Traveling is certainly a romantic way to live out your days, and what’s more romantic while traveling than falling in love.
I thought I’d do a little introduction of my partner. (Everyone, say hello to Alex!) This is our story of how I fell in love for the first time (with him!) while traveling and the lessons that came with it.
In August 2015, after 8 months of dating, Alex met up with me in Lucerne, Switzerland. We were excited to begin our month of backpacking Europe together, and after a month of me backpacking solo, I was eager to have a teammate join my adventures. After week 3, the days were starting to get lonely, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
The trip was romantic and frugal, a fairytale and dirt cheap. We slept in bunk beds in stinky hostel rooms. We walked long distances to avoid taking Ubers and the bus. We picked up grocery items at food stores like Billa and Aldi and sat on the concrete steps, overlooking the selfie-stick- carrying crowds and stone tower churches. We were broke and we had a budget to stick to.
Other days we treated ourselves to fancy meals out. I’d take off my wrinkled flannel and jeans and slip on a dress and earrings, and we’d pretend we were the richest backpackers in Italy. We drank wine and ate piles of bread as we overlooked the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and we kissed as we rode a gondola in Venice. Breadsticks were special to us. In our first messages on the dating app, OkCupid, I wrote to Alex that I was planning to backpack Europe that summer and was eager to visit Italy. When Alex excitedly wrote about his love for the little crunchy breadsticks that are often placed on the tables in Italy, I instantly bonded with his love and excitement for food. 8 months later in Italy, I made it a point to buy some breadsticks at the local Italian shop and place them in a cup on our table.
During the 8 months we had been dating, we had very few conflicts. We never argued, and overall our relationship was very peaceful, easy-going and fairly simple: we were best friends who enjoyed each others company and experiencing all that New York City had to offer. But we often disagreed on things. Alex and I are total opposites and that definitely began to take notice while we were backpacking Europe. We began to nit-pick each other more. A few arguments here and there left us stone-cold in Verona, followed by our biggest argument in Versailles, and since we often didn’t argue in the first 8 months of dating in New York, this threw me off a bit. Spending 24/7 with a partner and having a heavy backpack strapped to your back as you’re catching trains from city to city is the perfect way to test a new relationship.
These arguments and long discussions, silent tensions and the ease and quickness with which we forgave one another made me realize how serious my feelings for him were growing. And day by day, my thoughts were beginning to turn to love.
By week 3, we were preparing to leave Italy and the gorgeous city of Verona and hop a train to France, a country that Alex spent his childhood growing up in and could help translate the French language to me.
It was in the south of France that I realized my feelings for him weren’t changing. We arrived in Nice and dumped our heavy backpacks on the floor before venturing out into the busy, spacious streets. I grabbed some French desserts and Alex grabbed some Chinese food, his favorite. Always. But I was eager to have some alone time. I spent some quiet time in the dorm room – a tiny ship-themed room with 4 bunk beds, a small wooden desk, and a cozy bathroom in the corner – and caught up in my journal. After some time had passed, Alex came in with his smelly, greasy Chinese food (my least favorite) and enthusiastically began devouring his chicken and noodles.
While writing, I kept being distracted by his head bobbing as he listened to his trance music and chowed on his Chinese food. But the feeling instantly turned to something else. It was a feeling of permanence and I knew exactly what it meant.
I had fallen in love.
I wrote my thoughts in my journal. He hadn’t ever expressed his feelings of “love” before, so I was unsure whether to say it first. Saying it first is always the scariest thing to do, but I always believe wholeheartedly that anyone and everyone deserves to know if you feel a certain way about them – whether it’s romantic or not. As the thoughts became louder, I worked through my feelings in my journal faster, but there was no turning back and the thought had become so loud, that I was eager to share my news with my teammate sitting on the floor next to me. A few minutes later, while cuddling in a tiny college-dorm styled bunk bed, I expressed those magical words I had never said aloud before.
And it felt amazing. The words had left my system, and I felt instantly free! Alex was flattered and overjoyed by my sudden feelings, but I was silently disappointed and shocked when he expressed that he didn’t feel the same way quite yet.
For the rest of the trip, I silently ruminated what this meant. How could he not feel the same way after almost 9 months together? Was it my imagination telling me that he felt what I felt during this backpacking trip? What about that look he gave me during ____ Didn’t that mean something?? And then, I began to beat myself up: Why did I have to tell him so soon? I should’ve waited until he said something first. I feel so stupid for telling him and he not feel the same way.
But I shouldn’t have felt embarrassed. Telling someone you love them for the first time is scary. And it puts you in a deeply vulnerable place. But that’s where courage lies. Bravery stems from doing something that feels scary to you and doing it anyway. And expressing love to someone, whether or not the other person feels the same way, is a thrilling thing to do. For the rest of the trip, Alex and I had a magical time exploring Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen, but there was this tiny nagging in the back of my mind: how am I the only person feeling this?
As one of my favorite writers, Brene Brown wrote, “if you are brave enough often enough, you’re going to fall.” And whether that’s telling someone you love them first or getting a divorce or firing someone or starting your own business, this is what it means to live a brave life. Choosing courage means choosing to fall.
If you’re interested in knowing how the story turned out, Alex fell in love with me the week after our Europe trip and he told me on his 26th birthday, just a few weeks after that. And he was much more romantic at telling me than I was on that tiny bunk bed in a dorm room in the south of France.
How are ways that you are choosing to be more courageous and tenacious? Comment below 🙂