“Everybody who travels has had a breakup.” It was an observation from someone who happened to be happily ensconced in a healthy relationship. I smiled, about to deny it, but I knew she was pretty close to the truth.
Besides college gap-year travellers, a significant number of the people I’ve meet on the road have had an event in their life that has torn them away from the path they were once on. Redundancy, work burn-out or the death of someone close can be real eye-openers that propel people to walk a different way in life…at least for a while. But above all, one of the most common reasons lurking behind a spell of travel, for both boys and girls, seems to be a break-up.
For some, a stint of travel is a way to celebrate their freedom, but more often than not, heart-broken travellers (at least those I’ve spoken to…and I’ve spoken to a lot) have left home hoping to escape thoughts of an ex or, better yet, are looking for a holiday romance because, surely that’s what fate intended all along – for them to find their soul mate somewhere on the sandy streets of San Juan del Sur?
It’s a nice idea, it really is, but it begs the question – is travel really a good solution to heartbreak? And is there really a chance that a holiday romance on the road will lead to a happily ever after (ok, that’s technically two questions, but who’s counting…apart from me).
The best answer is – I don’t know! Everybody’s personal circumstances are so different and, the real sneak of it all…the future’s unknown, meaning there really is no way of telling what can and can’t happen when you travel. However, that answer is far from helpful. So, let me try a bit harder.
I had a fully paid up membership to heartbreak hostel when I hit the road in 2010. I wanted escape. I wasn’t against the idea of a holiday romance. And I found both…here and there.
Great news, huh? Maybe, but, before you flee into the night, it’s worth knowing that the eat, pray, love methodology of fixing your problems isn’t always as simple as the lovely Elizabeth Gilbert (the original Eat, Pray, Lover) makes it sound. Based on my own experience and long chats over cold beers with many people I’ve met over the past few years, here are a few things to think about if you’ve eaten and you’ve prayed and you’re thinking “where the f#ck is love?”
Change after a break-up is stressful – make sure you’re ready
When your world has been tipped upside down by heartbreak, doing a runner might seem appealing, but one of the hardest parts of dealing with a split is not just loss of the person you loved, but the everyday changes that come with it. Change your life and environment even more dramatically – quitting your job and leaving you home, family and friends to travel, can often result in more stress, not less. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, but ensure you’re strong enough before you start.
Consider your travel motives
It’s important that you travel because you want to travel. If you’re thinking about booking that one-way or around-the-world ticket to ‘show him (or her)’ that you’re adventurous, or in the hope that distance will make your ex miss you, think long and hard about what you’re doing.
When you’re sweating your eyelashes off in a dingy room near Kho San Road in Bangkok, with nothing but a few cockroaches to keep you company, seeing social media posts that your ex is having a great time at your favourite bar with your arch-enemy-soon-to-be-new-partner back home, how appealing will your travel seem then?
I had a travel itch for years before I took off after my break-up, so, without the reason that kept me in one spot, travel seemed the natural option to me.
Start with small trips
Popping a Champagne cork is always more exciting than pulling out a wine cork (or, worse, screwing off the top…or, worse, opening a wine box), but in a scenario where you might be feeling fragile, small travel steps will be easier to handle…and undo. As a taster, I took a two-week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam as a holiday from work. When I returned, I knew my next ticket would be for a much longer trip.
Be prepared to fail
Far be it for me (or anyone) to tell you how to cope with your heartbreak. If you have an overwhelming need to flee the country, do it. Just make sure you have a crash mat in place in case you fail. Set aside a bit of spare budget to book a flight back home if you decide that your plan to live in Siberia wasn’t so well thought out. Travel can often feel more lonely than you think. Also, ask friends and family in advance in they’ll give you a place to stay if you decide to abort your mission overseas. Whatever you do, don’t let your ego prevent you from heading home (travel luggage tag between your legs) if your travels don’t provide you with what you want.
Don’t take your ex with you
Of course, I don’t mean this literally, but packing a head full of memories or relationship regrets is going to mar your trip. Remember your motives – the most successful trip is going to come from a strong urge to see the world, meet new people and, in my case, explore its food and drink. If you spend your time in wi-fi zones hitting refresh on social media in hope of a message from your ex, you’ll be doing no more than what you could do at home…though probably in warmer weather (unless you went to Siberia).
Don’t expect to leave your ex behind
Ok, scrap the above…kind of. As much as you should try to leave thoughts of your ex behind, it is not in most of us (sociopaths excluded) to be able to completely shut out all memories of our past love. However, the benefit of travel is that when thoughts of him or her creep in, there are plenty of new and exciting things you can do to distract you from your thoughts. If your ex has metaphorically hitchhiked on your trip, don’t wallow in your heartbreak – get out and do stuff, they’ll soon disappear.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you do make the jump and take yourself on an adventure that has the potential to beat all other life experiences, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself. Yes, the positive, active side of your mind will want you living every day with maximum experience and fun, but don’t forget that you’re still healing. Take time to simply sit, watch a sunset, sip a coffee, eat strawberries (I like strawberries) and mend your soul. There will be plenty of other days to scale that mountain, sometimes you just need to tackle a small hill.
Enjoy a world of new friends
I love my friends and family (sometimes almost to death with the amount of alcohol we consume when we are together), but following my break-up, all I did with them was talk about my ex. I thought it was helpful at the time, until I found myself amongst strangers, when I no longer had to be heartbreak girl, I could be happy-go-lucky Indiana Jo who always has a spare joke or travel story in her back pocket. And it was refreshing. Travel can give you a new set of friends in a way few other experiences can – relish the opportunity, connect with people around the globe and hopefully see your ex become a distant memory.
Remember you have to go back
I accept the irony of this comment more than three years since I set off on my first round-the-world trip, but the reality is that most people go home, at least for a while. And we all know what lies at home – you’re ex. If you’re travelling with the hope that while you’re away, your ex will somehow disintegrate under the weight of some new nano-technology or get kidnapped by aliens, check your senses. The more likely reality is that while you return with a tan and a world of experiences, your ex’s life will have moved on, too, and possibly with someone else. That’s why it’s important that you’re travelling to fulfill your own dreams.
Accept that “love” on the road can be fast and loose
“Love” on the road can be incredibly fickle. I’m not saying it can’t happen – some people have and do find that special someone while they are travelling, but I wouldn’t bet your offspring on it (ok, I do know of one child that born out of a hostel hook-up, but that’s another story).
If what you’re after is a few rebound shack-ups, ahem, holiday romances, you’re almost certainly on the right travel path – just choose any party hostel and buy a drink. However, if you’re hoping to collide with ‘the one’, be careful with your expectations so that you don’t go home disappointed.
Get ready to say goodbye…a lot
By far the biggest roadblock to securing long-term romance on the road is the transient nature of the people on it. Give or take, most people barely stop in a spot for longer than a few days. That’s a pretty small window for meeting your life-partner. It’s not uncommon for people to connect and travel together for a while but even then there will come a point when you head east and they go west bringing any flourishing romance to a premature end.
Change your travel itinerary with caution
Of course, changing your travel plans is a possibility, but do so with extreme caution. So many times I’ve heard tales from people who have done exactly that on the back of a flush of romance and come to regret not seeing the sights they had planned on. If this is your once in a lifetime trip, think about changing course even more carefully. If the person you have met really is the one, perhaps you can reconnect a couple of cities, countries or continents later – you’ll be surprised how small the travel world can be if the circumstances require it.
Prepare to settle if you’re after a sustainable holiday romance
As I’ve already mentioned, the transient nature of round-the-world travel can make long-term relationships near impossible. So, if you want to increase your chances of having more than just a holiday romance, one of the best ways to counteract that problem is to stay in one place longer. Renting an apartment locally and integrating yourself into your surroundings will definitely help if you’re looking to meet someone who hasn’t just blow into town.
Get ready to explore some real cultural differences
Your eyes meet over one too many caipirinhas and it’s lust…love at first sight. Even more exotic, your potential future husband or wife is from a different part of the world. The mystique, novelty and the glamour of falling for someone from a foreign country can be spellbinding but when that magic starts to wear out and familiarity sets in, prepare for the likelihood that there will be some real cultural differences between you.
For example, did you know that a lot of Brazilians tend to live with their parents until they get married? And in China you may have to win over your girl’s parents and extended family as well as her. And all of this is before language barriers, and social, economic and political differences.
Consider the practicalities of a long-distance relationship
It’s not impossible for two people from the same country and even city to meet overseas but it’s not likely. So, if you did manage to turn a holiday romance into a long-term partnership, the likelihood is that you’re going to have to tackle a long-distance romance when one or both of you inevitably has to go back home. It’s not impossible to maintain but bears thinking about.
Say “f#ck it” and don’t go home
I’m a world of contradictions today (like most other days), but don’t overlook the possibility that you don’t need to go back. If you took your heart-break on holiday and managed to find romance on the road then why not just go with it? Long-distance relationships can work, but why not consider becoming a digital nomad or ex-pat in your new love’s country…even if it’s just for a little while.
Who knows, you may even have some fun along the way!
What’s your experience of love as a traveller? Did you meet the one? Did you heal your heart? Share your stories with me in the comments below.