I met Johan* on one of my last nights in Paris. Tanned and muscular, I spotted him across a half-empty bar, sitting with a couple of his mates. My friend and I conveniently found empty seats next to them, and soon we were all chatting, a group of tourists in this foreign land. Johan was not only handsome, he was funny in a charmingly blunt way, throwing in a few Swedish words here and there to mess me up or to see my reaction. At the end of the evening, he asked me for my number.
After a series of very flirtatious texts over the next two days, we finally arranged to meet for dinner. I was returning to London the next morning, but he insisted on meeting up before I left. We spent some of my final hours in Paris eating escargot and steak tartar in a little bistro in the Latin Quarter, drinking far too much cheap wine out of glass jugs. Because it was a warm evening, we decided to go for a walk along the Seine; we walked hand in hand all the way to the Eiffel Tower, watched it glitter in the black sky. I swear to God that when we first kissed, I heard accordion music, as if a Parisian soundtrack was cued up and ready to play at any romantic occurrence.
“I’d like to come see you in London,” Johan nuzzled his face into my neck, his stubble brushing against my cheek.
“Really?” I laughed as coyly as I could. “Maybe. That might be nice.”
And inside, I was thinking: holy shit, can you imagine if I landed this hot Swedish dude as my boyfriend and we met in FUCKING PARIS?! And our first kiss was beside the EIFFEL TOWER, like something out of a made-for-TV movie?! DON’T SCREW THIS UP, BRENNA. I mean… c’mon. I was mentally high-fiving myself while simultaneously planning my new summer home in Sweden.
The next day I was beaming from ear to ear as Johan and I texted the entire time I was on the Eurostar back to London. And by the time the train had pulled into St. Pancras, Johan had booked a flight from Gothenburg to London in two weeks time. I was literally buzzing.
The next two weeks dragged; I simply couldn’t wait to see “the hot Swede”, as my friends and I had dubbed him. I bragged about him at the pub, I told all the juicy details to my coworkers, and I allowed myself to daydream about all of the fun things we’d do in London. Johan and I continued to text every day, and I got a rush of adrenaline every time I saw a message from him come through.
Finally, the day arrived. I was a bundle of nerves as I took the train to Heathrow Airport, constantly checking my phone and applying layer after layer of powder (this is why I never give myself too much time to get ready for a date; I’ll just nervously apply layers upon layers of makeup until my eyelashes are glued together and I have so much foundation on that I need a chisel to remove it). As crowds began to emerge from the baggage claim doors, my heart beat faster and faster still.
And then: I saw him. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t recognise him; we had only met a few times, after all, and had only exchanged texts since then. He walked toward me somewhat slowly; we had an awkward hug, but at least my nerves subsided a little bit.
“It’s good to see you,” we smiled at each other, still unsure what to do and say. We chatted about his flight, and about the train to London, all small talk to fill the air between us as we walked toward the Heathrow Express.
I can’t tell you the exact moment I realised I had made a huge mistake. Was it his orange track jacket and intentionally ripped jeans? No, I’m not that superficial, am I? (Don’t answer that) Was it the way he barged onto the train before me and a woman with a pram? Hmm, getting warmer. Was it when he told me he DIDN’T LIKE CHEESE OR… wait for it… DOGS?! Um, yes, we’re getting hotter still. Or perhaps it was this:
When I told him what I had told my friends – that I met a handsome stranger in Paris, and he had swept me off my feet – they all thought it was incredibly romantic that we were meeting for our second date in London. Some thought it was a bit crazy, but everyone said something cute or funny or encouraging.
“What did your friends say?” I asked him, smiling, obviously hoping for a similar answer.
“They said, ‘Good job, you’re going to get pussy’,” he responded, unflinching. I thought I had misheard him. Surely nobody in their right mind would admit that to someone they barely knew, even if it was true… English as a second language be damned. Right?!
Awkward as all hell, I laughed. “Um… really? That’s what they said? Were they joking??”
And in my mind I thought, Please be joking, please be joking, this might be an OK joke if he’s like, “No, of course they wouldn’t say that, we’re not Neanderthals,” or, “Gotcha! No, I’m not an asshole,” or “Ew, gross, no, who says pussy?” oh sweet Jesus, please be joking.
“No, they weren’t joking,” he reiterated, looking at me with nary a wisp of sarcasm.
So I take it back. Remember when I said I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I had made a huge mistake? I LIED. IT WAS RIGHT THEN – less than half an hour after greeting him. It was going to be a long 48 hours, I thought, as I stared straight ahead, my holiday goggles firmly ripped off.
I wish I could tell you that Johan was an anomaly – that these kinds of occurrences are few and far between. But I don’t hide the fact that I’ve enjoyed having travel romances over the past 12 years of solo travel; I often find it much easier to meet men when I’m travelling than it is when I’m settled at home. And while a lot of the travel romances I have stay exactly that – travel romances – a few have followed me home. But you know what they almost all have in common? Those damn holiday goggles.
Bear with me. You know the phrase beer goggles? Apparently, with each beer you drink, the person in front of you becomes more and more attractive. I’ll be the first to admit that this has happened to me once or twice (*cough* a dozen times *cough*) – emboldened by a few drinks, I’ll flirt with someone, agree to go out with someone, or even make out with someone I may not have been attracted to without the help of alcohol. Inevitably, the next morning, reviewing the conversation in my head, I’ll wonder what on earth I was thinking.
In those 12 years of travelling to nearly 100 countries, I’ve obviously met quite a few people I probably would have never met had I stayed in Winnipeg my entire life. While I feel incredibly grateful for all of my travel experiences, at the top of the list of my reasons for gratitude are the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. I have also met a handful (I can fit a lot in my hand, OK?) of people who have become romantic partners, some even turning into serious or semi-serious partners.
Through all those backpacking adventures, there were dozens of flirtations and brief encounters (though most of them have been firmly PG-13… hostels are great for meeting people but not for actually having any alone time). I’ve kissed a Serbian in Myanmar, a Welshman in Poland, a Kiwi in Honduras, an Irishman in Colombia, a Dane in Tanzania, an Argentinian in Norway, and a Norwegian in Argentina. I’ve gone on dates with a good chunk of representatives of the Commonwealth. Although I’ve dated Canadians, I’ve actually never had a Canadian boyfriend.
There was the American I met in Denmark; we made long distance work for nearly eight months. He was the first guy I was ever crazy head-over-heels for, and we would write these insanely long emails to each other every day. I wrote this story about him – one of my favourites on this blog – and the first half of this post, too.
There was the Aussie I met in Vietnam; we only knew each other for two days, and then, over daily Facebook chats, we arranged to meet up again in Sri Lanka. He later moved to Japan to be with me. We lasted over a year – I wrote this story about him, and it remains one of my favourite posts on this blog.
There was the other American I met in Thailand; although he was interested in my friend at first, a month later I found myself sitting beside him on a bus to Cambodia, and from then on we were inseparable. He even came to my dad’s wedding. We were together for eight months or so, and I wrote this story about him.
But there were lots of misses, too.
There was the Turkish man I met on Koh Lanta, Thailand, the first travel romance I had on my grand backpacking adventure of Southeast Asia. He wooed me for a full week, and then told me he had a fiancé back home. Four years later, back on Koh Lanta, I met an Englishman. He wooed me, too, even keeping up the charade for a couple of months when we were both back in the UK. After coming to visit me in London, he too confessed to having someone else in his life. Needless to say, I’m avoiding all travel romances on Koh Lanta from here on out.
In Cape Town, I made out with a hot cricket player that is apparently super famous in South Africa. All night people were coming up to us (let’s be honest, they were coming up to him) and buying us (him) drinks. I googled him the next day and found out he’s MARRIED. Married… WITH CHILDREN. I felt awful after that one, even though I couldn’t have known the night before.
A couple of years ago, there was an Italian. You didn’t think I kept going back to Italy just for the pasta, did you? OK, fair enough, the pasta actually is that good. He ended up ghosting me after months of daily conversations and international rendezvous. I was over the relationship at that point anyway, but I still expected a civilised goodbye.
And then, of course, there was Johan and his vomit-inducing remarks.
And while some of those travel romances – the American, the Aussie, the other American – turned into long-term things, the majority of the people I’ve met while travelling turn into nothing but a fun memory (or a good blog post, hah).
Let’s face it: many travel romances are doomed to fail. I’m not even talking about the fact that you may come from different cities or even countries, meaning it’s much more difficult to continue the relationship when you get home. When you travel, your senses are heightened; you’re open to new things, eager to experience it all, and everything and everyone seems exciting. Everything sparkles, everything feels shiny and new. You’re not just picking up girls or guys at your local bar, you’re chatting to strangers with accents on beaches and mountaintops and in cities you’re not quite sure you’re pronouncing properly. It all feels so terribly intoxicating, an unfamiliar rush of emotions and hormones. For example, as much as I’d love to say that a Canadian accent does it for me every time, the fact is, if you take an OK-looking guy with a dull personality but give him a Scottish accent, I’ll probably propose marriage within the first five minutes.
In my experience, all of these intensified emotions mean you’re not necessarily analysing your new potential partner with the same eyes. Would I still have been attracted to all of these men if we met at the grocery store down the road? I doubt it. With my holiday goggles removed, I understand that, for example, I was attracted to the Italian because he spoke Italian and lived in Italy. It sounds so horribly trite, but it’s true; we had almost nothing to talk about, and I found his opinions quite boorish and antiquated. Once the charm of the accent wore off, I was left feeling bored and angry with him. That dull Scottish guy I mentioned above? Maybe I’d propose immediately, but I’d probably ask for a divorce a week later once the pheromones wore off.
Combine those feelings of intense lust and longing with the time limit of a looming plane ticket home? Turns me into putty, every single time.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that holiday romances NEVER last, nor am I discouraging anyone from having them. I just know from *ahem* a bit of experience that there are plenty of other factors at play, ones that add up to an equation that means not all travel romances are destined for the long haul. While long distance relationships are certainly difficult – I’ve been in four – they are also doable if both parties are equally invested, and I know plenty of couples who have made it work despite the miles.
But hey – if a travel fling is all that you’re after, and your partner is up for the same thing, go forth and do your thing (safely, of course). I’ve worn my holiday goggles many times with pride, and have no regrets about any of the flirtations or the make outs (save the dudes with partners back home, that just ain’t cool). I also have to admit that some of the people I met travelling made for amazing holiday flings, but once we met up at home – without the palm trees and the suntans and the laid-back holiday attitudes – I felt that the magic was missing, and I’m sure they felt the same way. (I wrote a story all about that phenomenon that you can read here.)
And if things DON’T work out between you and your holiday romance, that’s OK, too. There were some guys I knew for certain would just be a fun flirtation, but there were others – the American, the Aussie, and the other American – that I truly wanted in my life. I was incredibly sad when those relationships didn’t work out, but now, looking back at them, I appreciate what they taught me. In fact, all travel romances, no matter their length, have shown me a lot: they gave me amazing memories of places – how many people can say they’ve made out in front of the Eiffel Tower?! – and they also gave me an appreciation for other cultures and ways of looking at life.
Oh yeah, and the reason those long-term travel romances didn’t work out? They weren’t necessarily because they began as a holiday fling. In the end, regardless of how we met, those relationships just weren’t meant to be.
Are all travel romances meant to last? No, but neither are many of the relationships had at home. I would wager that travel romances have the same success rate – if we’re defining success as happily staying together – as a relationship that doesn’t start on holiday. That magic that sometimes wears off when you meet up with a travel romance at home? Hell, that happens with people I go on dates with at home all the time. It’s called being human and not settling until you find the right person for you.
Regardless of what you’re after when you travel, enjoy meeting new people and, if you’re into it, seeing where it goes. Who knows? You might find your soul mate. You might also find a Swedish guy named Johan who you instantly regret inviting to London, but you’ll never know unless you give it a try.
I never regret the experiences I’ve had, because each one teaches me a little bit more about myself and a little more about what I’m looking for in a partner (or not looking for in a partner). Don’t be afraid of holiday goggles. Sometimes you see the situation for what it is – Johan – and sometimes, just sometimes, you remove them, and it turns out it didn’t matter that you met in Denmark or Vietnam or Paris. Sometimes you realise that you could have met in that grocery store down the road and felt the same way. That the world brought the two of you together, no matter the circumstances, and it’s the most amazing thing.
And c’mon, it sounds a hell of a lot cooler to say you met in Zanzibar than saying you met on Tinder.
It was a very, very long weekend with Johan. I wish I could say that things got better, that over the next 48 hours I realised he was the perfect man for me, someone with whom I had amazing chemistry, but no. Those holiday goggles had been working overtime in Paris. I conveniently got the flu mere hours into his visit…….. *cough*. Things went into steep decline from there, culminating with him missing his train to the airport and me actually pushing him into a taxi so that he wouldn’t miss his flight and stay even a moment longer. I actually hid behind a newspaper stand so that he wouldn’t be able to wave goodbye to me from the car window, because I’m really mature and classy like that.
But do I regret that travel romance with Johan? Not at all. I got to have a fun date in Paris, got to have a blissful few weeks of anticipation and infatuation, and, yep, got a blog post out of it.
The bottom line: travelling is about meeting new people. If one of them turns out to be a romantic partner, that’s incredible. If not… you’ll always have Paris.
What do you think of travel romances? Have you ever had a holiday fling? Did it turn into something more? For all of my holiday romance stories, make sure to check out The Last Time I Saw You series. For everything I’ve written about dating and relationships, click here.
*You guessed it: all names and identifying traits have been changed, though the stories are true.