Being in a long distance relationship can be as foreign a concept to people as the nationality of the one you’re dating. We’re a bit of a silent group. It’s often crossed my mind why we don’t speak up about our experiences… then I remember the times I’ve spoken about my relationship with old friends and was met with, “It won’t last”, or disregarded as a “phase”. The topic has even brought out hostility and bitchiness.
Don’t worry though, I’ve figured it out: they don’t know. Because people in similar situations to mine don’t speak about it much, it’s a difficult thing to understand. It’s not your average story, and I can get that. But don’t we, as travellers, know this to be a fact of life around the world: to understand something foreign to you, you must have an open heart and mind, have respect and listen.
I’m a half-Czech, half-English girl living in London (UK), in a 2-and-a-half yearlong relationship with an American boy living in Boston (USA), who I met while we were studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. That becomes a bit of a mouthful when we’re asked how we met! And out of those 2-and-a-half years, we’ve been doing long distance for 2. I guess we must be doing something right… but what?
First of all, how did we decide to carry on after about half a year of being together? The simple answer: we’d always wonder, “What if…?”. It’s something I apply to my travels as well. Dive in head first, and say yes.
Deciding to go for it with a relationship of this kind and knowing how to make it work isn’t always easy, and unfortunately it can’t all be about love and spontaneity. You have to plan a lot, and know how you’re going to tackle it. A lot of things can throw you off in a long distance relationship, as it’s undeniably scary and new. Alan and I have been working this out for 2 years through a lot of trial and error, bundled up with a generous dose of confusion, arguments, tears and most importantly, love. So what have we learnt?
Time difference and little surprises
Alan and I work out time difference religiously, just like you do when you travel and want to know when you can talk to your family or friends. We communicate using Whatsapp, and send good morning and goodnight texts every day without fail. He’s five hours behind, so it’s a lovely gesture to have nice messages to wake up to, and I do the same for when he wakes up around midday, my local time.
Here and there we’ve also sent each other post. I’ve sent him crispy M&Ms (which had been discontinued in the US), drawings and hand written letters. He’s sent me flowers, chocolate and music. It’s a small something that goes a long way, plus it’s always a bonus to get post that isn’t just bank letters.
Skype dates – literally
We skype three times a week, sometimes making our Skype sessions more ‘date’-like. For example, we’ll make ourselves drinks while chatting; think coke and whisky, or glasses of wine. We don’t even have to share the same bottle – Alan can have red, and I can have white. Everybody’s happy!
We’ll reconstruct party-like celebrations with party poppers when it’s one of our birthdays, or there’s something to celebrate. We’ll also ‘hung out’ together by watching videos (I’ll admit, these are funny cat videos a lot of the time) or I listen to him play guitar (sometimes so soothing I fall asleep. Probably not a desired end to a date). You get creative because you have to, because you crave the different versions of each other.
Travel, travel, travel
Even with all the hard work and schedules, by far the best way to maintain a long distance relationship is travel – complete with a huge love and passion for it. Alan and I have had some incredible experiences and trips together: we’ve explored London, Norwich, Boston, New York, Niagara Falls, Montreal, Toronto, Amsterdam, Bruges, Bali, Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Big Sur, and of course where it all began, Australia. Together we’ve skydived, ziplined, sandboarded, surfed, fed elephants, slept under the stars, hiked to waterfalls and visited temples… and the wonderful thing about this way of life is that we not only count the days until we next see each other, but our next adventure.
Speaking of which, that’ll be when I go back to Boston – which has become a familiar, comforting face to me – and the following month when we go to Iceland. Discovering new places with Alan is one of my favourite things in the world. I strongly believe that if you want to be with someone for the rest of your life, travel with them. It allows you to discuss your impressions and findings of the world and discover how you each interpreted the same experience, on top of the more trivial matters, like your favourite TV shows.
Travel to your heart’s content together, learning constantly. You’ll find out about each other’s quirks through experiences abroad, when plans go wrong (which they inevitably will), when one or both of you encounter something scary. Nothing has shown me the colours of my boyfriend more than travel and how we react to it – on and off the road.
Despite the difficulties and the state of limbo when we’re forced back to our own cities within our own countries, I know that travel brings us together. Physically, of course, but also mentally. The things we’ve had to learn through travel, we’ve applied to maintaining our relationship when we have to stay still: patience for the next time we see each other, like the itch I have to go travelling again the moment I get home; sacrifice for the things I happily give up in order to afford to be able to see him, exactly like saving for that trip you really want; graciousness and compassion for when the other finds long distance particularly hard, just as when you experience the world, you realise that we’re all humans who love, laugh, and get scared; and the completely stubborn attitude to not give up because we’re determined to make us work, similar to how I refuse to let a life of travel slip out of my hands. We’ve never done things the typical, easy way… but where would life take you if you played by everybody else’s rules?
Even when we reach our long-standing mission to call the same place home (2 years and still waiting!), I know the travelling won’t stop. Neither will the little surprises or the array of date nights. It’s part of us now, under our skin, like it is for many, many people – in a long distance relationship or not.
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This is a guest post by Kirsten Powley who publishes all things travel at her blog.
Text and photos by Kirtsten Powley.