It’s not that different throughout the world, really: it all starts with a smile. A look into the eyes, the kind of look you cannot ignore, the one that goes right through to your heart. The one that makes it beat a bit faster, maybe just a little, maybe just a flutter – but something is touched and you’re lost. You’ve fallen in love.

Add the rush and joy of the first few days or weeks, the excitement, the butterflies. And the dread of course, because after all, your flight is leaving in two days, your train departs the next morning, your bus ticket is waiting in your wallet, ready to send you off again to new adventures. And, possibly, new loves.

When I first started travelling the world I didn’t think much about the implications this would have for my love life. I was eighteen and I didn’t do much planning, love-wise (or other). It was one place now, the next place tomorrow, on repeat.

Girl Always Gone Long Distance Relationship Travel

Of course, there was the occasional fling, there were even a few loves lost on the road, left behind, but what does it matter when a new destination, an exotic country, a different continent is waiting for you to replace your broken heart? The boy I left in the Balkans didn’t care much that I left anyways, the fling in Central America was not meant to be for more than two days, the cute Norwegian guy was never serious boyfriend-material to begin with.

But three years in, I started to long for something else, for something a little bit more stable, a person to share my experiences with, someone to be there by my side when I stretch out my thumb on some godforsaken road in the middle of the mountains, trying to hitch a ride back to civilisation. Someone to cuddle with when the nights in the Indian trains get too cold, someone to hold my hand when I spend the day hugging a toilet bowl (thank you, street food), someone to lean on when watching the sun rise over a temple in the middle of Asia.

Girl Always Gone Long Distance Relationship Travel

It was never more than a slight itch at the back of my conscience, but still, the desire was there: settle down a bit, find someone to share my life with. My travels, too. The thing about the happiness and it only being real when shared wasn’t some crazy hallucination of a nearly starved-out guy in a van somewhere, after all – it’s the sad truth that came to a man who, close to the end of his life, realised his biggest regret when it was already too late to change it.

Then, two years ago, I had come back from abroad to spend a few weeks at home when I met this guy. He ticked everything off my list, and better yet: he knew of my being away all the time and still kept on writing and meeting me. We spent two months in a romantic haze, never thinking about that one day when I would take off again. Staying was never an option, I had a bachelor’s degree program waiting for me two countries over. We weren’t boyfriend-girlfriend at first, we were lovers, we decided. But that didn’t really work out, it meant more than that to us, and the night before I left, we made it official: we were in a relationship.

Girl Always Gone Long Distance Relationship Travel

A real, solid relationship, something that is meant to last, something that’s more than just a little crush. Something serious. Naturally, I was scared – the first time we Skyped, I was more nervous than the first time I took a flight all by myself to travel 10 time-zones away. What would we say to each other, over the computer? What was there to talk about, how could we still be romantic? We talked, we laughed, he said he liked me. Like-liked me. We skyped again every day after that.

By now, we’ve made it through two years of this long-distance thing: he in Austria, me in France, he in the U.S., me in Kyrgyzstan, both of us meeting somewhere in the middle every six weeks or so. He visited me twice in Asia, I spent a month with him in California. We met up in Istanbul, we had a meeting in India, he waited for me while I went to discover Central America during my holidays instead of going home to meet him.

Girl Always Gone Relationship Travel Long Distance

There’s a constant fight in me between staying and going. Some weeks, the settling down side is growing, weighs on me and makes me question my entire life. Other weeks, the urge for adventure and travel is bigger, drawing me to foreign countries and away from the one person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’m somewhere between the battle lines, trying to negotiate: if I go to this country, will you come with me? If I stay here for a while, is it okay if I spend a few months away after that? Can we leave everything and run away together?

Travel is escapism, but now there is a person whom I don’t want to escape from. If anything, I want to escape with him.

Girl Always Gone Long Distance Relationship Travel

Sometimes I wonder what it looks like from his perspective. He is older than me, more settled, has a career, a life at home – then why is his girlfriend always running? I pack up my bags and leave, not once, not twice, but always. Our relationship is broken down in stretches of time where we are together – and stretches where we are not. At times, it must feel like he is dating a phone: a wake-up call on Viber, a selfie on Snapchat, a beating heart on WhatsApp, saying good-night on Skype. His friends doubted if I even existed at all for those first few months – after all, they never saw me. I was away in – where? Kyrgyzstan? Is that even a country? Once he told me that staying hurts more than leaving. I am taking off to new adventures, to see the world, while I leave him behind in his everyday life, missing his girlfriend. My train rides to the airport became filled with tears. Leaving took on a bitter note for me, staying became harder and harder for him.

In the first year, he stayed behind, always, waiting patiently. By the second year, he travelled more, followed, led – I visited him when he was abroad for the first time. We started making plans for the future: we believe that we can have one, together. In the end, it’s a decision you make – the decision to work it out. It takes effort and determination, it takes long nights alone and coffee for one in the morning, it takes lonely sunset walks and longing messages, it takes wishes and dreams and a lot of trust, it takes feeling like you are missing a part of yourself. Call me a hopeless romantic, but if it’s for love, it’s worth all of that.

Girl Always Gone Long Distance Relationship Travel

Our two-year anniversary is coming up, and we are going to celebrate it together. In real life, not the virtual one we share so often. For the next two years, we have a master plan – one that involves moving in together. In the same place, in the same city, in the same country. And travelling? I’ll still do that. We’ll do that, sometimes together, sometimes not. It’s all about finding a balance.