Lessons Learned From Traveling – How A Few Romances Taught Me To Love Myself
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
Another great lesson I learned from travel.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing to travel all over the world. I’ve traveled alone, except for a few delightful moments when I met a fellow traveler and shared the road, and a room. I’ve been asked, many times, whether I’m lonely. While there are moments in time I have felt alone, for the most part, I don’t feel lonely. I’m constantly meeting people wherever I go. But there are moments I notice I’m not in a couple and definitely long for that male companion to share my travels with.
I know some of you have been curious about romantic life on the road. Whether about mine, or what it may be like if you, too might want to travel full-time after the pandemic is more of a memory. So, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned, meeting men I would never have met had I not dared to become a nomad. To protect privacy, I will be intentionally vague about where I met people and names. In the end, it’s not the location or the names that matter, but the experiences.
A beach somewhere in Latin America. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
An Angel On Earth. Latin America.
When I started my travels in 2018, romance was the last thing on my mind. Coming from New York City, where dating is like a never-ending drama series best left turned off, I didn’t expect to meet anyone. In fact, when working in Manhattan I dressed my best and wore makeup every day, but when I travel, I skip the makeup, and my wardrobe is more hippy than elegant. Even a bra has become a rarity. Thus, I’m amused that I’ve had more dates and met more men on the road than in all the years since my divorce!
I took a group tour one day to a local mountain. The van door slid open, and our tour guide stood at the opening. Our eyes met, and I felt a strange and immediate connection with a man I had never met. Perhaps I just felt seen. Perhaps it was his gorgeous eyes. I was part of a sizeable group so I was flattered that he spent a good deal of time with me. And, when I fell flat on my ass in some slippery mud on the way down our trail, he came over to get me, and then held my hand the rest of the way down. He walked backwards the entire way down, making sure I felt supported with each step.
Our group went to dinner later that night, and I didn’t have an inclination that he might be interested in me until, at dinner, he gave me a little massage and was very attentive. So, a few nights later, I went back to the same restaurant, since he said he ate there most nights. He was there with that day’s tour group. When he saw me, he left his group dinner to eat with me. We tried to get ice cream afterwards, but the shop was shut. He walked me home and was a complete gentleman. I hoped to meet him again the next day, but we hadn’t exchanged any contact information, so it didn’t happen, and I moved on from his town, thinking I’d never see him again.
A week later, I ended up returning. I went back to his favorite restaurant three times to see him, but he wasn’t there. My last night in his town, I went to dinner with another friend I had made, who runs a local coffee shop there. I told her my story, and, to my surprise, she turned out to know my tour guide and connected us on Facebook! I reached out to him the next morning, from her café, and he came over a short while later and suggested I change my plans and stay with him that night. I accepted. To this day, I remember in the morning feeling like I was in the presence of an angel. I am honored to have met him and to now be able to call him a friend.
My rental car – like a family member for several weeks! Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
A Complete Wanker. Europe.
Several months later, I ventured off to Western Europe. I spent part of the time at a friend’s house in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Down the road lived a few WWOFers. I became especially friendly with one of them. I had rented a car so we spent most days driving off someplace for an adventure and forming a nice friendship. It had been a while since I felt like I had a base of friendship first with a guy, and I liked the experience.
Things turned romantic one evening when, to my surprise, he stayed after a dinner party I hosted for everyone, to help me with the dishes. At the time, I thought I had found a partner of some sort. We had deep, intellectual discussions and seemed to have a lot in common. It wasn’t until later that I realized I let myself be manipulated and accepted his poor behavior.
Whenever I questioned his actions, he got defensive, or got up and walked away. Despite this, I ended up paying 80 euros later that summer, and traveling 12 hours to see him for a weekend, at his request. It was quickly clear he had been with someone else and didn’t really want me there. When I left, he abandoned me at the train station, knowing I would miss my connecting train. I did, and when I called him for help, he told me to ask someone else. He later texted me a flowery breakup message. While he remains the biggest asshole I met during my travels, it is because of my behavior with him that I challenged how I let some people treat me, and did the hard work to raise my integrity and self-respect.
Rolling hills somewhere in South America. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Unexpected Love. South America, 2019.
My first month in South America, I took a fun tour of a farm estate. My guide and I got along great, lots of laughter, and ended up having a drink with the other ladies on our tour. He drove us all home, dropping me off last, and surprised me with a kiss. It was quite a good kiss! However, I wasn’t looking for a one-night stand so it ended there. Ironically, we stayed in touch and he moved to New Zealand, and I’ve caught up with him a few times here! He’s turned out to be a lovely and respectful man I’m glad I met. (Sorry to disappoint, we’re just friends!)
Later in my travels, I was in a café with two wonderful Argentinian ladies I had befriended on a tour. I was struck by the man at the table next to us; he was writing in a journal, with a pen (rather than his phone or a computer) and drinking orange juice. I couldn’t help myself, and chatted him up. I found out he’s from South Africa, in a town not far from a friend of mine. It turned out we were traveling the same direction. We exchanged numbers, met up the next day and ended up traveling together for a month.
This was the strangest connection in my travels. We had a significant age difference, and yet, there was a striking feeling between us that I’ve never experienced in my life. Whatever it was helped me understand why my marriage didn’t work. At the end of each day with this man, no matter what arguments or difficulties might have happened in a day, we ended the day deeply connected. When I was with him, I felt deeply cared about. I had the courage to tell him when he did something that hurt me or conflicted with my value system. When I did, he had the self-awareness and courtesy to think about his actions, and the care to try to make me happy. When we parted ways, it was with “I love you” and I cried for weeks. We tried to stay in touch. He even reached out every day for half of last year, but, ultimately, I realized I can’t be friends with someone I felt so connected to, at least not for now. So, I asked him to stop contacting me.
I realize, now, how important that action was. I took the action, rather than letting it “happen”. It was extremely hard to let go of someone for whom I cared so much, but, in the end, I realized I had to care for myself first, and this decision that I made, and that I chose, was best for me. I chose myself. I believe that all of these other experiences I’ve had, including quitting my job for the same reason, led me to be able to make, and exercise, my decision. Noticing your own power of choice is a beautiful part of life.
My choices have led me to some amazing places. All Rights Reserved.
2020 Possibilities. New Zealand.
During my time in New Zealand, I met a tour guide who seemed interested, and a man in the town I lived for nine months who expressed interest in me, but, after my South African experience, I simply couldn’t date someone for whom I felt nothing romantic. And, during lockdown, I had zero interest exchanging germs with someone outside my bubble! In the end, we became friends of sorts, and he has some interesting business ideas I hope bring him far and wide.
Ready For Something Real
While I started this year with a nice (Covid-free) kiss, I’m keenly aware that I’m open to a partner to share my travels with. I’ve learned a lot, and certainly had fun, and shed a few tears. But as 2021 opens, it is with the hope that I meet a loving companion (and I don’t mean a dog!) to travel with. When in Napier a few weeks ago, I met a woman who told me she sometimes has an intuition about people. She told me that someone was coming soon who would share those travels with me. We shall see!
In the end, when I think about the romantic interludes that travel has gifted me, I believe they have helped me love myself more deeply. I love myself enough to be ok with what I want, and to no longer accept any less. And that is a valuable and fulfilling lesson!
Are You Ready For A Life of Travel?
Full time travel is wonderful, in so many ways. But, it’s not always easy. If you’re thinking of full-time travel, take this quiz to see if you’re ready! (And get some great tips to prepare you..)