The Long-Term Traveler’s Guide to Love on the Road

Travel is not just about the places you see and the things you experience, but also the people you encounter along the way. In fact, to many, the characters encountered on the road are by far the most memorable aspects of travel.

And of these characters, none loom larger in memory as the lovers, those who we share our lives and bodies with during a time of adventure and transformation in a foreign country.

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For those new to long-term travel, and even for those who are no strangers to love on the road, here is some advice to make the most of these peripatetic love affairs.

Be yourself

Town square

It’s easy to assume alternative personas while traveling. A few white lies and suddenly you seem much more mysterious and desirable than you were back home. It’s usually harmless fun to assume a new identity from time to time. Suddenly you can have the name you always wanted, or be from a different place and time. The possibilities are endless, as you are constantly among strangers who have no idea of your past.

But such aggrandizement can also be harmful, especially if you find yourself in a love affair with another traveler. A slight bending of the truth here, an exaggeration there, and soon you will find yourself in a web of lies that will take considerable time and effort to maintain. Such a castle of falsehood was probably not your intention. Perhaps you simply meant to impress someone for a night and never see them again, and then you found yourself traveling with them, and felt compelled to maintain the illusion for a little longer.

In the end, it is much better to be honest from the start. Not only will this keep you out of the uncomfortable situation mentioned above, but it will also allow you to fully share yourself with another. A long-term trip is an important and transformative time for the traveler, and when humble and honest with lovers, especially those from a different cultural backgrounds, the mental and spiritual growth that will result far outweigh the brief benefits of having someone think you’re a lot cooler than you really are.

The nature of relationships of the road

Relationships begun on the road are far, far different from those that arise while sedentary. When two people are bound and woven into the fabric of the same fixed place, the relationship often progresses slowly, with each person bound in the context of their occupation, family, and friends. At the beginning of the relationship, one might see the other only once or twice a week.

Relationships begun on the road are far, far different from those that arise while sedentary.

On the road, by contrast, relationships develop and often run their course very quickly. Within a few days of meeting someone you might find yourself not only sharing a bed, but spending every waking hour together.

This is the nature of relationships initiated on the road. Both of you are on the move, perhaps drifting into a totally different environment every week or even every day. You sleep together not only to be close, but to save money, and you do everything together because you are both strangers in a strange land. Everything is shared. In short, you become a team.

So many years of experience created the person that you are today, but your companion will know only the traveler.

So within a week or even a few days, you find yourself traveling with someone you know very little. So many years of experience created the person that you are today, but your companion will know only the traveler. Relationships begun on the road are far, far different from those that arise while sedentary. This is both exciting and educational, as you will be going through many transformative experiences together and getting to know each other very intimately. And the sex and companionship are, of course, wonderful.

But relationships of the road can also become overwhelming very quickly, especially if you suddenly find the other person incompatible to your way of traveling.

If you really want to get to know a person, travel with them. And if you’re going to travel with them, be prepared to make some adjustments. This willingness to make adjustments for someone you just met will be the decisive factor regarding the length of your traveling romance.

Cross-cultural excitement and confusion

Couple Kissing on Steps

A long-term trip is one of the best occasions to explore relationships with those of a different cultural or racial background, and such relationships can result in a great deal of both excitement and confusion.

There is no better way to burrow deep into a culture than to begin a relationship with someone from that culture, and your intimacy with that person is a good way to show yourself to yourself, including many of the things you’ve taken for granted and inhibitions you may have never knew you had.

In short, by dating someone from another culture, you learn more about yourself and the world.

But you should be prepared for a good deal of miscommunication and misinterpretation. Everyone is different, but certain cultural backgrounds tend to get along better with certain other cultural backgrounds.

In short, by dating someone from another culture, you learn more about yourself and the world.

In such a relationship, even the most unconscious actions or reactions may be interpreted in a manner you do not understand and know nothing about. To some, being late for a date or an appointment is seen as extremely rude, while to others adhering strictly to timetables may be seen as uptight.

And the things you say: even though you may be communicating in the same language, the interpretation of what you are saying may be entirely different from what you intend.

For this you will need a good deal of patience and willingness to understand. Be patient with the other, as their understanding of you will take time, and be patient with yourself, as your understanding of the other will also take time, as well as experience.

Although this is the case with every relationship, it tends to be magnified considerably when dealing with lovers from other cultures.

Sex

Couple Down by the Sea, Huanchacho

Some of the best sex in your life can be had during love affairs on the road. Every night you’re in a new hotel, on a new beach, or in some of the world’s most romantic places. And given that you might be traveling with someone from a different sexual culture, a long-term trip is a good time to explore your own sexuality, as nothing can be better defined as when it is placed side-by-side with something completely different. Not only that, but what happens on the road usually remains on the road.

And given that you might be traveling with someone from a different sexual culture, a long-term trip is a good time to explore your own sexuality, as nothing can be better defined as when it is placed side-by-side with something completely different.

But sex on the road can also be risky. It is wise to practice safe sex, as some travelers may be promiscuous, and you can never really be sure of what you’re getting into, not to mention the complications that would arise due to an unexpected pregnancy.

But besides that, experiment! A long-term trip is a great time to explore your sexuality. Have sex in the middle of the afternoon, or on deserted beaches, or in the desert under the stars. Just try to spare yourself a little decency and try not to have sex in hostel bunk beds in rooms filled with other travelers.

Allowing the other needed space

Relationships on the road tend to be intense, if for no other reason than that you’re spending so much time together. You wake up next to them, then spend countless hours on buses or trains or on beaches or sightseeing, and then fall to sleep next to them every single day. Exciting at first, but eventually you’re going to get sick of being together so often, and if this sickness isn’t treated quickly, the relationship will probably fall apart.

Though your new road love may share many of your passions, you’re also likely to have a number of different interests. This is a good thing, but at times may be irritating. She wants to go to a museum, but you want to lie all day on the beach. He wants to watch some obscure Danish film in an art theatre while you want to spend all night dancing salsa.

Before you met you were both solo travelers, with your own desires and agendas. Sacrificing these agendas and desires to continue traveling with another person, especially one you just met, is not a good idea.

These differences need not mean the end of the relationship. Before you met you were both solo travelers, with your own desires and agendas. Sacrificing these agendas and desires to continue traveling with another person, especially one you just met, is not a good idea. Before you met you both had plans. Always keep this in mind, and don’t be too willing to give up those plans for the comfort of a romantic traveling companion.

Better to allow the other to take the time and space they need to grow and enjoy themselves on their own journey, even if this means taking separate paths at times and meeting up again later. At the very least, you should often spend days going around by yourselves, giving each other precious time and space away from the other.

Couples vs. solo travel: Advantages and disadvantages

Couple Sunbathing

Note that when I say “couple” here I mean new couples, which began on the road, rather than established couples who began and will end their trip together.

Besides the obvious rewards of companionship, intimacy, and sex, traveling with a romantic partner gives you someone with whom you can share your traveling experiences. When traveling solo, all that you experience is singular to you alone, residing only in your mind and often incommunicable to others. Being able to have such shared memories adds a certain richness to one’s travel experiences. At the very least, years down the road you will have someone to recollect with.

In short, the added element of romance can make even the dullest situation in some way magical.

Another benefit is that having a romantic travel partner can help bring almost any destination alive. For the radically solitary, being alone on a secluded beach can bring about a certain type of experience, but being on that same beach with a lover would be far preferable to most. In short, the added element of romance can make even the dullest situation in some way magical.

This is not to mention the money you will save on transport and accommodation, which can be shared by both parties.

The main disadvantage of traveling as a couple is the loss of certain freedoms. Before you were two, you were a team of one, able to do anything you wished at any time without having to answer to anybody. You never had to go where you didn’t want to go, or eat something you didn’t want to eat, or sleep in a place you didn’t want to sleep. Every decision and every day was wholly yours. But when you begin traveling as a couple, the immense freedoms of solo travel are compromised, traded for companionship.

Before you were two, you were a team of one, able to do anything you wished at any time without having to answer to anybody.

To make any shared adventure successful, there must be a spirit of compromise, which works if your companion shares many of your interests, but can be disastrous if you discover you’re not compatible. The trouble is that you rarely know how your lover will turn out until you’re already traveling with them. You might find each day produces unwilling compromises and lingering resentments.

The sooner you discover your incompatibilities, the better – that way you can part ways before you become too attached. The first thing to make absolutely sure of before you begin traveling together is budget compatibility. If he is on a shoestring budget and you’ve got pocketsful of dough and the desire to make the most of each day, regardless of costs, then your relationship will quickly fall apart. It is too much pressure on those who simply don’t have the money.

Besides the loss of certain freedoms, there might also be a certain diminishment in the vigor with which you travel. Couples tend to have a reputation for being boring, for a reason. At the end of the day, couples can retire to their room and enjoy each other’s company, whereas the lonely are driven out of their rooms and into the world in search of love and other distractions. The latter often accumulate more interesting experiences because of this.

Knowing when to call it quits

Few relationships begun on the road last a lifetime. They are usually transitory affairs, blooming and then dying within a few days, weeks, or months. Once began, however, they are not easy to extinguish. Some fizzle out due to incompatibilities, others due to an unwillingness to change travel plans.

Those that end without either party wanting them to often result in an overwhelming sense of the possibility of what, perhaps in other life, might have been. You came from far sides of the world, and shared your life for awhile, but now you must return with a little piece of each left with the other, perhaps one day, in a distant time and place, to be rekindled.

Ending such a road relationship should be done without anger or resentment. You two came together, shared together, and now it is time for you to depart.

On that note, knowing when to call it quits can salvage a trip that was headed for disaster. One simply should not remain attached to a traveling relationship that is not working, and the sooner you get out of it, the sooner you can put your trip back on the right track. One unfortunate thing about ending a relationship on the road is that often your companion will be headed in the same direction, and you’re likely to bump into each other again and again.

Ending such a road relationship should be done without anger or resentment. You two came together, shared together, and now it is time for you to depart. Say goodbye, thank them for the good times they gave you, and walk away. It is best to leave town immediately, as plunging yourself into a new environment can help you to get over them and back in the spirit of traveling solo.

Afterwards, depending on how close you became and how long you traveled together, you’re bound to go through some painful readjustments as you learn to be alone on the road again. You will doubtlessly long for the companionship of the other, regardless of how sour the relationship may have become, so it is good to put yourself in a new environment as quickly as possible, or to undertake some particular quest that you can give yourself fully to.

What are your thoughts on love on the road? Add any tips below in the comments.

Read more about love on the road:

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Photo credits: Jon Rawlinson, Geraint Rowland, Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

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