I stepped out of the train on an unfamiliar platform.
The sun was setting behind a cluster of industrial buildings crouched behind the wired fence that surrounded the station. It shone into my eyes and blinded me, and for a moment I could pretend my eyes stung because of the bright light. I had to move to the shade to be able to see my phone screen.
My stomach was a dark, heavy mass as if something made of stone had made its home there.
‘It’s like I never even mattered to you’, I texted him back.
The tone of his response felt like a shrug. ‘You do. But you’re leaving soon, you know?’
Eight months after I’d been dumped in a text message on my way to see the boy, I moved to Poland.
I had sworn I would keep off Tinder at first, but it’s the curiosity that gets the cat to date strangers on the internet. On my first night in Krakow, I unpacked my things and then lay on an unmade bed swiping through the app. It was fun to see what was on offer at my new home town. Polish boys didn’t interest me much: they were too blonde and looked too hard, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend telling me that Polish guys all look like the former Pope. Fair, since the former Pope actually was Polish.
Luckily, Krakow is the Central European hub for Erasmus students, expats on a gap year and foreign start-up souls, and there were plenty of foreigners to date.
I went out with a guy who asked me exactly two questions during the date: how are you in the beginning, and if I wanted another beer in the middle.
I went out with a guy who went full Schmosby and told me he loved me the night he met me, then skipped town without saying goodbye while I was away on a weekend trip.
I went out with a guy who lived 35 minutes away from me and would text me to come over in 10 minutes.
Occasionally, someone asked me that dreaded question: What are you looking for on here? I never knew what to say. It felt like having The Talk even before even having a talk.
I dodged it, gracefully I supposed but in truth more wrapped in cynicism than I wanted to admit: ‘Well, I’m only here for four months, so obviously nothing serious.’
At that time, it made sense. I liked Krakow, but after a few weeks I knew I couldn’t imagine myself staying there. And I had all these plans – to travel, to move to Spain or perhaps to Colombia, to spend slow afternoons in foreign cafés working on a script that had, formless, been brewing in my mind since I was a little girl… And everything else was just garnish. Falling in love seemed like a pretty rain of confetti, joyous but distracting from the life I was trying to build.
But if I was so content, why would I come home after a night out, quietly sitting on the edge of my bed, staring at empty hands and feeling nothing?
I think there used to be a stigma against paired-up travel girls in the solo female travel community in the past. Solo female travel was supposed to make you feel empowered, strong and capable, and most female travel bloggers made it a point to emphasize how happy they were without a partner by their side. It felt like wanting a relationship could somehow be viewed as a weakness, like selling out.
But now Instagram is full of travel couples. Those who have been together for years are shifting their focus from adventure travel to family travel. And suddenly I don’t feel so silly saying that that’s what I want too.
It took me a while to realise what I was doing. Without the intent to, I had internalized the excuse a terrible ex had given as a reason not to date me, and I was making it a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Dating in 2019 is tough.
Dating in 2019 is hard, no matter what. Changed attitudes towards casual relationships and the dating apps that facilitate that have led to a generation of people who are ready for commitment at a much later age, if at all. You can never be sure if someone is truly romancing you or just playing the field.
When things eventually do fall apart, we feel disappointed but not surprised. How many times have you heard one of your friends utter, ‘It’s not going to last anyway.’ How did the generation raised on Disney’s fairy tales become so cynical? It’s almost like we have given up before we’ve even begun.
And if it’s hard to find a steady relationship under normal conditions, imagine living your life out of a backpack. When you meet someone, the countdown to goodbye starts immediately. You can try to make it work but how much can you really promise? You might not even know which continent you’ll be on in two months. So why even try?
Travel romances usually have an expiry date.
Many people find love while travelling. Many more break their heart, either as they watch their unsteady long-distance relationship slowly fall apart, or as their lover changes their mind and decides that the vacay fling is not worth chasing.
Backpackers are notorious for flash romances. While travelling, even short moments together are usually so intense and full of adventure that leaving feels like breaking off a six-month relationship.
On the other hand, travelling folks tend to be more solution-oriented, flexible and adventurous than most people. If they meet someone interesting, they might be able to adjust their route and start travelling together.
Whether the relationship ends abruptly or continues, you have to go through hard talks in a very early phase of the relationship. A travel romance rarely has the potential to grow organically like one at home would. Having to make life-altering decisions when you barely know the other person puts a lot of strain on the relationship, and that’s probably why most choose to leave it without even giving it a proper shot.
Having difficult conversations becomes harder if you don’t share a language.
If you’re dating while travelling, chances are you’ll match with someone who doesn’t have the same native language as you.
How much common ground can you find in a relationship that is rife with misunderstandings and linguistic shortcomings? How much of the other person can you really get to know through patchwork conversation? I often think of that one episode of Modern Family where Gloria yells: ‘You don’t have any idea how smart I am in Spanish!’ A lot gets lost in translation – intelligence, humour, empathy.
Or could it help? I recently made friends with a Spanish girl who is dating an Israeli. They communicate in English. As we were pondering all the different aspects that come with dating someone who doesn’t share your language, she said that it has actually helped her become better at arguing. If she was talking Spanish, getting angry would be easy. When she is speaking English, which she isn’t fully fluent in yet, she has to think of her words a lot more carefully for them to make sense. And that pause gives her enough time to be able to argue more rationally than emotionally.
Still, it can be incredibly frustrating trying to communicate when you lack the right words.
What if you stopped telling yourself all the reasons it can’t be and asked this simple question instead:
What if it works?
Sometimes it’s hard to keep going when it feels like you’ve lost all faith; like you keep throwing yourself into new romance over and over again but just end up falling on your ass. People telling you that you’re just too picky or you should just put yourself out there sounds ridiculous because at this point, you’d date almost anyone.
But let me tell you: You’re not alone in this. You’re not the only lonely one out there. And there is definitely nothing wrong with you.
I can’t tell you that your luck is about to change. I can’t possibly know that. But what I do know is: when you’re travelling, you’re more open to new opportunities. You’re meeting more people than you would at home. And the people you meet tend to share the same attitude towards life as you – after all, it takes a certain kind of soul to find enjoyment in lugging their whole life on their back and sharing rooms with snoring strangers.
Meeting so many different kinds of people makes you more culturally conscious and open-minded, and you might even find yourself head over heels for someone who you might’ve not considered a prospect before. It also makes you a diplomat: between compromises and common dreams, you’ll end up forging a relationship so strong it could undergo any bad weather.
It might not last. But if it does, it will be the love story of the century.
Dating as a travelling girl is not simple.
I deleted Tinder off my phone a few months ago. It doesn’t serve me anymore. I want to believe that what you put out there is what you also get back; and while looking for something real, there isn’t a place for me in an app that caters to people looking for hollow, disposable relationships.
It is a precarious road, to wait. It is so easy to get used to the loneliness, embrace it and envelope yourself in it, that any opportunities you might find turn into threats to your comfortable solitude. The thought of falling in love feels intimidating: it would mean turning your whole life upside down and rearranging your plans. It could mean the end to your freedom.
I haven’t shaved my legs in so long that the brittle black hair has again turned soft and wispy. At this point I’m not sure if I’m completely undateable or just unreachable because I’ve chosen to isolate myself. I love to spend my free evenings reading books or planning my next travels. I am so, so in love with this world that sometimes I forget that I’m not in love with anyone else.
The boy who broke up with me over text fifteen minutes before our date once told me that one day I would have to stop leaving all the time. Now he is married to his ex, and I am still single. Maybe he was right; maybe the only way for me to be happy is to settle down. But one part of me – the loud, the bold, the stubborn adventuress – thinks that the right person will prefer me unrooted because he will be like that too, with a plane ticket in hand and a beat-up backpack hoisted up one shoulder.
I think I will like that.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts too, whether on dating these days in general or dating while travelling. Have you ever had a travel romance? Did it last?