I love when I travel. No, I’m not saying I just love to be on the road. I actually find someone to love whenever I travel. It’s my thing. I can’t help it. If you ask anyone who knows me about my foreign lover, they will say, “which one?”
It was amazing the first time. It was one of those “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” experiences. Though heartbreaking, I was so glad to experience simple, intense passion … without knowing (or caring) what the future held. What could be better? You are trekking through a foreign land and you meet a gorgeous person—either a local or another traveler—and the only concerns are food and making out in dimly lit cafes and under world monuments. Cue the sparks.
It’s a storybook love affair, sure, but after the second and third time, it becomes exhausting. I started to wonder why the only people I fell for lived far away. What was wrong with me?
Nothing. There are other travelers in the world who have this same problem. Intrepid Travel’s Mate Metre survey found that one in ten Aussies have fallen in love during a trip. That’s a lot of people. I’ve probably fallen in love with several of them.
OK, what is wrong with us?! Again, nothing, according to Jane Greer, Ph.D., marriage and sex therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “You widen your margins before you leave for a trip, knowing you are going to do things you don’t normally do,” Greer explains. “You give yourself the permission to experience different and possibly risky pleasures before even leaving, and romance is the biggest—and most dangerous—pleasure you can get,” she adds.
By knowing we are going on an adventure, we are getting ourselves emotionally primed by way of letting our guards down to experience the unordinary—like a foreign affair. Once we land, the love just seems to find us. Greer points out: “When you are traveling and falling in love, it’s like the movies … it’s a brand new beginning. A fresh start in so many ways.”
There’s also a science to it. If we get particularly excited or stressed by travel planning or traveling, those feelings could trigger adrenaline, according to Greer. Higher levels of adrenaline can bring people closer together, says a recently conducted study.
If we are this open to love, then why doesn’t it find us when we are home? For starters, there is something mysterious and alluring about being in a foreign land.
“There is a veil of anonymity that makes you feel safer than when you are at home and wearing your heart on your sleeve,” Greer says.
In other words, you don’t care what that exotic special someone thinks of you because you might never see him or her again. You can be uninhibited. In the sack. Over coffee. Rolling cigarettes on a cobbled street. Meeting for drinks. Whatever.
At home, we are smack in the middle of our responsibilities and mindful of the things we need to do instead of the things we want to do. We aren’t giving ourselves the same permission to experience something different or just let go. Instead of going out to dinner to meet people, we do laundry. On a trip, there are no chores to be done or responsibilities to care take of really. We have to let go.
Greer notes that people who have extremely busy professional lives at home are more likely to fall in love while on vacation because their vacation is their downtime. This is when they give themselves the permission to do everything they don’t have the time to do while at home. Plus, a long-distance relationship is perfect because they know it’s there but they don’t have to dedicate too much time to it.
However, just because you aren’t ready to pick up and move across the globe doesn’t for someone mean it isn’t real love, which was another question I always grapple with. Am I just a big drama queen who likes to pretend she’s in a big passionate romance like in the movies? Greer confirms that it is real love, it just might be a different kind.
If by different she means better, I agree. Through the tearful goodbyes, promises to keep in touch and long Skype calls, I don’t regret embracing my personal tour guide, the warm body next to me in an unfamiliar bed and someone special to share every moment of my trip with. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, don’t let the fear of a broken heart stop you from traveling and loving. The best thing about the fantasy of a movie-esque foreign romance is that it is attainable. It sparkles. And though every sparkle eventually fades, there’s no reason not to bathe in the glow when this one is lit.
Maggie Parker is Paste Magazine’s assistant travel editor and an NYC-based journalist specializing in travel and entertainment.