“Isn’t it hard to have a relationship when you are traveling all the time? Do you ever have a girlfriend?” people often ask in response to hearing about my perpetual solo travels.
The brutal truth is that yes, it’s very hard to have and maintain a long-term relationship when you travel.
One of the major downsides to long-term travel is the perpetual singleness that goes along with it. When you are always on the move, you are never in one place long enough to build a lasting relationship with someone. Right as it’s about to blossom, it’s time for you…or them…to go.
But while relationships are difficult to keep, they do happen.
Years ago, I was in Cambodia. While talking to some other backpackers, a group of Swedish girls sat down next us. One caught my eye. Or, more accurately, I caught her eye. When the group went out later, the girl and I talked mostly to each other. Four months later, we were saying goodbye in Bangkok as she boarded a flight back to Stockholm.
Once, on a tour of Uluru in Australia, I struck up a conversation with a German girl. She became my travel partner for 2 months in Australia. I stayed at her place in Brisbane and we met up again in Amsterdam the following year.
Then there was the Austrian girl I dated while living in Taiwan. We kept going when she moved back to Vienna but after awhile the truth became painfully obvious: she didn’t want to leave Vienna and I wasn’t ready to live there.
Finding romance on the road isn’t hard.
But finding long-term romance is.
In all my situations, as much as we try to keep it going with visits here or a vacation there, it was just too hard keep. Absence makes the heart grow fonder for only a certain period of time.
After awhile, it forgets.
Every day all over the world, thousands of travelers get together and then quickly say goodbye as they move to the next city. Finding something that lasts more than a few days?
It’s hard but not impossible. I’ve met lots of couples who have met while traveling. I even attended the wedding of one couple who met on a beach in Thailand.
But what makes those relationships work is that eventually someone moves. Or maybe they both move. But someone changes their life – and you need to be ready to do that.
While a lot people wish to find that special someone while sitting on a beach in Bali or exploring the streets of Paris. We have this idealistic notion of travel romance. However, the realities of your route, time tables, or flights often get in the way and it becomes much harder to really keep things going. One of you eventually is going a different way.
You are going right, they are going left and neither wants to go the other way.
So what do people have on the road then? What I call “destination relationships.” You meet someone, you hit it off, and, for that place and time, you are together. When it is time for someone to leave, the relationship ends.
Bonds form very quickly on the road, whether a friendship or a relationship. Without “life” getting in the way, people become instant best friends. And, in this case, instant couples. You don’t think about tomorrow or the person’s past. You simply enjoy each others’ company for as long as it will last. Maybe that’s 4 months in Southeast Asia. Maybe it’s a few weeks up the east coast of Australia. Or maybe it is just that week together in Amsterdam.
Destination relationships give travelers a chance at human contact — but without all the messy emotions that so often get involved. There’s no baggage. There’s a clear start and end date. There are no messy breakups. Often times you remain good friends. I still talk to the girls I’ve dated on the road. We had each other and then we both moved on.
No hard feelings.
No nasty breakups.
People travel to explore the world for themselves, which is why so few people change their plans, even after they meet someone. It’s a big step to change your whole trip around or stop it completely because of someone else. That puts a lot of pressure on the relationship, and, most of the time, no one ever wants to think “What if I had kept traveling…” I’m a believer that if things are meant to be, they will work out. If you meet someone and it’s meant to be, it will work. Maybe not right now, but in the future.
Because if you both feel the same way, you will make it work. You’ll find a compromise. Travel romances are like all other long-distance romances – hard, challenging, and, sadly, with a horrible failure rate.
But when they work, they are perfection (and I am envious of all my friends who have found it).
It would be nice to have something long-term. I’d love to have a travel partner to explore the world with. Maybe one day I’ll check into a hostel, find my counterpart, and we’ll travel the world together.
But, until that happens, I’ll be out there on the road because, what’s more important than finding love, is finding myself.