Way too crowded: GQ has an arresting oral history of that day in May when a photo of Mount Everest, which later went viral, showed how packed the climbers were at the top of the world—as bad weather was moving in. “The crowd seemed incredible—like a bag of Skittles had been scattered down the slope,” Joshua Hammer writes.

Seeing, but not hurting, the animals: These three lodges in Africa, in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and South Africa, are deeply committed to wildlife conservation, Karen Carmichael writes for Nat Geo.

We asked, you responded: After we posted an item last week about the vacation of a staffer’s mom at 95, reader Iris Pahlberg Peterson wrote about accompanying her 95-year-old mom back to her Austrian birthplace last summer. “What I learned everywhere we went is that no matter how old you are, you want to be productive; you want to feel that you are contributing something of value,” Pahlberg Peterson said. “My mother told stories to her adult nieces and nephews about their parents’ lives, and my cousins leaned on her every word.”

You want experiences? You may not be able to operate heavy machinery after seeing these moving images from Jaipur, Antarctica, and the Sacred Valley of Peru. Also covered on this elegantly produced story: the Hermitage after dark, coconut scones in Naoshima, and Gauguin’s South Pacific resting place.

Our 100th book: Do you have suggestions for our in-house Traveler Book Club? We’re finishing up Book No. 99, Maria Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, and are searching for a novel or nonfiction work that looks outward to this big, awesome (and OK, occasionally awful) world. Here’s what we’ve read so far. Send your ideas to Amy.Alipio@natgeo.com, and we’ll announce our next book in early January.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Splashing all the way: Budapest sits atop thermal springs, which makes for an amazing bathing culture with multiple spa facilities throughout the Hungarian capital. Last summer, photographer Krista Rossow visited the Széchenyi Thermal Baths and said that beyond the pools, she “was enamored by the ornate mustard-yellow facade.”

Related: Top 10 things to do in Budapest

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The big takeaway

Sharing kindness, if not a language: Our readers have reminded us that total strangers halfway across the world can be kind—without expectation of something in return. Kelly Barrett has gathered 10 reader stories of unexpected generosity on the road. They include this visit to a park in Istanbul by reader Kendall Fayle. A family “waved me over [and] insisted I join them for a delicious homegrown salad," Fayle said. "We didn’t share a language but we shared a meal, smiles, and kindness."

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Come back tomorrow for Victoria Jaggard on the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

One last glimpse

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But wait, there’s more (kindness!): Reader Becky Corbin’s car broke down while she was driving this picturesque Irish road, the Ring of Kerry. But many locals stopped to offer help. Said Corbin: “I have never met kinder people anywhere."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selection by Eslah Attar. Have an idea, a link, your own story of unanticipated kindness on the road? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading, and happy (and kind) trails.