Sometimes it just takes leaving home to fall in love. Hear about the unlikely travel romances of these three seasoned globetrotters.
Racing colors reflected off the shattered glass that had fallen to her feet, which were now showered in booze. She was unimpressed with the guy who’d dropped his drink—barefoot with wavy black hair past his shoulders, wearing a ripped tee and board shorts. It didn’t help that she was dead sober, recovering from Dengue Fever.
They were in Molly Malone’s, an Irish bar with an incongruous Thai menu in Goa, India. Rachel Jones was backpacking alone, staying with a friend of a friend who was performing with his band there that evening. Ben could have been just another drunk guy in the audience, but eventually, he wore her down with his witty remorse.
“We chatted and he was funny, but I didn’t think much of it … I thought maybe he was one of those hippies who lives in Goa forever and just parties,” Jones remembers.
Eager to explore India and pursue yoga and meditation devoid of distractions, Jones had set a “no boys” rule for herself this trip. Besides, she was a nurse with a career back home in Ohio, and even teasing thoughts of a romance abroad could complicate things.
But, as life so often unfolds, Jones didn’t see her intentions entirely to fruition— because when we stop looking for love is usually when we find it.
“The next day we all met at a beach shack for lunch, and it turned out Ben was really smart—like geeky smart and into tech,” she says.
In fact, she learned that Ben, who moved to Goa the year before from Kent, England, worked in environmental protection building artificial reefs. Though he’d piqued her interest, she had plans to travel to Hampi on the last leg of her journey and no intention of changing them.
Then Ben asked if he could join her. She said yes.
They spent a few more days together in Goa before traveling to Hampi for Jones’ remaining nights in India. It was there, after just two weeks of knowing each other, that Ben told Jones he loved her—and she agreed to move to Goa to be with him indefinitely.
“We just kind of laughed about it, asking ourselves, ‘Are we being really weird because we don’t know each other?’” she recalls. “The only struggle was doubting and asking myself if it was real or some travel dream where I was just being caught in the moment because I was in India—and I really didn’t know the answer until I moved to India myself and saw that it was real; it wasn’t some silly vacation romance.”
Jones had met men every day traveling through Europe, writing her travel blog, Hippie in Heels. Some of them were more compelling than the people she dated in the States, who she felt didn’t share her desire to seek out experience over material things. But what she felt with Ben was something inimitable.
“Ben was another world,” she says. “He is too generous, he doesn’t put work first, he’s carefree, more liberal and open-minded … I saw that he was someone I could travel with and live abroad with, and we could have a different life than the boring one I was dreading.”
Whether running from a life intolerable or toward a life treasurable, travel imparts a certain lust in us all. In fact, research shows that traveling may actually make us more susceptible to love. The “positive stress” of being in a new environment, oftentimes equipped with only the most rudimentary sense of a place, raises our adrenaline levels. And increased adrenaline, in turn, causes us to find others more attractive. We’re vulnerable, curious, and open-minded, detached from technology and unreservedly in the moment—a recipe for welcoming love. And when we find it, we lack our usual concern with commitments or labels, placing value on the new experience itself.
It comes as no surprise, then, that more than half (53 percent) of Americans with passports are content with their lives, versus just 34 percent of those without passports, according to Hilton Hotels and Resorts’ Passport Project. About a quarter of those who travel do so to find potential romantic connections.
“I find that when you’re traveling, you’re carefree, open-minded, confident and liberated, and usually everyone around you is of a similar mindset, shares the same interests and isn’t, in that moment, worried about the stress or unhappiness of their everyday lives,” says travel blogger Megan Jerrard, of Mapping Megan. She finds that being removed from the mundane brings out the spontaneous best in people. “Travel frees you up to be the person you are at your core, or the person you want to be … It’s very easy to speak honestly and plainly with strangers, more so than it is with your friends and family at home, because there’s no sense of judgment, and the person you’ve just met doesn’t have any preconceived stereotypes of your personality from your past.”
Jerrard, who hails from Australia, met her American husband, Mike, back in 2010 at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At the last minute, both of their hiking partners backed out. They each decided to continue on the climb alone unaccompanied, unaware that their treks would culminate in even better company. At the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, they were introduced through mutual travel friends.
“We both looked like we had just come off a hardcore adventure in Africa, so I figured if we were attracted to each other at that point it could surely only go up from there,” Jerrard says. “We spent 12 hours together, chatting, laughing, playing cards in a group of other people, drinking, sharing stories, sharing photos, swimming in the pool, and kissing.”
They swapped email addresses and agreed they’d keep in touch, but Jerrard was readily aware that their time together very well might have been a “one-night stand.” But Mike was still on her mind by year’s end, so she invited him to celebrate the new year with her on a tour of Scotland for the Hogmanay Festival. He fixed plans to do just that.
“It was a crazy connection for someone who I had only just met, and it felt like we had known each other for the longest time,” she says. “The ease of being able to laugh and chat for 12 hours straight was something I hadn’t found in another person before. It was natural to be around each other … Those feelings grew stronger and developed over time as we spent more time together.”
“Being in a long-distance relationship, you’re forced to build a solid foundation of friendship and communication first, as you can’t be together, so you have to maintain it with conversation,” she continues. “I think that was a key factor in building the strength of our relationship.”
Though Jerrard was continually told that there was no way Mike was being faithful to her more than 9,000 miles away, she was charmed. He continued to show his care by sending her mix CDs and having roses and pizzas delivered to her house. In May 2011, he proposed. They married in 2013, lived in the United States for two years, traveled nomadically for a bit thereafter, and have now purchased a home in Australia in which to settle down.
Like both Jones and Jerrard, 76 percent of Americans think international travelers are “different”—they’re 29 percent more fun, 26 percent more creative, and seven percent sexier. In fact, 66 percent think travel can be as valuable as a college education, according to The Passport Project. Perhaps it’s thanks to these perceptions that almost half of Americans would think twice before marrying someone devoid of those satisfying stamps. And 34 percent of married travelers, like Jerrard and Mike, say travel experiences help deepen their relationships.
Travel blogger Hanne Hellvik, of Places People Stories, also married a man she met while traveling. Both their travel experiences and ensuing time apart, she says, deepened their relationship.
They met in Bolivia, at an anniversary dinner for the organization for which she worked as a development manager. As Alejandro spoke passionately about his own NGO for Bolivian street children, Hellvik found herself being drawn in.
“I loved to hear about his work—it’s not often that men work within this field,” she says. “We had common interests and bonded right away. After that, we were together all the time.”
Hellvik, who is from Norway, was moving on to a new internship in India. Until then, they spent their days at the movies, out to dinner, and with friends. Only a week had gone by when Alejandro told her he loved her.
“It was hard to leave—that’s why I came back after a few months,” she says, noting that they got through their time apart with long phone calls twice a day. “He helped me to get through a hard time even from a distance. The feelings got very strong.” Five and a half years later, the pair is married and have a daughter.
For Rachel Jones, three months was long enough. Though her visa was expiring and she had an impending three-month assignment as a travel nurse with a friend in Seattle, she also never wanted to leave love behind in the first place. She and Ben decided she’d complete the assignment, save money, and then fly back to Goa to move in with Ben. He took a short-term job in Mexico, so she flew down to visit him there, and he flew up to visit her in Seattle before traveling back to India. Between these visits, they Skyped every day.
It’s been five years since Jones met Ben, and today they spend their days working from home, caring for their dogs and cat, cooking, taking off for surfing trips in Sri Lanka or Indonesia, and exploring everywhere from Jordan to Austria to Malaysia and beyond—together.