You proceed to spend the rest of your allotted time in this very magical city laying the foundation for this vacation romance, building it up to its most resplendent. You make a year’s worth of memories in a week. You do all these things together that couples don’t normally do back home — like jumping off a cliff into the ocean, or cage diving with sharks– –because damnit, if you’re going to have a story to tell when you go back home, it better be one that will drive your friends into a wistful envy over the supreme beatitude of your wanderlust life. Because — well, see, that’s the thing. Because even you know that soon enough, you will be back home. Even you recognize the expiration date stamped all over this whirlwind romance. You, of all people, see the imminent end to your travel romance more clearly than you give yourself credit for. Which just about brings me to my first lesson.
1. Falling in love while traveling is not the same as falling in love back home.
After all, it does seem to play out like the most picturesque of dreams — you travel to a new exotic land, meet a stranger that sweeps you off your feet, and you fall hopelessly and passionately in love. You barely know this person and under normal circumstances that would be more than enough to sound all the alarms. Yet, for some reason, feelings flourish on a whole different curve altogether when you’re on a foreign geographical coordinate, and you can’t stop mulling over how everything about this feels right.
There is something highly enchanting about the bond that connects two souls when they’re both out of their comfort zones. Things that would typically take months to develop now take mere weeks to establish. By the end of the first day, you know almost everything about his family, including his sisters’ names and his younger brother’s asthma allergies; and by the third, you’re both well-acquainted with each other’s pasts. The constant highs of discovery — be it over a new location, food, culture, or just simply each other — creates a delirium that will carry itself over to the actual relationship if one is ever eventually forged. And while it all sounds very wild, exciting, courageous and passionate, most of the time, it really isn’t. In fact, all you have done is created a benchmark that will prove hard to surpass the second you’re away from each other and back in your respective homelands. After all, your very first days with this newfound love were spent exploring caves and limestone cliffs, parasailing, bathing in waterfalls and petting baby cheetahs at the safari. So now what? Video calls, texts, and the occasional picture messages?
Sometimes, that plunge alone is enough to kill off any relationship; and the sad truth is, while travel love often starts off exhilarating, highly quixotic, and fully equipped with the ability to fly your heart to places it’s never been, the magic of it all rarely lingers on once the grubby hands of reality works its way back into your everyday lives.
2. You may not actually be in love with him.
Ever been in love with the notion of something much more than the actual reality of it? This is exactly what I mean when I say that you may not actually be in love with him. Travelling to a foreign land presents a multitude of new experiences that could influence your feelings. When planning your trip — whether your conscious of it or not – you’ll often zone in on charming and romanticized places; add to that the history, culture and breathtaking nature and architecture, and falling in love becomes almost an effortless endeavor – both with the place you’re visiting and with the people you meet. Your senses are constantly stimulated as you move around in search of excitement and new adventures. Throw a guy in, mix it with all these tumultuous feelings and emotions that you’re already experiencing, and suddenly, there are forty shades of grey areas where everything becomes hard to distinguish. Are you really in love with him, or are you in love with the idea of falling in love while travelling? Is he really someone you can picture spending the rest of your life with, or is he just a very refreshing breather from the mundane 9-5 you live out back home? Don’t get me wrong, I constantly see and read about people who have forged a serious relationship out of a travel romance; but more often than not, that very same level of symmetry that makes a person seem so perfect for you at first, suddenly just ends up causing everything to feel so… wrong, the minute you step foot on home soil.
3. Always look out for yourself.
I’m not saying that this world is a gigantic sphere of evil just lurking in the corner waiting to trip us all when the chance presents itself, but for the sake of our young starry-eyed girls who travel with the purpose of finding their own fairytale, this lesson is listed if, for nothing else, then to serve as a gentle caution for their idealistic minds.
Note that every year, thousands of young, beautiful girls like yourself set foot abroad looking for an adventure of a lifetime. Whether it’s a gap year, a working holiday or just a short getaway designed to reboot yourself, you’re probably telling yourself the same thing that everyone else is: Go where the wind takes you and don’t hold back.
While this may be a good mantra to help bring out your inner wayfaring spirit, sometimes, it blinds you to the true intentions of other people. Especially if you meet the man-of-your-dreams at a club or a crazy all-nighter beach party, take everything in with a pinch of salt and protect yourself from getting too serious too soon. Just because he is willing to sit through five cocktails with you as you recap your sandbox days, doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s actually into you. In fact, that’s probably just a small price for him to pay for what comes after your blabbering has stopped: you know, when you have single-handedly worked yourself into a tipsy state where you can really “go where the wind takes you and not hold back.”
If you’re in for a good time too and you’ve got your own emotional boundaries sorted, then certainly all’s well as long as you keep your head on your shoulders. But if not, then for the love of whatever is sacred in this world, have your own back because no one else will. Don’t get too emotionally invested in what is not even there. Remember that while you may be sitting there gazing into his Tenerife blue eyes with the names of your kids all picked out, he may have just sized you up as nothing more than a travel fling. After all, different people have different definitions of what constitutes a good time, and chances are, you probably aren’t his first holiday “getaway” either.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying that all guys are jerkholes. I’m saying that more often than not, they’re just way more rational than we are. Sometimes, they may even like you a lot — just maybe not enough to put themselves through the trials of living out a long-distance relationship afterwards. Therefore, if you’re not into the “carpe diem” way of life, it’s best you hold your beating heart still. Guys are generally better at “living for the moment,” and more importantly, compartmentalizing when it comes to emotions vs. lust. And in all honestly, you’d be wise to do the same.
4. It almost always does end.
With the proliferation of technology comes an endless string of promises to stay in touch: emails, texts, Snapchats, Skype — you name it, the promises encompass it. Occasionally, you do fall for a sweetheart who promises and actually does write you a postcard (you lucky witch), and your solemn goodbyes are followed through with the initial weeks of constant messaging and video calling. There is that daily heart wrenching ache of missing each other so badly at the beginning, but no matter how painful it gets, you both eventually learn to fall back into your old routines and grudgingly pick up where you left off. You may hate to admit it at first, but you’ll learn that life really does go on no matter how sure you are that it wouldn’t. Hours will turn into days will turn into weeks will turn into months, and somewhere, somehow, the distance will become too much. The time span between each video call will get longer and more awkward, the text messages shorter and less affectionate; and eventually, you will find yourself sitting in a corner of your room, wondering what it was exactly that made it all feel like love in the first place.
Just as we cannot avoid love in our daily lives, we cannot possibly avoid love in our travels too. A good adventure is always more than something you will remember for the rest of your life; it is something that will change the rest of your life. Perhaps some people were made to cross our paths for brief moments and yet still touch our souls more than the others — even when we set out with a guarded heart. After all, why else do we find so much redemption in baring our souls to people we’ve just met, as opposed to people we’ve known all our lives?
If you asked me, maybe the saddest part about travel love isn’t that it almost always comes to an end. Maybe the saddest part is that, often, the ones we are able to form the deepest, most emotional connections with, are the ones we know we are not destined to spend the rest of our lives knowing.