It was a Saturday night in Chiang Mai. The moon was almost full, and the city was alive in the streets, celebrating day two of Thai New Year. With a watergun in one hand, and a drink in the other, I became distracted by the madness and lost my group. No problem, as a traveler, exploring alone is never an obstacle. I wandered the crowds by myself, stopping to mingle with people here and there, having the time of my life, and then I saw him. A tall, tan and blond stranger standing by himself. He was cute, and I was drunk, so I mustered up the best opening line my tipsy brain could think of. “Do you know the wifi password?” (smooth, I know). We spent the night dancing under the stars, and then we kissed – a lot. And in the many days to follow, we spent them together. To someone who is new to travel romances, it would appear that love was in the air. But for those of us who spend our lives on the road, we know where this goes.
So, then? Well, he went back to Europe and I stayed in Asia. Did you expect a better ending? I am sorry my dear, but this is the age old tale of dating when traveling.
Can Long Term Travelers Date?
It’s not difficult to understand why dating and traveling can be hard to put together. A traveler, especially a solo traveler, lives a very unstable (and amazing!) lifestyle. We rarely have a plan, and there’s no telling where we will end up, and when we arrive, god knows how long we will stay.
So by conventional standards, one may assume we have no love life. However, that notion is completely false.
How Long Term Travel and Dating Works
We Meet (and Date) More People
A lot of people back home who don’t travel may assume a solo traveler is a lonely person, doomed to a life of solitude. The reality is that it’s the opposite.
When you travel you constantly meet interesting and attractive people from all over the world. It’s simply inevitable that you’ll frequently encounter people you vibe with, on a platonic level and sometimes, on a romantic level.
So in contrast to what people might think, the dating pool for a traveler is actually way bigger.
My girlfriends back home often complain that they are always running into the same guys, or that each guy has already dated a mutual friend or is somehow connected to their circle in some other awkward way.
For travelers, each time we relocate, there are a lot of new people to meet. The constant refresh of new eligible people who come onto our radar, increases the chances and frequency of having what Jayda Pinkett Smith would call, an entanglement.
We Don’t Follow the Same Dating Rules
When you travel you are way more free than you are back home. One reason why is we don’t have our peers around us, potentially judging our behavior. It’s easier to be your authentic self, and go after what you really want.
Likewise, travelers generally don’t follow the norms of dating etiquette. You don’t have to wait 2 days to text a guy back, or risk looking desperate. This along with the other mindless games we play in the “normal world” don’t really work in the travel world.
Our time with someone new is always limited to how long we are both in this place. We don’t have as much time to play the long game, and therefore things are usually more straightforward. Which brings me to the next point.
Things Move Fast
It’s not uncommon for people to become close really fast when you meet on the road. It’s partly because we know we have limited time with anyone we meet, and partly maybe due to the passion brought about by travel itself.
When you’re in a new place experiencing amazing things, it’s easy to open up your heart and in turn, feel more connected to those around you.
Travel romances generally move fast. You can meet someone one day, and be traveling to another country with him the next week.
You can meet someone once, and visit them in their country just a few weeks later.
It sound crazy to some, but it fits the travel lifestyle. Long term travelers have no plan anyway. We are basically just waiting to see which way the wind blows us, and if you meet someone you like, thats enough reason to reroute your sails temporarily.
Short Term Relationships
What usually happens, especially when you date other travelers, is that you have an unspoken rule that once one person leaves, it’s over. I guess you could say we are serial casual daters, or f*ckbois. Whichever term you prefer, I accept it.
But sometimes you will date someone who isn’t a traveler, but a local in the place you visit. This person may not have the same expectations as you. This person may actually want something more permanent. That’s where things can get awkward, or you could be faced with having to make potentially trip disrupting decisions.
Where Things Go Wrong
A traveler, especially the solo type, is usually someone who really values freedom. We travel for ourselves after all, and love to narrate our own life story alone.
Some travelers are not looking for something serious. A relationship would potentially unravel our independent lifestyle, and some of us aren’t looking for that.
But what happens when you meet someone special on the road? What if things start to become more serious? Well, there are really only 2 ways it can work: either you move to where they live, or travel together. It sounds simple and logical, but both options are anything but those two things.
Are Travelers Selfish?
It’s possible that maybe as a traveler, we are a little selfish. Whatever it is that drives you to want to travel and see the world, at least a part of that drive comes from the wish to fulfill selfish needs, such as fun and novelty.
It’s hard for someone who is used to going it alone, and having an amazing time doing what they are currently doing, to want to overturn that life completely.
In a way, maybe we are selfish and that’s why it’s hard for travel romances to ever last. How can we commit to a person if we can’t even commit to a postal code?
Traveling as a Couple
There are loads of couples that do meet while traveling and chose to make it work. While it can happen, it likely comes with sacrifices.
We may assume that if two people like to travel, and they like each other, then they’ll like traveling with each other. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
There are a lot of potential obstacles that come with traveling as a couple that you may not realize.
For one, we should consider the fact that people have differences in travel styles. A girl who is a digital nomad who needs a cushy accommodation and work space, may not be compatible with a backpacker who sleeps in hostels or his sleeping bag.
Then there’s the issues of different passports and visas. If you are dating someone from another country, it’s possible that they can’t enter some countries that you can. If they can, it’s possible that it will cost a lot, or they will have a limited window of time in the country.
Traveling as a couple can be infinitely rewarding, but also unbelievably challenging (I know from experience) if you don’t communicate your expectations and aren’t open to adjusting some of your current lifestyle to fit your new person.
Long Distance Relationships
If you meet someone on the road, and it seems to be working out, chances are, that the person you fall for doesn’t come from the same country as you. Even if they do, it’s unlikely they are from the exact same city.
Moving to a new place, especially a new city is hard even under normal circumstances. So it rarely happens fast, if ever at all.
Or, one of you may still want to travel, and aren’t ready to end your trip to relocate for your relationship yet.
So the only option left is to be in a long distance relationship. I don’t need to explain why these suck, but sometimes this is the only option.
You may go long stretches of time, not knowing when you’ll see each other again. One of you may still be traveling, and the other person will probably experience jealousy at some point.
Long distance works for a few, while it totally fails for most. There’s no one size fits all for everyone, but if you can maintain a high level of trust, communication and respect, it can work. It ultimately depends on the two people involved and how much of those 3 things they are able to give from far away.
Is There Any Hope for Travel Romances?
But it’s not all doom and gloom for travel romances. There absolutely are couples that meet while traveling that are very happy. I meet them all the time and their stories are always super cute and heartwarming.
But, even if you only have short flings while traveling, there is nothing less meaningful about that. Travel teaches us that everything is temporary anyway, and how to enjoy what’s right in front of us while it’s there. There is only the here and now, and that’s enough.
Broken Hearts Heal Faster on the Road
Even if you find yourself in an entanglement that ends, or doesn’t go the way you wished, don’t worry. Broken hearts heal faster on the road.
There was the time I wrote a love letter to the guy at the Turkish Airlines check in counter before boarding my flight. He called me that day and the entanglement began. I even considered staying in Istanbul long term for him, but our situation quickly went south due to cultural differences. What did I do? I booked the next one way flight to Jordan.
Then there was the time I had a weird drawn out entanglement with a guy I met on my birthday in Greece. I visited and stayed with him a few times over a couple years. When it stopped being fun? I booked a flight to Paris and never looked back.
Anyways, you get the idea. While a heartbreak back home may need time to heal, when traveling, the healing process can be as quick and simple as moving to another city.
So when it come to travel romances, one doesn’t need to overthink it. Just enjoy it for what it is, and when the time comes it’s easy to reset and start over.
Travel Romances are Just Part of Travel
And finally, you can just accept that travel romances do happen, and whether or not they work out, in the end these are just people that you met on the road, who became a part of your journey.
People are truly the best part about travel, and if you got to experience a part of your trip getting close to someone, it’s just another part of your travel story.
Generally, I still keep in touch with all the men I’ve dated on the road, and we are on good terms. I maintain good memories on the times we shared.
A Travel Love Story
And for the guy from the beginning of this article? Well, I continued to travel Asia for the next 5 months, while continuing to talk to the cute European guy from Chiang Mai (I think I even saved his name in my phone like that for a while). We dated long distance for 5 months, and he asked me to move in with him. We reunited in Iceland, and now still live and travel together 2 years later.
And over to you! What’s your take on travel romances? What’s your wildest love story from the road, I’d love to know below!