Digital Nomad / The Fablab

Love & Travel: How to Survive a Travel Romance

I’m 30 and have been on the road for five years. I’ve lived in more countries and changed cities more often than I can recall, and lived more travel romances than I could wish for.

Although I have never regretted this lifestyle one single second, there’s been one issue that’s kept nagging at me: a life of travel hasn’t allowed me to build a lasting love relationship. On the contrary, it’s had the unfortunate tendency to pave my way with more short romances than my heart could beg for. Sweet beginnings and bitter ends included.

Now. While I could write volumes on love while traveling, this article will focus on those bitter ends specifically, and how to overcome them when you’re a single woman on the road and still want two things: pursue your travel dream AND fall in love.

Travel romance
Photo credit: Jay Carpio

Is it okay to want to travel long-term and still look for love?

This question is rather at the bottom of it. I found out through conversations with friends that it is a very common dilemma in long-term travelers, especially women. Until recently, I also kept pretending none of my travel romances mattered. But in the meantime, each of them was killing me a little bit more inside when they ended. The worst part was there was apparently no one else to blame but myself.

As Nomadic Matt puts very well in his article Can You Find Love On The Road?, a nomadic lifestyle doesn’t exactly sets the ideal conditions for an easy relationship. So it is only understandable that the attempts at those should remain attempts. However, some time ago, I got tired of the feeling. I got really tired of living the same very successful heartaches. So I decided to look for reconciliation. Stop traveling and settle down to create the opportunity of a stable relationship? Yes, that would work and that’s what your family and friends with their own expect you to do. But it was out of the question for me. So was becoming a nun or only hooking up for casual sex — thank you for your service, bye. So, what was left?

Learn to better deal with the inevitable end of travel romances: that’s what was left. Well, I certainly don’t hold the truth and this is only one way to deal with it. But maybe it can open a door in case you find yourself in the same intolerable middle-zone I was stuck in for years. It’s not a miracle solution, but a possible mindset so you won’t have to give up entirely on either your dream or your wish for love. Okay, spoiler alert: you can have to give up a little bit, but not everything.

Three years back, I was traveling in Taiwan and I had my first meaningful travel romance. He was handsome, passionate, eager, cute af and of course, had the same travel dream in him. Apparently, he found me attractive too and some serious flirting finally got us to an improvised trip to Okinawa. Oh, I am still smiling at the memories. We connected, really liked each other, felt lucky we’d met (his words). But — we were both travelers, living a traveler’s tale.

Relationships while traveling: the impossible truth?

Now that I know better, I know I should have ended it at the end of Okinawa instead of staying in the uncomfortable no man’s land where you leave open the possibility to meet again without ever making clear plans about it. But that’s okay, we’ve all been there: when you feel comfortable with someone, both physically and mentally, you just want to carry on despite all odds. You want to know more of that person, to feel more, you don’t want it to end, because right, it just felt amazing!

But bad idea. For the following months, I could not let that go and lived in the delusion that since our encounter had been SO meaningful, then we surely cared enough to meet again. At least, I did. Therefore I made plans to make our re-encounter easier: I booked a ticket back to south-east Asia as soon as I could and he agreed to meet me there. But life had other plans. Surprise! We did not meet again and it ended not so well: the in-between zone never got clarified, he met someone else, I found out on Facebook one week before flying. End of the story.

So far for one bitter end. That’s when you start wondering: what just happened? Did I make the wrong decision? Why did we even talk about meeting again? Didn’t it mean anything to each other? Did he lie to me? Was I a complete fool? What am I even doing here?

The answer is: life happened. Love happened. And travel happened. The connection did exist and we’d loved each other, in the broad sense of the term. But the timing was right only for… a travel romance!

Travel romance
Photo credit: Karsten Winegeart

Do you really think you haven’t found love?

You might and you will most likely feel rejected when your travel romance doesn’t bend their plans for you. It hurts your ego, especially when you wanted to make it happen (or thought you did). Like any romantic disappointment, it can even make you feel worthless, angry. Angry and sad. And it’s okay to be sad. What to do then? Well… you are going to have to wash the anger and the sadness away.

The fact that a chapter is ending doesn’t mean it wasn’t written. It doesn’t mean the feelings you had for each other were not true and you have been lied to (although no end is easy to deal with, so it might involve some dishonesty or cowardice but hey, we’re sometimes… definitely not the best version of ourselves).

It doesn’t mean you haven’t loved and been loved. Only that your love was circumscribed in time and space. But it was there and it made your heart grow. So honour your feelings and after that, gracefully let them in the past where they belong.

You have been hurt, and you will heal

Of course, I’m trying to give advice now but I was obviously hurt when that man didn’t come to meet me in Vietnam as we had planned. I was hurt but you know, I was also okay: I was in a new country, an entirely new city. Hanoi? I don’t know if when I landed, you really had what it takes to make me heal, but I made you heal me. I am a traveler and this is what travelers do: embrace new places and let them seduce you, flirt with them and finally let them make love to you (but always protected, mind you).

Don’t get me wrong: the feeling I had been let down did drag me down for a while. I got into all sorts of relationships in Hanoi. The sort that does not make you smile. The sort that does not spiral the right way, only because you think you HAVE TO make them the “right one”, because you believe you won’t have the strength to handle another heartbreak again.

Well, girl (or boy), woman up (yeah even you, boy).

You will have the strength.

You will have the strength because you’ve come all that way. You’ve traveled over twenty countries on your own and you’ve met hundreds of people who’ve made their own amazing path, road, a highway for some, through this world.

You will have the strength, because…
… remember that last story that ended? You stood up again after that, maybe with the help of an ice cream or ten but who cares, everybody loves gelato.
… and if you learn your lesson this time, just like all the other times it went south, there will be more and better for you.

Do you want to carry on traveling because it’s your dream and it makes you happy? Do it! The more you do it, the more you will be fulfilled.

Travel romance: love on the road
Photo credit: Nicole Geri

To travel and still want to find love: how it works

What I’m trying to say here is that you don’t need to give up on your dreams or your quest for love. For it is an honorable and humane quest. Those who say they don’t need love are either liars or stones.

But what you need to give up on is the idea that you will find a miracle: the partner you meet at a party hostel who will suddenly stick with you, cross the oceans three times to come back to you and settle somewhere you both like without even working on it, all that in a timeframe of four months? Nope.

And the next thing you need to give up on is the feeling of guilt that overwhelms you when your romance ends. I know it can feel like failing, again and again, and you will think you’re the one to blame for choosing this life that makes you so happy, yet so miserable. But it is not your fault. It is who you are, right now, right here.

One day, when building a more stable relationship becomes your priority over traveling, when you feel that you’re ready to live that adventure fully, you might just feel that slowing down on travel does not feel so much like giving up anymore. Then you will be ready, and there will be no shame in that either.

This is the way you have chosen. And those who have chosen the road less traveled might have it a bit more challenging.

You are worthy and you can be brave.

You must keep doing what makes you full and happy.

You can be strong and strong-willed.

You must go towards people who make your heart grow.

Allow those people close to you, friends and lovers. Love them, let them love you. In time, let them walk away. Leaving does not make you or them evil, you don’t need to hold grief. Move on. You’re a traveler. The move is what you do best, isn’t that right? So move and go find more.

And don’t you worry. If by any chance, one person you’ve crossed paths with, you’ve given yourself to, you’ve loved sincerely… is “the one”, then love will come around eventually.

Until your next meaningful encounter, continue roaming this world. Give, love, have fun, be genuine, express your feelings, and trust.

Let no one ever define who you are or where to stay, but let love tell you one truth: you are enough. And most of all, remember that however bad this last romance has made you feel, it doesn’t mean you can’t love again.

This article is a repost of a text I first published on Medium in 2019: How to Deal with Travel Romances? For further reading, I tackled the same theme in another article I wrote for Lonely Planet: How to Find – and Survive – a Holiday Romance.

survive a travel romance
Photo credit: Sasha Freemind

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