Lessons learned from a Solo Female Traveler
I love to travel and am fortunate to have a “digital” career that allows me to do so often. In the past few years, I have been to Africa, Mexico, India, Turkey, Greece, Sri Lanka, Dubai, and Colombia.
I cannot seem to avoid the temptation of vacation dating. Vacation dating, in my experience, is neither a casual hook up nor an actual relationship. It is a facsimile of a romantic relationship, except for that the courtship, infatuation, fighting, and breakup occur at hyperspeed.
My intention when planning these trips is to experience a new culture and for the thrill of escaping my comfort zone and the cold New England winters. I recently embarked on a three week trip to Colombia to learn Spanish, and found myself utterly distracted by yet another vacation boyfriend.
From the day you meet your vacation boyfriend or girlfriend, there is a ticking clock, counting the minutes until you will be inevitably separated from one another by departing flights, oceans, thousands of miles, cultural differences, and countless other obstacles.
Each one of these recent experiences has followed a similar pattern:
Phase 1: Attraction
During the attraction phase, my suitor and I decide that there is a mutual physical attraction, determine that we speak the same language, and can manage enough banter to fill a few days’ worth of conversation. It will be some harmless fun, entertainment, and a good story later. What could go wrong?
Phase 2: Co-Habitation
I have not officially lived with a man for the past twelve years. However, I have cohabitated with two vacation boyfriends quite recently.
Perhaps the heat and humidity go to my head, or I am giddy from the sweetness of days that are free from daily chores and obligations. I throw all caution to the wind when it comes to choosing appropriate men, and then inevitably end up shacking up with them in tropical places.
Phase 3: Domestic Bliss
At this point, the vacation boyfriend and I have fast-forwarded several months (even years) that would be required in a real-world relationship. We have inside jokes; we are having coffee and taking turns cooking breakfast, planning our days of fun as if we were on a honeymoon.
“Should we go to the beach or the pool today?”
“What about that great gelato spot?”
“Or, we could just stay home and snuggle for a while.” (wink, wink)
Phase 4: Delusion
We spend our faux-honeymoon doing things that couples do and taking an unreasonable amount of photos together. Why take all these photos with someone you will never see again? This question crosses my mind as it is happening, and then a friendly waitress comments on what a beautiful couple we are, and I quickly forget we are just pretending.
Phase 5: Tears
The day has come to part. Before this dreaded parting, there have been earnest conversations about the incredible “connection” between us and promises made to stay in touch, fly to visit each other in our respective cities, and do everything in our power to “make it work.”
Then, the other shoes begin to drop.
My Greek Vacation Boyfriend and I were inseparable for the six days we spent together. He treated me like a treasured possession, not in a controlling sense but like a lovely, valued jewel that must be attended to constantly and with the utmost care.
We were physically intertwined, in public and private, and his warm skin, tanned from the Mytilene sun, felt like heaven on mine. We stayed up late into the night playing our favorite songs for each other and shared deeply personal stories of heartbreak, youthful misadventures, and difficult childhoods.
Shortly before we were set to leave on a ferry back to Athens for our respective flights, my Greek Vacation boyfriend informed me that he could NEVER visit me in the US. He had been convicted of felony drug dealing in New Zealand and promptly deported, thus disqualifying him from ever entering my country. We both shed a waterfall of tears and then said goodbye forever. The sudden end of our fairytale vacation romance left a deep hurt, which lingered long after our tans had faded.
I met my Colombian Vacation Boyfriend, a handsome and charming German vagabond after a last-minute Tinder swipe aligned our fates for the evening.
I was skeptical at first, as he seemed self-centered and a bit manipulative. The type who would move in, not pay rent and eat all your food, all the while charming you into thinking his presence alone would pay the bills.
As I am someone who needs to learn the same lesson again and again, I let him convince me that I had misread him and that he was, in fact, tired of his vagabond lifestyle. For the past two decades, he had spent five months each year on the road, wandering from hostel to hostel and riding buses across the countrysides of third world countries. One can only assume wooing a variety of women via dating apps.
Against my better judgment, I allowed him a second chance. I decided that he was awfully cute with a charming accent, and what could be the harm in a few days of fun?
My Colombian Vacation boyfriend and I spent two full days together. We cooked lovely meals, toured the city in the early morning to take photos before it was overrun with tourists, and spent a relaxing and romantic afternoon at a local beach club.
During this “honeymoon,” he regaled me with sad stories from his childhood, bemoaned his dissatisfaction with his current free-floating bachelor life, and shared his intense desire for intimacy and stability.
I chose to believe him because it was easier than the rational alternative, and also offered for him to stay with me. I had an extra bedroom and gave him a steeply discounted rate in a misguided sympathy nod to the self-imposed “hardships” he had suffered in recent hostels.
As predicted, he ate my food without offering to replace it, in addition to badgering me for a foot massage, complaining incessantly about the air conditioning, and somehow talking me into giving him an amateur facial using my beloved beauty products.
Despite all this, I allowed myself to entertain the idea that there were “real” feelings between us and that our international love story did not have an expiration date. Damn you, oxytocin.
We made plans to stay in touch and continue the “relationship,” agreeing that he would visit me in Boston whenever the wind blew him back from South America, and I eagerly offered to fly to Berlin. These offers were sincere and tangible on my end, but in his mind, they were just words, harmless fantasies unlikely to come to fruition.
Colombian Vacation Boyfriend and I made plans to spend our last day together, enjoying the sun, pool, and bustling city. To cap off the day, perhaps we would have a nice quiet dinner at the Airbnb. We would cook together and hold hands across the table as we did during those first meals, with the lovely ocean view from the balcony as the backdrop in our (my) romantic fantasy.
Two nights before we were to part, he coolly informed me that it would be more convenient if he left earlier than planned to meet up with friends and that he could not come to visit me in Boston because he did not have winter clothes with him.
From there, he admitted that he was emotionally unavailable, incapable of love, but thought it might be “nice” to see me again sometime.
Even though I knew this was the most likely outcome, the tears still flowed. I was angry, hurt, and frustrated, above all, with myself. I am old enough to know that I deserve better, and saw the red flags a mile away with both of these men. Yet the pain and humiliation were still there.
In retrospect, vacation dating is similar to any bad habit. Drinking the whole bottle of wine, eating too much ice cream, or going on an unnecessary shopping binge. It feels so good at the moment, but the hangover and damage last much longer than the initial thrill.
Perhaps this time I have finally learned my lesson. On my next vacation, I hope to avoid the temptation of handsome and charming vacation boyfriends and seek out fellow female travelers as friends. I can immerse myself in the culture, learn the language, and write about my observations, without the distraction of an unreliable man to toy with my head and heart.
Fellow female travelers, I encourage you to explore often, travel the world, and do not fear so much for your physical safety. Take the usual recommended precautions for wherever you plan to visit and enjoy your adventure.
You must, however, protect your precious time and, above all, your heart.