From Vilnius to Mongolia, our writer reflects on a traveler’s search for love.
I noticed a dark eyed wanderer on the opposing couch at my hostel in Vilnius. James had the kind of hair that exists for fantasizing, and a resemblance to an Irish bad boy that had my eyes frequently locked onto him. That night, we started talking over beer and local vodka. We met a fifty-something Australian man who explained his passion for travel… and for his two women back home. James then explained how he had met and fallen in love with his girlfriend in New Zealand. I raised my eyebrows and nodded my head, taking a swig of beer to mask my feelings as I listened to him wax poetic about finding love on the road. Our Australian friend then asked me for my story. I hesitated, then mentioned a past love that had made me doubt myself.
Could I find love while traveling?
After the Australian went to bed, James and I stayed up talking for hours in the hostel’s basement, curled up on bean bags philosophizing about love lost and found. I fell asleep as he asked me about my ribald humor, which has long gushed from my unfiltered, unfaltering tongue.
The next day we explored Vilnius and our mutual passions. Sitting at a café sipping beer and eating Lithuanian fare, we spotted at least four couples in wedding processions. Looking at the long lacy trains and veils, I remarked “I don’t think I’ll find love during my travels.” “You will,” James replied, raising his beer as we drank in unison. I left Vilnius a few hours before he did. As I hugged him goodbye, I wondered if his prediction would come true.
One month later in Mongolia, I set out in a Soviet era van-cum-sandblaster to spend eight days exploring the steppes and deserts. I traveled with Petra, a girl I met on the Trans-Siberian who repaired tents with floss, and Sam, a German who taught me to fire a Frisbee and dance the Rumba. As our van bounced along, I flew out of my seat missing Sam’s lap by inches. My shoulders shook in silent laughter as tears streamed from my eyes, and my butt cheeks jostled on the van’s floor. I looked up to Sam and Petra, their speech equally paralyzed with mirth, as they shook with me in silent joy.
Days later, we arrived at the campsite where our shaman was to commune with the spirit world, and let his body be a vehicle for centuries’ old wisdom. Petra, Sam, and I decided to take a hike before the ceremony. The climb up the steep, craggy mountains surrounding our campsite had been quick, but left us unable to talk or sing. Nonetheless, I wanted to shake it off. As Taylor Swift’s diabetically sweet lyrics belted from my smartphone, Petra, Sam, and I spun and flailed with the vigor of a toddler in a tantrum, Mongolia’s Eternal Blue Sky smiling down on us.
On the last night of our Gobi trek, we huddled close to watch shooting stars, more than I’d ever seen blaze across the sky. I can’t even begin to remember all the wishes I made, but as we lay snuggled together in our sleeping bags that night, I can’t imagine needing anything but the warmth of Sam and Petra.
A few more months passed as I rode motorbikes, busses, and trains through Southeast Asia to reach Da Lat, Vietnam. My last evening before flying to Bali, I plopped down on our hostel’s common room banquettes, sipping Vietnamese beer and checking out my neighbor’s long dark lashes and blue-green marbled eyes. Shoulder to shoulder, Nils and I sat talking about the Swiss Alps and Bond Girls, as I noticed those lashes flickering down to my lips; my eyes often fluttered to glance at his mouth, searching for the second that would lead to…Frisson filled beers in Da Lat, heady with stolen glances and bad timing, make any night end too soon. Before running to catch my minibus, I felt nerves and excitement mingle as I wished I had one more day to spend with Nils, or one moment to pull him close.
From the mountains of Vietnam to the sands of Mongolia, I danced, cried, and laughed with people from around the world. I realized that even if I had only known someone for twenty-four hours, I could feel like a nervous teenager on her first date, hoping he’d lean in for that first kiss. I could look into my friend’s eyes as she talked of failed relationships while ricocheting down the road in a Jeep worthy van, though I would never live or work with her. I could sit at a café overlooking a man-made lake, musing on the relationships I had formed as I sucked passion fruit juice through a straw and felt the sultry breeze graze my cheek. The people you meet as you explore the world force you to look inward and understand that love takes many shapes and scents, intoxicating and stirring every time.