In a recent fit of travel nostalgia, I pulled out the diary I kept while living in Ireland when I was 20. I expected it to be filled with precocious ramblings about the people and culture, a la Steinbeck’s “A Russian Journal” or at the very least to offer up some “Eat, Pray, Love”-style insights about myself. Instead I found pages of minutely plotted grocery lists (I was so broke I had to shop meal to meal) and endless entries about… boys. Numerous paragraphs, for example, are devoted to flirtations with a witty Irish bartender. There is also much speculation over whether or not the long-lashed Spanish neighbor has a girlfriend. And a cute, scruffy lawyer who frequented the pub where I worked earned a full four pages before I even learned his name.
Ah, youth. Ah, travel. Ah, romance. As mortifyingly boy crazy as my young Ireland journal is, re-reading it did remind me of the excitement of being with someone new somewhere new. A small portion of these international romances endure but many are as short-term as our visitor visas. Still, you want to make the most of your foreign fling. Here’s how.Seek Out Locals
Are you the kind of person who takes those frenetic group tours where some perpetually grinning guide leads you and 30 others down the beaten track of whatever city you’re visiting, occasionally letting you stop for ten minute intervals to snap photos? No? Great. Me, neither. I want to experience the local culture as much as an outsider can and one great way to get a glimpse of it is by hanging out with an actual local. Let your Romeo lead you through a Verona only a Juliet would get to see. I guarantee he’ll take you to the best Renaissance balls and only the finest apothecaries. Just don’t stay too long. I hear Romeo’s last relationship ended rather badly.
Widen Your Net
Got a 20-point checklist of all the qualities your future wife should have? Did you ditch the last guy you were dating because Cosmo told you he wasn’t the “one”? Well, you’re in luck. Since you’re only in country X for a week, you can drop all preconceptions about long-term mates and hook up with someone without worrying about pesky little issues like soul mates and divorce rates. So go on. Indulge your inner rebel and date the Dutch guy whose arms are covered in tattoos of his dead pets. Fantasize about mortifying your uptight mother with the chick who swears like a sailor. The world could use more tolerance and open-mindedness and it might as well start with you and your travel fling.
Kiss and Tell
Being a writer is great because I have a professional excuse to do ridiculous things for the sake of a story. And I’m not talking only about adventures I plan to publish. I consider this imperative to investigate people and places fundamental to having a great life story, the kind you tell wide-eyed grandkids whom you want to know the highlight of your day wasn’t always gumming a cheese sandwich. Yes, this means I’ve made many stupid mistakes – and it should go without saying that you should exercise the utmost caution when getting involved with someone you don’t know in a foreign land – but it also means I’ve had some amazing, spontaneous experiences. If you say yes to that Austrian drummer who invites you to an underground concert in Vienna, you just might, too.
Manage Your Expectations
You meet a guy in Buenos Aires one balmy night. You laugh. You drink. You dance. And somewhere around 3 a.m. you two lust birds find yourselves making grand plans to travel the country together, a romantic version of “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Be wary, traveler. These are heady times. It’s easy to get swept up in the moment, especially on the road, where, among strangers, we sometimes imagine reinventing ourselves and our lives. The thrill of so many new experiences is powerfully intoxicating; it makes us want to say yes to everything, including romance. But travel flings often disintegrate like vampires in the sun. Be prepared to appreciate them for what they are – exciting and often temporary – and to move on.
I once had a friend who went to Barcelona with the singular goal of having an affair with a tall, dark Spaniard. She announced her intentions on multiple occasions before the trip – to me, to our other friends, to pretty much anyone who would listen. I imagine she also relayed her plan to every man within earshot she met in Spain that week. You might not be surprised to hear that her “spontaneous” travel romance never materialized. You will not snag an awesome guy or gal simply because you are a new face in an old town. And don’t depend on that American accent to charm anyone but the waitress who hopes you don’t realize that you don’t need to tip 20 percent in Europe. A friend of mine offers this wise but important travel fling advice: “remain cool and mysterious and let things happen naturally.” Actually, this is pretty great life advice, too.
[Photo Credit: Grant Martin]