How to find - and survive - a holiday romance

When you go on a solo adventure, you learn to expect the unexpected… but travelers rarely anticipate the unexpected could be a holiday or travel romance. It has happened to me several times, and while I’ve always found it rich and exciting, it has also taught me a few lessons about love on the road.

A couple hold hands walking on an urban sidewalk
There are lessons to be learned about love on the road © Petri Oeschger / Getty

I am a 30-year-old female traveler. The nomadic lifestyle I chose for myself a few years ago hasn’t allowed me to build long-lasting romantic relationships. I have lived in more countries and cities than I can recall, and fallen in and out of love along the way. I moved from a Couchsurfing community in Peru to a shared flat with friends in Germany, then backpacked across Japan (three times) to eventually start a business in Vietnam. To survive this emotional rollercoaster, I had to teach myself how to deal with the expectations travel romances create, as well as their bittersweet endings.

How does travel romance blossom?

It is easier than we think to find love while traveling; we are usually at the top of our game after all. More laid back, outside of our regular environment, far from the pressure of work and maybe the gaze of our friends and families, we break free from some of the restrictions we – consciously or not – put on ourselves at home. That’s usually how we make it possible for love to catch us off guard. 

A couple laughs while carrying a picnic basket on the beach, dressed for a cold, drizzly day
The happiest of trips can be when you find a travel companion © Hero Images / Getty

Travel romances have always started for me at the most unexpected times. My first meaningful travel story started in Hualien, Taiwan and ended in Okinawa, Japan — with many winding turns and beautiful memories in between. I didn’t know he had been eyeing me from the first day; I only realized later that spending more time with him would enhance my journey, so I made my travel plans coincide with his. That’s how my happiest trip to Okinawa happened. If it hadn’t been for him, I would probably never have discovered so soon that Naha Island has such beautiful sunsets on the beach. 

A couple dances in an archway in Venice
Shared points of interest make it easy for fellow travelers to spend time together © Sam Edwards / Getty

While a holiday romance can come in the form of a local, for me, it’s generally happened with other travelers for simple reasons: shared accommodation makes it easier to meet and the tourist sights help arrange a common schedule and more opportunity to get to know each other. Besides, I travel more often to countries where I can’t speak the language, which tends to limit my interactions with locals — maybe body language can suffice when it comes to some aspects of the romance, but personally, I still need a proper introduction!

What to expect from a holiday romance

The instability inherent to travel tends to make holiday romances very special; because they are limited in time and space, they are often an accelerated version of a traditional love story. You meet, you live, you part, sometimes in a timespan of a few days. From traveling solo, you suddenly jump into a full-on adventure with somebody, spending all your time with them while knowing you might only have a couple of days to enjoy their company. The setting only amplifies both the love and the location. Add the fact that short-lived romances are usually exempt from the pressure of tomorrow, and get ready for one of the most emotional journeys of your trip! 

A couple on a scooter stop to look up at mural on the wall
Soak in every moment of the time you have with this person, be it a few weeks or a few days © Sofie Delauw / Getty

When you encounter romance along the way, you must do two things: enjoy it as much as you can, and manage your expectations. One of my favorite things when my solo trip turns into a two-person holiday is the new dynamics it creates; the feeling of attraction with another person full of travel passion coupled with new momentum to enjoy activities that you might not have taken up on your own. It can create space for more exploration and, as our world is designed for duos, it has a practical advantage; you now become eligible to all these travel activities made for at least two.

Now for expectation management: it might sound unromantic but trust me, it will help you cope when facing the inevitable end of your love story. As strong as your feelings might be away from home with this undoubtedly beautiful person, it likely has a very real expiration date, often in the form of a ticket back home. So unless one of you, or both, are flexible enough to bend your travel plans (and it’s not that easy to decide), or feel like transforming your holiday romance into something more, it is very unlikely it will turn into a solid long-term relationship. That's a big leap of faith based on one brief, shared experience.

Couple backpacking in the mountains holding hands
There is a difference in a committed relationship and the highs you feel with your new travel partner © martin-dm / Getty

You might have felt like you’ve never felt before. You might even have fallen in love. But a long-lasting relationship is built on persistence, actions, and consistency over time. Will you be able to demonstrate these to each other during only a few days or weeks on holiday?

What to do when travel romance ends

The end of a romance is never an easy transition. It is at best bittersweet, and at worst leaves you bursting into tears any moment — the result depends on how you manage your expectations. I have gone through bitterness, sadness, and a great deal of frustration after my own travel romances have ended because, whatever we say and however detached and self-sufficient we believe we are, we are all looking for love. 

The writer, a young woman, sits on a boardwalk overlooking a river. There is a lush jungle and the remains of a temple gate in the background.
The writer reflects on her travel romances © Fabienne Fong Yan / Lonely Planet

So what to do if your romance has come to an end and it seems the world has faded a little bit with it? What to do if, despite your desire to travel more, your heart aches? Well, there are not many choices: you will have to heal and move on. It hurts, and that's okay. The fact a chapter is ending doesn’t mean it wasn’t written. Love is going away, but it was there. And there is beauty in this.

If it made you feel good, if it made your heart grow, if you know those feelings you created will remain forever in your soul, honor your feelings and gracefully tuck them away in your memory box, right where they belong. 

Do you still want to travel and see more? Well, the world is big enough! Don’t worry. You will love a person in some corner of the world and, rest assured, lasting love will come around eventually.

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