The Dark Side of Travel Romance

shadowWhen it comes to the ways of love and romance, no aphrodisiac is quite so potent as travel. On the road — freed from the dull routines and restrictions of home — you become more open, more daring, more willing to seize the moment. Away from home, the people you meet (be they locals or fellow travelers) seem sexier, more exotic, less repressed — and this makes you feel sexy, exotic, liberated. Freed from your past, happily anonymous, and filled with a sense of possibility, you are never more willing (or able) to fall headlong into a love affair.

The only downside is this: Rekindling things when you get home almost never works. Regardless of how great you and your lover felt in Rio; regardless of how seamlessly the two of you bonded in Paris; regardless of the memories you cherish from Koh Samui, you are risking heartbreak if you try to resume the romance in Hackensack or Burbank or Minnetonka.

I used to wonder why this was the case — why, after sharing intense travel experiences, my relationships with the intriguing women I met in Cuzco or Tel Aviv would sour into a series of uninspired emails, awkward phone calls and (on occasion) anticlimactic reunions. Why would everything change once we’d stopped traveling?

I finally got a clue to the problem several winters ago in Thailand, when I met a Belgian lass I’ll call Katia. Willowy and doe-eyed, with a sexy pout and effortless European grace, Katia would have been out of my league back home — but in the colorful madness of Bangkok, we somehow fell into an easy love affair. Together, we took a train down to Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand, where we stayed in a tree-house hotel, swam the jungle-rivers, drank Mekhong whiskey, and shared the stories of our lives. After a week, when it came time for Katia to fly back to Brussels, I felt like we had really connected — that our time together had amounted to something special.

Katia must have felt the same way, since — over the course of the next several weeks — she told me how much she missed me, how much she cared for me, and how much our time together had meant to her. When she eventually invited me to join her in Brussels for Christmas, I didn’t hesitate: I bought a plane ticket and flew out as soon as I could.

Once I arrived in Brussels, things fell apart almost immediately. When I tried to put my arm around her as we walked to meet her friends at a bar, Katia curtly warned me not to touch her in front of her friends (“They know I’m not sentimental like that,” she told me). Once in the bar, Katia continually scolded me: for eating too much; for not sitting up straight; for not asking her friends the right kind of questions. For some reason, I’d suddenly become an embarrassment to Katia — an uncultured American fool who couldn’t do anything right.

The disappointment went both ways: Back in Thailand, Katia was laid-back and affectionate, and she’d talked about her passionate calling to design jewelry; in Brussels, I’d quickly discovered that she was a shrill busybody who used her art studio mainly to play computer games. When we visited Belgian museums, Katia sneered at my ignorance of art history; when I read a book on the train to Louven, she scolded me for not looking out at the scenery; when we ate dinner with her parents, she lost her temper when I didn’t pay enough attention to the conversation (which, I reminded her, was mostly in Dutch). In Thailand, Katia had found pleasure in the simplest moments; in Brussels, the only times she seemed remotely satisfied were when we were arguing.

After a week of being trapped in a small Brussels apartment with Katia, I had a realization: despite everything that had happened between us in Thailand, she was still complete stranger to me. I had fallen for Thailand as much as I’d fallen for Katia, and she had done the same. The world we’d experienced together as travelers was, in many ways, a transient fantasy world — and the mountaintop experiences we’d shared in Asia amounted to a sandcastle by the time I’d arrived in Europe.

Indeed, if the anonymity and renewal of travel makes love bloom easier, returning to the noise of your home-life makes road-romance reunions that much harder. Despite all the memories you’ve shared on the road, you can’t pick up the relationship where it left off, because that place is now thousands of miles away.

Last summer, after having not communicated for four years, Katia sent me an email suggesting we meet up and talk. We met — as friends — in Paris, and I felt like I got to know my old Belgian lover for the first time.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on Apr. 10, 2006. All rights reserved.]

Posted by | Comments (7)  | September 27, 2014
Category: Europe, Sex and Travel, Vagabonding Advice

The death of the Mile High Club

Take off...

I want to take this opportunity to declare that the Mile-High Club is, for all practical purposes, defunct. Much like the practice of phrenology or the fad for goldfish swallowing, the notion of having sex on commercial airplanes is no longer worthy of serious consideration.

Before I get inundated with angry e-mails accusing me of being a prude, let me be clear about one thing: This is not about sex. For die-hard Mile-High Club practitioners, I’m sure there’s still nothing more arousing than the heady scent of disinfectant and sewage as you wedge yourself against a paper towel dispenser to consummate your passion with the person you love (or as many Mile-High Club tales seem to imply, with the person you met at the boarding gate).

In reality, the death of the Mile-High Club is tied to the decline of the commercial air travel experience in general. Back in the late ‘60s, when the advent of the Boeing 737 began to make jet travel affordable for the masses, I’m sure everything about the experience of flight was somewhat of a thrill. Nearly four decades later, however, a couple generations of travelers have known nothing but air travel for long journeys. We’re still flying in those same 737s (and comparable aircraft), yet the level of comfort and service has actually declined: Security lines are longer, seating schemes are more cramped, in-flight snack services are disappearing, and—in a startling development—some aircraft manufacturers have reportedly considered maximizing passenger capacity by installing standing-room seating, wherein you are strapped, like a mental patient, to a padded backboard during takeoff.

In short, commercial air travel has become hopelessly mundane and unpleasant—and aspiring to have sex on a commercial flight is now as tacky and pointless as aspiring to have sex in a Wal-Mart.  (more…)

Posted by | Comments (1)  | July 5, 2014
Category: Air Travel, Rolf Potts, Sex and Travel

How to Find Love Abroad: Test Yourself

“C’mon, try it.”
They floated in a thick, dark sauce. The nails had been cut off, but the rest of each finger stared back at me without eyes from the plastic plate, livid in vinegar. Truncated joints just below the feathers’ line. As I kept staring at my prospective dinner, I wondered how low a man can go to impress a pretty girl.

“So, will you try one?”
Her eyes were inquisitive windows open on her own world. A slot machine of emotions tilted inside of her head, trying to spit out the appropriate row of words to describe me as delusional. When she invited me out to try some of the best street food in Penang, she probably trusted me to be a different, more interesting date.

In Italy, chicken feet are not popular. They are not food. They don’t even appear at the poultry meat section, unless you buy a freshly slaughtered chicken. They get cut and thrown away as trash.
As I approached the soft, darkly simmered meat with chopsticks, my mother’s voice came abruptly in from a lost corner of my memory lane.
“During the War,” she whispered, “your grandmother’s family used to eat them.”
I had to trust her. They couldn’t be so terrible, after all.

picture credit: Flickr/dfinnecy

picture credit: Flickr/dfinnecy

I looked at my companion profile against a backdrop of sizzling pans and rugged Chinese limbs which rotated in and out of steamy pots. Her attention was completely fixed on my next move, keeping the final verdict tightly squeezed behind stretched lips. My idea of a romantic after-dinner stroll at the seaside was suspended between the plastic extension of my right thumb and index fingers, a soy-sogged poultry mutilation, and her candid foreign perfection.
I finally plucked it.

The virgin taste of tender slime melting in my mouth slightly surprised me as I found a bunch of tiny bones between my teeth.
“Spit them out on the table, it is OK,” she instructed me gently, savoring her relief at not having chosen a cultural idiot as a prospective boyfriend. I unleashed an awkward garter belt of unexploded chicken bones against the orange plastic of the table without injuring anyone.

“Good. Not many foreigners agree to try. Was it so bad, after all?”
The delusion had vanished from her face.
Shaking my head, I realized I just had my jackpot: a row of three Sevens, straight from the deep of her heart, started to fill the coin hopper that was standing empty between us until a minute before.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | November 28, 2013
Category: Asia, Food and Drink, On The Road, Sex and Travel

Open relationships and long term travel

“But you’re just going to leave!”

Although I hated to admit it, who said that was right. At the time I’d been seasonally migrating as a guide for four years. And had no intention to confine my adventurous spirit in domestic American life, then—if ever. The catch though was he was not American; Swedish born to immigrated Polish parents. And unless we got married, physically being together was a matter of juggling countless visas. I was willing to explore the challenges of the relationship. He proposed, and I accepted. However, the seemingly prince-charming-fairy-tale was soured after five months, in one evening by his jealousy. (I’d been out socializing–drinking and playing cards with colleagues after a conference—and being that my fiancé and I were nine time zones apart, I missed talking to him on the phone for a whole day.) When I told him why, he got irate. The plot got thicker; but, long-story-short things didn’t work out with us.

My traveling continued, and continues still…But for several years after that break-up I abstained from dating or intimate relationships.

How do us late “Generation X” travelers bridge tradition and progressive thought?

I grew up with a passion for horses, not wanting to get married, or have children. My passion for horses keeps getting stronger. I was intrigued with the idea of marriage a few years back, and now have warmed up to fostering or adopting a child down the road. So where does that adult understanding leave me?

My current boyfriend and I are in an open relationship. We are committed to one another, but are non-monogamous and can have relationships with other partners. This doesn’t mean I can be traveling half-a-world-away, get drunk, and wake up naked next to some stranger; then afterwards confess to my boyfriend that it “didn’t mean anything” the morning after. Rather, as a couple, we consent to our partners other relations—be it flirting, dating, sexual contact, or intercourse. Everything, all our feelings are in full disclosure. We talk about everything!

There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Love enters a man through his eyes, women though her ears.” So shouldn’t it be every womens’ dream to have a guy that will actually talk to her?

So I began this post with a very traditional phenomena of girl-meets-foreign-boy-and-falls-in-love fantasy. And while I don’t doubt that could happen, it didn’t eventually work out for me. In the end, my original prince charming and I lacked one true thing…an open line and space of communication. But the guy who was always there happened to be my best friend.

At the root of most relationships, communication is lacking. Distance shouldn’t matter. In the end, every human is seeking a connection. It could be simply a friendly conversation; an exchange of directions; or one’s life story that just needed to be expressed.

My point is that communication should, and can be, the heart of travel when it comes to any form of relationship. Within in a few moments, or several hours of stories, you can make a friend.

What are you willing to give?

Personally, I’ve known my current boyfriend for more than a decade. He knows everything; all my travel stories, personal/health issues and fears. Perhaps that makes an open relationship plausible. We agree. We work. We love each other unconditionally.
And yes, I realize, both within my country (of the USA) and copious amounts of others it presents a multitude of controversy…
But because we as a whole, at vagablogging, share this progressive space…how do you feel about open relationships? Or in general…the way communication happens between fellow humans that you meet along your travels…

Rules for romance: single female travelers becoming pairs?

There’s a lot of you-go-grrl-empowerment articles on the web and in travel magazines about women traveling on their own, toting their own backpacks and having exciting adventures.  The general themes of these articles usually has to do with being brave and feeling safe walking the streets at night, making friends with locals, avoiding singles supplements or suspicious glances when you try to book a tour or go on a cruise.  Very few of them deal with how you take the first steps into new-couplehood while you’re traveling, particularly with someone who’s not of your culture.

It’s pretty easy to find hook-up partners at hostels and budget hotels: any backpacker worth their salt can find another backpacker to share a hammock with, and some people seem to hit the road with that purpose in mind–here, I’m thinking of the British guy in the film Love Actually who goes to America because he knows his accent will make him more appealing to US women.  But what about when you find that the hooking up has gone further than just a one-night stand, and you might actually have a long-term relationship on your hands?  What are the next steps for long-term traveling girls?

  • I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but the first thing you should do when you realize your relationship is becoming serious is sit down and talk to your partner about whether or not they want to travel with you or whether or not you want to stay put with them — it’s a fairly important question, one that could put an abrupt end to your relationship when you want to go to Puerto Rico as you’ve been planning for the past year, and he’s just got a promotion at his job in Australia and there isn’t really room for negotiation.
  • If they decide they want to come with you, probably the next thing to discuss is: for how long?  Do you want to maintain a long-distance relationship spattered with months of traveling together, or does your partner want to sell up and join you on your nomadic journeying?
  • If you decide you want to stay with them, the most important thing to investigate is probably going to be visa options.  In Australia, you can get a residency visa if you’re in a de facto relationship (you don’t have to get married)…but you need to have physical proof that you’ve been together at least a year and it costs about $2000.
  • If your partner is from a different culture, be aware that you’re not just figuring out new relationship boundaries, but you’re doing it with cultural assumptions about what relationships are that most people never talk about.  For example, when you say “I love you” it might mean something completely different to what your neighbor means…you might mean “I plan to commit to you and have lots of children” and your neighbor might mean “I think you’re much better than anyone else I can find.”  Small but subtle differences.
  • As with any relationship, your safety and security are important.  When you’re traveling, you might tend to loosen up your restrictions or put more faith in humanity as a whole, both admirable habits.  However, it’s important to ensure that your partner treats you respectfully and values you as a person: nobody should ever hit you, call you malicious names, undermine you, isolate you from your friends, or threaten you, even if they are from a different culture.  If any of those things start to happen, they’re not cultural differences: they’re proof that you could be in danger, and it’s important for you to leave it.

Hopefully these tips are a good place to start for someone just starting a relationship as a longterm voyager…and might help people remember that there can be more to someone cute that you meet than a night in the sack.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | February 22, 2011
Category: Expat Life, Female Travelers, Languages and Culture, Sex and Travel, Solo Travel, Vagabonding Advice

Love ’em and leave ’em and leave ’em…

Far, far away...

One of the side effects of all those fun romantic flings you have with fun romantic locals wherever it is that you settle for a while, is the exciting, abnormal, and exhausting condition called love.  Love can spin your tailfeathers and put your travel plans at risk.

We’re told from a very early age that love is what we should be looking for, but what if, the next time you find it is very inconvenient?  What if you’re halfway through a round-the-world trip and you have so many places left to see?  What if your lover’s visa expires in a year and they’re going home to someplace you really don’t want to go?  What if marriage for a green is both distasteful and a little premature given the nature of your relationship…or downright illegal, if you’re same sex oriented?

What’s the hardest part of loving someone when you have a wandering heart, and you leave them and leave them and leave them again?

Posted by | Comments (6)  | December 14, 2010
Category: General, Sex and Travel, Solo Travel

Figure modeling for fun and profit

Conte crayon sketch of dancing, from class "Drawing Movement", model: Claire Litton

When I was a child, my mother thought I’d join a nudist colony; I was always taking off my little toddler dresses and running around in the backyard with nothing on.  As an adult, I’ve managed to parlay comfort with my body into an easily portable financial application: nude figure modeling.

There are two genres of nude modeling (it’s always “nude”, by the way; if you say “naked”, it’s not art): photography and life drawing.  The major difference is that one has longer poses, and the other could provide years of entertainment for people on  Life drawing classes are usually full of earnestly artsy young people, frowning and sketching and talking about shadow and depth.  They hold up their paintbrushes and squint at you; you feel like nothing so much as a bowl of fruit with longer legs.  Photography modeling is usually only for one or two people, and you have to contort yourself into painful poses, usually holding some sort of unusual prop.  When I first studied photography, I used to use my friends as models.  “Here,” I’d say, “take off all your clothes and go stand on your head next to that garden gnome, holding this pumpkin.”

I do the bulk of my posing through art schools, local universities with art programs (including the somewhat illustrious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA), for members of the photography collectives that pop up around large-ish towns, for Dr. Sketchy’s drawing nights, for open figure drawing sessions sponsored by local community members who just want some practice drawing, for museums, for illustrators…you name it.  Good models are worth their weight in gold — although you usually get paid from between $15 and $30 an hour for art classes, and from $25-$50 an hour for photography.

Usually, when I’m posing, I’m not even aware of being naked; the artists are friendly and shy and painfully aware of the present situation.  I liken it to what happens when an amputee walks in; suddenly, everybody notices that someone in the room is missing something vital.  Rather than draw attention to the lack, you ignore it and draw maturity around you like a veil, playing the part of someone who really doesn’t care about nudity at all.  A certain amount of comfort with being nude in front of groups of people would be required for the job, though — that’s one of the reasons why art schools are always so desperate for models.

You don’t have to be typically good-looking to do figure modeling.  All you have to do is be willing to sit very still for several hours at a time (you do get breaks).  Modeling well is about more than being comfortable in front of other people with your clothes off: it’s about being able to see through their eyes what might be interesting to draw or sketch, and to hold as still as possible while they get their vision down on paper.  It’s about collaborating as a silent partner, and being the focus of attention without it actually being about you at all.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | August 31, 2010
Category: General, Lifestyle Design, Sex and Travel, Solo Travel, Vagabonding Advice, Working Abroad

September 4: World Sexual Health Day

World Sexual Health Day!

World Sexual Health Day!

No matter where you are in the world, you can be concerned with your sexual health; the World Health Organization defines good health as being not just the absence of sickness or disease, but also the active presence of physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.  Aside from more obvious issues of sexual health (like wearing condoms to prevent disease, and getting regular Pap smears to check for cervical cancer) this includes the right to feel comfortable in our own bodies, the right to choose our partners and feel happy about them, and the right to enjoy ourselves as sexual beings.

The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) is hosting the first ever World Sexual Health Day on September 4.  The idea is an “international celebration of sexual health and sexual rights” — in as many countries and cities within those countries as possible.  Take the opportunity to help out at a sponsored event (if there is one near you), talk to people about sexual health (and mental wellbeing), or ask the organizer, Rosemary Coates, for information to sponsor your own event.  You still have time.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | August 24, 2010
Category: General, Sex and Travel

Men and women get different diseases while traveling

Safe sex while traveling

Safe sex while traveling

A recent Swiss study of 59,000 respondents found that women and men travelers are prone to different diseases while on the road.  The study found that female travelers are more prone to gastrointestinal ailments, particularly traveler’s diarrhea (bring your rehydration kits, ladies!), colds, and reactions to medications taken for traveling, such as anti-malarials.  Women are also more prone to urinary tract infections, as is actually true in the greater, non-traveling population as well.

Male voyagers are at higher risk of fevers — that’s what comes from not taking your anti-malarials, guys! — and STDs, as well as altitude sickness and frostbite.  Obviously it’s difficult to tell if the sex differences indicate that men and women actually SUFFER from different diseases, or just that they are more likely to seek treatment for these diseases.  In the case of STDs, 1% of male travelers in the study sought treatment for an STD at a clinic, and past research has shown that men are more likely to have sex with someone they meet overseas than women are.

To this end, consider this your public safety announcement: ladies and men, bring and wear condoms!  The study says, “Safe sex advice is a missing component in most pretravel practices and our study suggests that male travelers, in particular, would benefit from greater preventive efforts.”  You might have remembered your Imodium and iodine and Larium and azithromycin, but all you need to protect your personal bits and potentially save your life is two condoms in an easy-to-carry container.

Also, guys: take it easy with altitude adjustments. And women: watch what you eat.

Posted by | Comments (7)  | March 9, 2010
Category: Sex and Travel