What’s So Bad About Falling In Love On The Road?
“Whatever you do, don’t fall in love.” This is the advice my resident advisor gave me when he found out I was heading to England to study abroad for a semester during my senior year. It has stuck with me ever since, not because I thought it was a good bit of wisdom, but because I found it to be a completely useless and ridiculous thing to tell someone, especially someone with the heart of an adventurer.
Let me tell you why this is a terrible piece of advice.
In my mind, it assumes that falling in love abroad can only end badly: either you have to give up everything back home to be with this person, you return home completely devastated because you had to break up, or maybe you try to make the long-distance thing work for a while but eventually it fails and again you end up heartbroken and miserable.
But as an avid traveler who has loved and lost many times while abroad, I refuse to believe that these are the only options. For one thing, what is so terrible about heartbreak? We’ve all experienced it in some way or another and will experience it again and again throughout our lives. Heartbreak is simply part of being human and you can’t have pleasure and joy without pain and sadness. It is the expectation that something will last forever that leads to so much pain when it inevitably ends.
I have had my heart broken many times for many reasons and as much as it sucks, I know that each experience teaches me something and helps me grow a little more. Every time we enter into a relationship with someone, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of ending up hurt. This is true no matter who we date or where in the world we live.
Why deny ourselves the fun of falling in love abroad just because we are afraid there is greater potential for heartbreak? If you are lucky enough to fall in love and have your heart broken many times throughout your life, I consider that a luxury and a blessing, not a burden.
I am strongly against the idea that “the one” is out there for each of us: how silly to think that there is only one person on this entire earth with whom we can be in a happy and healthy relationship! I believe each of us has thousands of soulmates strewn across the planet and each time we connect deeply with someone, lover or friend, it is because we have met one of our many soulmates. To me, that is much more uplifting than the idea that I will only be happy if I find the one person out of seven billion who is “meant for me.”
You know that quote, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”? I know it seems trite, but it really is spot on. Think back to someone you have loved deeply who is no longer a part of your life, or whose relationship with you has changed. Most of us would agree that even if we could go back in time and stop ourselves from ever meeting that person, we wouldn’t want to because they added to our lives in some way, or were an important part of our story. Maybe we even learned a valuable lesson from that person that has helped us move forward in our other relationships.
When I lived in New Zealand for six months, I had a wonderful but tumultuous relationship with a lovely man I met there during a time when we were both exploring polyamory and dating multiple people. Though it was a difficult relationship that eventually ended, we had so many good conversations and fun adventures together. The intensity of our connection forced us both to step back and consider what it was we wanted in a partner and to explore the question of whether we were really ready for that kind of relationship. Despite it ending after only a few months, we both took a lot away from the experience and I will always be grateful for our time together. Our connection was never meant to last forever.
Which leads to my next question: Why does it have to be heartbreaking to love someone and then say goodbye? Why do we always think that love has to last forever or else it’s a tragedy? Just because a relationship ends does not mean it was a failure or didn’t mean anything. A brief but intense romantic relationship can be just as meaningful as one that lasts 10 years.
Throughout my travels, I have experienced many brief but significant connections, both platonic and romantic, and each one has contributed to my life in a positive way. It is up to each of us to get the most out of our relationships and to figure out what lesson each one has to teach us.
Traveling has a way of opening us up to connections that don’t arise quite as easily when we are in the comfort bubble of our daily routines. When we’re in a foreign country where we don’t know the roads, the customs, or the language, we are forced to ask for help from strangers, to undergo uncomfortable experiences without our best friends by our side, to explore new places with people we barely know.
For me, this is one of the most amazing aspects of travel. The constant flow of new, uncomfortable, and exciting experiences enhances our ability to create deep, meaningful connections with new people that we may not have otherwise formed. Going through these types of experiences together creates unique bonds between people that often couldn’t be reached otherwise. This includes not only close friendships, but romantic relationships as well.
Think about everything you do in a week while you are at home and then think of everything you would do in a week if you were backpacking in Asia. Imagine sharing each of those weeks with another person, someone you had just met and were attracted to. Which of those weeks do you think would bring you closer together, provide you with more opportunities for romance, fond memories and stories to share later on?
It’s not that you can’t become quickly attached to someone during your everyday life, but in my experience, a week of traveling is equivalent to at least a month of dating in the “real world.” So why not take advantage of this accelerated timeline where you can pack a month’s worth of love, romance, and excitement into just one week? If nothing else, it’s incredibly efficient!
If I were to go into my travels thinking it was not a good idea to fall in love and I should avoid it if at all possible, I would miss out on so many great connections, simply for fear of having my heart broken! The people I have loved while traveling have helped me to create some of the formative experiences I’ve had and I can’t imagine having forgone those moments because I was afraid of falling in love.
Sure, it hurts to love someone and then have to say good bye, especially knowing you may never see them again. But you know what would break my heart even more? The thought that I had the opportunity for a unique, meaningful relationship and chose not to take it.
The many different kinds of relationships we have throughout our lives teach us so much about ourselves and the ways in which we interact with the world. They help us understand other cultures better and figure out new ways to relate to people. So many of us travel for the sake of personal growth — what better way to learn while traveling than to share your time with another complex human being who may open you up to a new perspective?
So what advice would I give to someone traveling abroad for the first time in her life?
Fall in love as often and as much as you possibly can. Go ahead, let a romantic relationship derail your carefully crafted travel plans, even if you know that it won’t last. Be open to changing your path, staying in one place longer than you intended, or inviting that person along to join you on your adventure.
I’m not saying that romance should be the goal of travel, or that it should come before everything else, but if the opportunity presents itself, why not enjoy it and just let it be whatever it will be? It’s OK to be flexible with your plans, to take a chance and not have it work out, to fall madly in love and have it be an amazing adventure, to get your heart broken, to pick up the pieces and move on to your next destination. It’s all part of the journey.
In the end, it is really up to each individual the meaning they give to their experiences. If you believe that falling in love and not having it last forever is a terrible thing, then it will be. But if you can open yourself up to the possibility that fleeting love in a foreign country can be a meaningful event that doesn’t have to end badly, then that will become your truth instead.
So don’t hold yourself back from falling in love when you travel any more than you would hold yourself back from falling in love back home. Let it be just another exciting part of your adventure, an opportunity to share a positive experience with someone amazing, and a wonderful addition to the story of your life.
Olive Ryan is a traveler, educator, blogger, photographer, lover of glitter and acroyoga enthusiast. Although her hometown is Portland, Oregon, she has lived in and explored many corners of the world and looks forward to spending the rest of her life doing so. Find more of her writing on her travel and wellness blog, OliveAbroad.com.