“Bjorn, you are going to need a very rare kind of girl.” The year was 2000, I was a freshman in college in France. I was getting lectured on women by an older friend.
He was right. I had quite the list of qualities I wanted in a girlfriend. And close to the top of the list was an openness to travel. I knew that things would never work out between me and someone “stationary”. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being a homebody. On the contrary, I sometimes envied those that were content staying in one place, those that didn’t have the traveler’s itch. Being able to stay in one town and go with the flow sounded temptingly simple on some level.
But the reality was that I was born into a family that traveled and lived internationally. I had grown up traveling and I knew that I would never be happy if I gave it up.
The right girl:
I knew what I wanted:
A girl whose world was more than just her own country. A girl that valued experiences over possessions. A girl that dreamed of oversees adventure and discovery rather than six bedrooms and a white picket fence. A girl that was open to seeing things from other perspectives. A girl that was willing to adapt, to learn. A girl that was willing to serve internationally. A girl, in short, that was going to be very difficult to find.
10 years later…
And difficult it most certainly was. After that freshman-year conversation, it took 10 years to find the girl. On April 3, 2011, Jammie and I got married. Two years later we took off to travel the world long-term. I am so grateful to have found someone that shares my passion in life.
The wedding pic above is like the victorious “after” shot of people that lose a ton of weight. The “before” picture was full of the blood, sweat and tears (lots:)) that it took to get here. This post is aimed at making that process easier for others.
Here are some things I learned that make deciding if she’s “the one” easier (ladies, the same tips hold for finding a guy who travels):
Listen to her dreams. As you start spending time with or dating a girl, listen to what she really gets excited about. It’s hard to fake genuine excitement.
What does she talk most about, future-wise? Is the dream a big house in her hometown or a career that would require her to stay put? Where does she see herself 10 years from now? What does the dream look like? Don’t interrogate her. But do encourage her to talk about the future.
Be careful not to judge. It is OK to value different things. This isn’t about being right or wrong. But be practical, too. If what she values requires you to stay put years on end, then realize that this may not be the girl for you.
Hell on earth…
I remember a friend from several years back who was incredibly miserable because he had missed the warning signs. He had married a very attractive, friendly girl and they had started a family. Everything was good except for the fact that she was adamant that she could never leaver her hometown. He felt trapped and cheated in life. He wasn’t going anywhere and it was a depressing situation all round. Don’t end up this way.
Check out the family. Go to as many family functions as possible and talk to everybody. It is a good idea in general to be on good terms with her family but consider this sleuthing time as well. Ask yourself some questions:
Does everyone live in the same place?
Are those that move away equally respected and accepted or are they shunned for their decisions? Culture plays a part in this.
Is it culturally appropriate to want to spread your wings, travel and see the world?
Chat to her parents. Have they ever traveled? Do they smile and get excited when you talk about other countries or can you see them tense up? Ultimately, you and the girl will need to make the calls in your lives but it would be great to have the parental blessing, right?
Float the topic. There are ways to bring up travel with your girlfriend that aren’t too blatant. Here’s a very basic tactic I used with girls I met:
Share some travel experiences and see if she reciprocates with her own. If she likes travel or is in anyway interested you can count on her being enthusiastic about telling you stories or listening to yours. If she yawns and changes the subject, take notice.
If the two of you don’t share a passion for travel, consider the long-term implications. Are you looking forward to being landlocked the rest of your days? Don’t throw away your happiness and hers by glossing over a big difference between you. Lifestyle is a big deal. Staying indefinitely in the same town can start to feel like prison if you are interested in mobility.
Test runs. There’s no need to get too crazy too fast. Start simple. Try taking some mini-trips with this person.
The ultimate relationship test is travel. Expect some bumps in the road, so to speak. But look at how this person deals with the unexpected and the unknown. What is the chemistry like between the two of you on the road? Do you like discovering new places together or are you perpetually at each others’ throats?
Be patient and give her time. Here’s a biggie: Chances are that one of you is going to be more of a travel enthusiast than the other. This was certainly true with Jammie and I.
At first, Jammie was not at all as into the idea of world travel as she is now. I still remember the day when she told me that she would be fine living in her hometown the rest of her life. I about died. But I am really grateful that I did not completely freak out. We talked about it and eventually we found some common ground where we realized that we both valued the adventure, discovery and service opportunities that travel, done right, could bring. But this took time. It taught me some patience. It was good for me!
Straight talk. It may be good to start with a “softly, softly” approach but don’t stop there. Have patience, but also realize that you need to be real.
If international travel and living abroad are important to you, then don’t wait until it is too late to share it. No need to come storming in, but be honest. Frame it as something you really value in life. Invite her to be part of it. Respect her response either way but know that this is an area that requires common ground for there to be happiness.
If she’s game, SEAL THE DEAL!!! OK, here’s the most important part: If she is game for travel and you guys are compatible, don’t let her get away! Marry the girl and hop on a plane:)