As a frequent traveler, I’m often asked what my favorite language is. Having traveled to 20 countries and taken 16 solo travel trips, I have an array to choose from. From Japanese, to Spanish, to French, I’ve heard a multitude of languages spoken all over the world. But I think my answer will surprise you.
When asked what my favorite language is, I always say it’s love. It’s spoken in every country. It’s universal and there are so many hints and gestures that can be picked up by any nationality, no matter if you’re Mongolian, Irish, or Nigerian.
Now, it’s always funny to talk about love seeing as I have never experienced it before. I’m what’s known as a Late Bloomer — someone who is older who has very little to no romantic experience. So, I travel the world and have people teach me about all aspects of love: dating, falling in love, marriage, proposals, raising kids. I even ask people to teach me about the difficult things that are sometimes tied to love like cheating, divorce, and domestic violence.
How did I start down this path? Back in 2018, I took a solo trip to Mexico. My primary reason for traveling is to meet people, so hostels are my go-to accommodation choice. Chilling at a table on the patio of my hostel in Mexico, I noticed a couple sitting close by. Their love was just oozing off them. I’m an empath and can feel love between other people so deeply. These two were so cute holding each other, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, and just laughing. I was drawn in.
They allowed me to sit with them, and they were so kind. We had the regular traveler small talk: “Where are you from,” and “What do you do?” But the hopeless romantic in me was dying to know more. So I asked, “How did you two meet?” Before I knew it, the conversation began to grow so much deeper. We were on to “When did you know you first loved each other,” “Where do you see yourself in five years,” “Do you want to be together forever,” and “How do you navigate fights and disagreements?”
Answer after answer, I was in awe of how vulnerable and honest they were. I’ve noticed this in my time staying in hostels all over, yet it never ceases to amaze me. People tend to be more open minded and willing to share deeper things about themselves while traveling. It takes pretty open-minded people to share a room with total strangers from around the world in the first place, and oftentimes, it can lead to unique moments of honesty. Many travelers think to themselves, “What’s the harm of sharing something personal? There’s a chance I may never see this person again, so let’s have a deep connection while we’re here in this moment.”
Back at my hostel in Mexico, it was getting late, so we said our goodbyes and I headed to my room. But I didn’t sleep. How could I? I had just heard such a beautiful love story and my mind was racing. I walked away feeling like I learned so much and I wanted to know more! I wanted to hear these stories from more people all over the world. So now, whenever I pack my bags and set off traveling, it’s in hopes of learning more about love along the way. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.
Never Settle For Less
In 2019, I went on a trip to Mongolia for my 27th birthday. While there, I sat down with many Mongolian women and they told me of their frustration with relationships and men in their lives. Many of the women I met told me they were getting married later or not at all due to disparities in education. A lot of men in the country, these women told me, aren’t on the same education level as the women, so in order to be married and have children and live that domestic life, many of the women I met said they had lowered their standards and given up on what they wanted. As I listened to their stories of infidelity, abuse and alcoholism, something these women wanted me to know was that it was better to be single than to be with someone you know isn’t good for you.
I get in my head a lot, especially around Valentine’s Day, that maybe I need to change the things I want in order to get a partner since I’ve never had one. I never viewed it as lowering my standards necessarily, but more so shifting them around. So I’m grateful to these women I met in Mongolia. Through their pain, anger, and frustration, they turned their tragedies into testimonies for women regardless of cultural background. That takes true strength and it’s that strength I experienced first-hand in Mongolia.
Effort Is Necessary
I recently interviewed a couple in a long-distance relationship between Seattle, WA and Australia. The pandemic had seriously impeded their ability to see each other, and the 19-hour time difference between them wasn’t helping. In order to maintain a relationship, they had to alter their sleep schedules, make time daily for each other, spend money shipping gifts to each other, and make sure communication was constant. Love is grand, but it takes work and it can’t be one-sided either. It’s waking up and constantly saying “yes, I choose to be with you.”
Love Can Happen Anywhere
Last year I met an American woman who shared with me her beautiful story of how she met her husband in Italy. I have to say, you always hear the best stories in hostels — I don’t know if she would have told me this story outside of the context of our small hostel room in London. But seeing as she was just there on a work trip and it was just the two of us in this room with nowhere to go, we got deep quite quickly. She told me she had been killing it in every aspect of her life, except love. She had an amazing job, she had just bought a house back home, and had an adorable dog to go along with the seemingly perfect life. All she wanted though was a partner to share that beautiful life with. She had given up on the idea though because it had been so long.
I told her I identified with feeling unlucky in love, as well. Then she told me of the time she took an impromptu trip to Italy as kind of a final acceptance of forever singleness (I’ve taken one or two trips like that of my own). One day she was sitting alone at an outdoor bar and a handsome man walked up and started talking to her. They talked all night and found they had so much in common. A year later, they got married right in the same spot they’d met. It happened so quickly for her after she thought it would never happen.
She told me this story in hopes of encouraging me. Yes, I may have visited 20 countries and met countless people, but there are 196 countries in the world and 7 billion people. So maybe I didn’t meet the one in France or Israel or Colombia. There are so many more places to explore, and love is waiting in all those areas. Funny how this woman who I shared a hostel room with for one night could change my whole mindset. It’s those unique experiences and tender moments that make travel so special to me.
There are things you can learn in love that will never fully make sense until you actually practice them. I may not know when or where I’ll meet my special someone, but travel has taught me to keep and open heart and open mind, to put in the effort, and to be ready for anything to happen anywhere.