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The 4 Stages of a Relationship Abroad

Lex and his girlfriend Mari. Lex Cowan


Every traveller has entertained the idea of a romance far from home. Here's what you can expect if you find it.

Many single travellers either secretly (or perhaps not-so-secretly) keep the romantic notion that they might find a partner to share the wonders and challenges of living abroad. 

Without a doubt, having a partner by your side can enrich your travels, but there are also challenges, traps and pitfalls we can easily step into when we throw caution to the wind in our worldly romantic pursuits.

Three years ago I found the love of my life. During our time in Thailand, we've experienced some of the joys and trials of making a relationship work so very far away from our home countries. We've both noticed that there are stages to how relationships built abroad work. Here's what you can expect (and hopefully avoid). 

Early days

When you first begin your relationship, it’s going to be nothing but unabashed excitement and glee as you gaze into each other's eyes in front of exotic postcard backgrounds. There’s nothing you need to question and no future plans to dwell on because there’s just no time, or need, to take a breath from the magic of those early days.

You’ll quickly forget your practiced mantra of “travelling alone is the best way to see the world,” as your Instagram quickly fills up with high-angled selfie kisses and, with a patient and invested partner, a few more profile-worthy photos of yourself.

You’ll find yourself exploring new parts of town as you look for quiet getaways to steal kisses and surreptitious hand-holding under the tables of cute restaurants and bars. You’ll try harder to get away on the weekends because you don’t need more than the enthusiasm for each other and the thought of a hammock on a quiet beach to get you motivated. Your host country seems to open up before you and you get a chance to re-explore your favourite places in a different, more magical light.

The fall from the clouds

As fun as this early time can be, it’s often where most travel relationships end.  Where you were quick to jump on the idea of a new love, the realities of the longevity of your relationship can come crashing down around you at the first sign of trouble. Perhaps it’s as simple as realizing the only thing you have in common is your love of travelling. Or maybe your personalities don’t gel as well as you thought and if you’re honest, that hammock was never big enough for two people anyway.

Perhaps you'll realize the only thing you have in common is your love of travelling. If you’re honest, that hammock was never big enough for two people anyway.

There are also going to be challenges unique to people living abroad. First, being around so many different nationalities and cultures means that you’re likely to find yourself dating someone from a different country from yourself. While that’s not an issue early on, it may be a strain on the romance when you start thinking about where to explore next or heading home. It could that you partner can't legally work in your country, or they'd rather go to Vietnam when you had your heart set on Japan. The implications of these decisions will force your budding relationship to face some hard truths.

Two are better than one 

If you can overcome the obstacles that come with a relationship on the road, there’s something magical waiting for you on the other side. While every partnership is destined to hit hard times, the ones that stick will change the way you experience the world. The romance of being in a foreign country, coupled with the lows and highs of being so far from home, create a unique bond. Where before you might confide your dreams, now you plot them across the world together. Your individual struggles over co-workers, the little frustrations of immigration visits and language misunderstandings all become something to work out together as you begin to take on the world as a pair. 

You learn to rely on each other and it comes quicker because your support is so sparse in comparison to your home. When you realize (either consciously or unconsciously) that you’ve found a partner for the long-term, then they quickly become your confidante, your support and your inspiration.

In short, your partner in a foreign world quickly becomes your family.

Where the wind blows 

One of the things so many people who’ve decided to leave home and see the world tend to have in common is there transient nature. So deciding to hitch ourselves to another person is a significant decision that will inevitably play a role in what you want to achieve and where you want to end up. That’s not to say your own desires take a back seat or that you have to give up anything significant—it’s just that you begin to adopt each other's passions and compromise your plans in order to accommodate each other and find a place for your love to grow together.

If you’re as lucky as I am, then what you find at the end of the challenges and the triumphs is a person who becomes more important to you than any single destination. In whatever capacity you’re travelling the world, the circumstances you’re in create the perfect environment to find a person in who you can find your strength, your inspiration and a whole new way in which to view the world.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Lex Cowan

Lex Cowan is a 31-year-old South African living and working as a teacher in the south of Thailand. He loves travelling and spends his free time exploring Southeast Asia.

Website: www.twoshoestravels.com

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