10 Love Stories From My Travels
Many years ago, I purchased The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel, a guide to strange, new, and offbeat ways of exploring while traveling. (The book is now out of print; you can buy used copies here.) These are new and different ways to not only explore a destination, but to see your hometown in a new way.
Some of the methods?
Erotourism. A couple travels to a new city and spends a day trying to find each other without any communication.
12 travel. Take the #12 bus, get off at the 12th stop, cross 12 streets and pause in front of #12. And just see what you see.
Bar travel. Order a drink at a bar, chat with the bartender, and have him or her decide which bar to go to next and what drink to order.
And then there was my favorite: Ariadne’s Thread.
For this idea, you give someone a list of ten or so places within a city you’ve spent a lot of time in and ten or so stories — only you don’t tell them which place matches each story. The explorer visits each of the places, tries to figure out which story matches where, and ends up wondering about the person’s life.
It’s a puzzle, but one that might be more satisfying unsolved.
I’ve always wanted to create an Ariadne’s Thread trip for a traveler. They’re obviously best when confined to one city, when a person can wander around all day, but this one I’m going to do for all over the world.
Here are 10 memorable mini love stories from my travels and the 10 locations where they took place. Some are sweet. Some are sad. One is awful. At least one of the stories predates the blog. But the destinations are completely random. You’ll need to figure them out!
We said goodbye over the course of several hours. Both of us were on multi-leg trips that day: train, plane, bus, subway, tram, what have you. At first I was the one who was wreaked with despair, digging my fingers into your clothes, finding new ways to hold you as you comforted me in our final hours together. Then as we turned to say goodbye, I smiled.
In that moment, your face fell apart. You knew at that point that I was ready to move on with my life. This could never last. We weren’t going to see each other again. You clung to me as desperately as I clung to you earlier, your hands in my hair, kissing my face.
And my heart broke. But it was an externalized heartbreak now. I had grieved the relationship on the journey there. Now all the sadness I felt was for you.
“You’ll be okay,” I whispered.
I turned and walked away, turning back once to wave. You were still there, waiting, like you didn’t know where to go next. It destroyed me. But not enough for me to turn around a second time.
There have only been two times in my life that I was as instantly attracted to someone as you. It literally took a glance of half a second and I was gone, flying above the rooftops. So bizarre. You weren’t my type — not remotely — and it’s not like I was even available, anyway.
That moment changed everything. I was happy with my life before you swept in like a tornado. We became instant friends and spent a lot of time together, some of it alone — something that I now realize was a mistake when faced with so much temptation.
The crazy thing was that I had zero desire to actually date you. You were interesting and a lot of fun, but you would have driven me up a wall. But had I had the opportunity to be alone with you on top of a mountain, in the middle of a forest, my forehead pressed to yours, I would have bubbled over with happiness.
During our time together, I obsessed over every detail about you, every nuance in your facial expressions, every word you said. I would have dived off a cliff if it meant I would land in your arms. One day I even slept on your shoulder, the discomfort balanced out by the radiating heat that grew inside me.
Nothing happened between us, and I will always be grateful for that.
I told no one about you. Instead, I kept my memories of you hidden inside me, a ball of energy wrapped up for safekeeping, my secret indulgence. Sometimes I’d be on a bus or train and turn on Jessie J’s “Domino,” and every memory would come flooding back.
Looking back, I wonder if you knew. If you figured it out, you’re a better person than me.
You walked me home, and I thought it was just to be polite. Of course I wanted to kiss you. There were a million reasons why that wouldn’t be a good idea, and I’d been trying to talk myself out of it for days, but as soon as you decided to kiss me, everything flew out the window.
It was too much. The heat, the humidity, the alcohol. My hair hung in sweat-dampened ringlets; my mascara was smeared.
“I…really? I didn’t think you…” I shook my head.
“I bought you a rose!” you exclaimed.
I laughed. Buying me a rose did seem a bit obvious in retrospect. Then I felt off-balance.
“Hold on,” I gasped. “I need to sit down.” I grabbed a bench as the dizzy spell hit, then flew out of me. I breathed. That was the first and only time I came close to fainting from a first kiss.
We had been arguing — you versus me and my friend. You said transgender people shouldn’t be referred to by their preferred gender unless they had gone through gender confirmation surgery. My friend and I vehemently disagreed. And over the next ten minutes or so, we explained why your argument was wrong.
You were used to arguing with me alone. You were used to me getting tired and acquiescing. This was the first time you didn’t have the upper hand.
I extricated myself and went to the bathroom. As I opened the door, you were waiting for me. I smiled, ready to make peace and change the subject.
“You’re a cunt,” you hissed. “You don’t know anything.”
You had never called me that before.
My face burning, tears behind my eyes, I ran to our table and said goodbye to my friend, too embarrassed to tell her the truth, leaving you two to share a giant dessert intended for the three of us. I went back home, searched in vain for friends I trusted enough to confide in, and softly chanted to myself, “When people show you who they are, believe them. When people show you who they are, believe them.”
Was this it? Would this be the end of us? This should be the end of us.
But we had so many travel plans together. So many favors I had called in — I couldn’t go back on them now without looking like a flake. So much time I had invested in our relationship. But how was I supposed to travel with you now?
I don’t know why R. Kelly’s “Bump & Grind” came on your phone — either it happened by chance, as you inferred, or you planned it that way, which I wouldn’t have minded. Either way, you said, “Middle school dance?” and I giggled, putting my hands on your shoulders as you put yours on my waist. Somehow we ended up slow dancing, the city gray in the early morning light.
Yes. That was your move. And it was a very effective one. You moved in for the kiss as we swayed to 90s R&B, the only two people in the world.
“Don’t get too attached to me,” you said.
“This is nothing,” I replied as I tipped my head upward to keep the imminent tear from falling. “I cry at everything. I can’t not feel everything. My heart’s on the outside.”
“I just want to make sure you know…this isn’t going to be forever.”
“Trust me,” I reassured him. “You have nothing to worry about. I have no expectations. This is just a few days together. Let’s just enjoy the time we have.”
“But you can come visit me,” you added. “You can stay with me. Even if you have a boyfriend by then, he can come, too. I’d just like to see you. As a friend.”
“That’s so kind of you,” I whispered, laughing as another tear dropped. “This isn’t sadness. I’m okay! This is what I do. I cry. I’m being a person.”
You wipe the tear away, your fingers lingering on my cheek.
“And likewise,” I added. “You’re welcome in New York anytime. Once I move there.”
There’s a much bigger chance that I’ll end up in his neck of the woods than vice versa, I thought. The chance of us ever seeing each other again would be entirely up to me. And I don’t know if I could make that happen.
I didn’t know your name. You didn’t know mine. We’d both had a bit to drink. It was late, I wanted to work online, and this was the only time that the internet worked half-decently. We talked about books, I rambled on about my latest read on the life of Jesus Christ, and, perhaps to shut me up, you grabbed my face and kissed me.
We paused, looking at each other. Nope.
I went back to my laptop. You went back to your phone.
“Now, Kate, have you got a boyfriend?”
“Nope, no boyfriend.”
“Have you got a man waiting for you back in Boston?”
“No, I don’t have a man waiting for me back in Boston,” I replied with a laugh, my voice matching your lilts and drops. “He’d be waiting a long time.”
“Why, I find it hard to believe that a cool girl like you could be single.”
If it had been anyone else speaking, I would have rolled my eyes — but with you, it was perfect. Not even cheesy. Just sweet. And delightful. And wrapped up in your lovely accent.
It was also quite dark, the easier for me to conceal the huge grin that covered my face. Yes. This probably meant that you liked me.
It was your charm that initially won me over. But it was your goodness that I came to love the most.
We said goodbye with a hug, your bicycle between us. You were sunshine in every way possible. What were the odds that years after spending just one night together in Asia, we could meet again in your hometown, bearing slightly deeper creases around our eyes, and feel every flutter, every thudding heartbeat, just the same as when we were backpackers?
I was in a lot of pain when I met you the second time. The day before arriving in your country, I had discovered my partner’s secret double life and knew I had no choice but to leave him — but I was afraid of his reaction and didn’t want to tip him off until I could safely move my belongings and myself away from him. Until then, I was living two lives.
I was a mess. And somehow you were perfect. Kind. Generous. Attentive. Understanding. I nearly cried at the novelty of being with a sweet man who cared about me and made me feel happy.
After that hug, I wanted to kiss you more than anything. But I was still technically in a relationship, and I refused to do anything but maintain the moral high ground until the relationship was officially over. So instead we broke the hug and I took your hand.
One second passed.
Two seconds passed.
Three seconds passed.
Three seconds of holding your hand as we smiled at each other — that definitely crossed the line into we-know-this-is-more-than-friendship territory.
Oh GOD, my heart was racing and I wanted to kiss you so much. But that was all there would be. A hug and a brief handhold. And then our time together was over.
Nearly two years later, we finally talked about it.
“I didn’t kiss you because I wanted to be better than him,” I told you.
“You always were,” you replied.
I should have kissed you.
“Is he gay or straight?” my friends and I wondered all night. Over the past few days, you seemed to show zero interest in anyone, male or female. Few mentions of your home life. No mentions of a girlfriend, past or present. You were equally friendly with each of us.
But there was one thing — you looked at me when you laughed.
Thank you, Reddit, for all the life hacks you’ve taught me. In a thread on body language, I learned that when people laugh, they instinctively look at the person with whom they have the strongest connection. And in moments of laughter, your eyes always found mine.
The night concluded and our group headed up to bed. In a long line of friends, the two of us brought up the rear.
I turned around. “Yeah?”
“Can you make sure I’m up at 7:30? I just don’t want to miss the bus.”
“Yeah. Of course.”
And then you leaned forward and kissed me, right there on the stairs. I was floored.
Several minutes later I climbed the stairs and rejoined my friends, hands raised in triumph. “He’s straight!”
So, where did these stories take place?
On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
In a guesthouse in Lanquín, Guatemala.
In front of a guesthouse off Khao San Road in Bangkok.
On a balcony in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires.
Outside a hostel in Santorini.
In Munich’s train station.
In the stairway of a coffeeshop in Seoul.
In a hotel courtyard in Helsinki.
On a boat docked off Tobacco Caye in Belize.
Walking through the streets of Hoi An, Vietnam.
The photos above are from those destinations (excluding the two love locks images), all in random order.
There is, however, a bit of logic that will allow you to unravel the puzzle. Was I traveling with a group in Helsinki? Would anywhere have served a giant dessert on a tiny island like Tobacco Caye? Would the internet have been that bad in Seoul?
Where do you think these stories took place?
Some of these are easy to figure out. Others, not so much.
I won’t be revealing them, and I won’t be confirming or denying any guesses in the comments. It’s better to leave you wondering.
(But I know some of you guys are crafty detectives, so I’ll say this: if you manage to guess all 10 stories correctly, I’ll let you know privately via email.)