As a traveler, it almost seemed comical (and perhaps fitting) that the relationship which led to my getting engaged to a wonderful man began as a long distance one. I liked to think that my years of travel experience had allowed me to sharpen the skills needed to give a long distance relationship a real shot at working out.
Not only were Leon and I long distance, but we were on opposite ends of the country. I was in D.C., and he was out in California working as an attorney for the U.S. Army. We met through mutual friends back in 2005, while I was interning in D.C. and he was in law school. Our first meeting was at Lauriol Plaza, a great Mexican restaurant in D.C., and we were both there for our friend Chris’s birthday dinner. I was focused on finishing my internship, and he was focused on his law books. The main thing I remember about our first introduction was that I argued with him when he tried to pay for my dinner. I protested that he was a law student, and he responded that I was an intern–I conceded defeat and let him pay for my enchiladas.
Fast forward to 2010, when I had been living and working in D.C. for about a year. He was in town for an Army conference, so our scheming friends Rose and Chris (well, mainly Rose, my friend with a knack for matchmaking) planned to get us together once again. We met at a Thai restaurant in Pentagon City, and after reconnecting with Leon I remarked to Rose that he was such a great guy and whoever ended up with him was truly fortunate.
I ended up being the fortunate girl (yay), and even though we were on opposite sides of the continental U.S., Leon pursued me. He flew out to D.C. just to take me on our first date, and things progressed smoothly from there. We tried to see each other at least once a month over the next year, arranging visits in different cities, whether to meet up with his family in Colorado and mine in Texas, or to visit his sister in North Carolina. Our relationship let me use my hard-earned traveling skills, from packing super light to finding decent airfare to coordinating logistics.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and we just concluded the long distance chapter of our relationship. He was able to move out to D.C. for work, and we are looking forward to being in the same city and enjoying being engaged. (I have also made it my goal to learn how to cook well, emphasis on the word “well,” but that’s a whole other story).
It was interesting to see what travel skills came in handy to conduct a long distance relationship with a man I felt was worth it, and I made this little list:
–Patience in Communication. Whether talking with your significant other, airline companies, tour guides in foreign countries, and so on, you cannot assume that others can read your mind. When frustrations or difficulties arise, sometimes you have to take a deep breath and patiently explain what’s going on in your frazzled head. If you are having a bad day and just want your fiance to listen and not try to fix the problem, tell him. If the airline is asking you to give up your seat because they’re overbooked and you’re traveling to see a loved one, communicate to them that you aren’t in a position to do that–it’s okay to say no (you might get kicked off anyway). If a tour guide in a foreign country is rushing you through the sights and you want to stop and smell the roses, tell him or her. You have to speak up when appropriate.
–Flexibility. This skill goes a long way, as anyone traveling to a far off destination will attest. Things happen in travel, from luggage being lost to things being lost in translation (in one country I went in for a haircut and came out with my hair bleached white blonde, not a good look for me). You have to be flexible, understand that things sometimes escape from your control, and adapt to the situation. If your train derails in Egypt and you’re stuck on the rails for an extra 8 hours, be thankful that you brought reading material–or take that time to look forward to when you’re not stuck in the middle of the Egyptian desert (true story). Relationships need the same amount of flexibility–when you’re dealing with two complex, flawed human beings, sometimes you have to exercise adaptability and just roll with it.
–The Ability to Pack Light. Whether referring to literal luggage or emotional baggage, it’s best to travel light. Many women I’ve talked to think that dragging their two overstuffed suitcases filled with extra clothes and shoes they don’t really need for vacation might tell themselves that it will be worth it to have everything with them, but they certainly don’t enjoy the process of traveling. There is nothing better, in my mind, than showing up to the airport and going through security with a small bag and a purse. Similarly, a long distance relationship taught me the importance of prioritizing time together and not bringing along unnecessary emotional baggage. When you’re traveling around the country to see your significant other, it’s vital to appreciate each moment together, since those in-person moments are limited. That lesson also relates to relationships in general–appreciate the time you have together and don’t weigh yourself down with extraneous “stuff” that doesn’t benefit you or your loved one.
–The Ability to Savor the Simple Things. When you’re in a long distance relationship, the little things become those which you miss the most. I found myself looking forward to the day when my fiance and I could go to the grocery store together, pick up items to make dinner, and cook together. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant–just everyday activities that are better when you share them with someone. On similar lines, traveling is most rewarding when the simple things are appreciated. Some of my favorite travel stories come from times when I wasn’t standing in front of the Mona Lisa or Great Wall of China (although those were incredible experiences), but from when I just strolled around a new city and picked up a local treat to enjoy (I’m looking at you, Italian gelato).
I learned a lot, and grew up a lot, from having a long distance relationship with my fiance, but I will be the first to say that I’m relieved it’s over. Even when we have “off” days, or we’re both grumpy after long days at work, my goal is to think back to the days when we couldn’t see each other often. Plus, we both gained more experience using the skills mentioned above, which will come in handy for future travels. This time, though, we’ll be able to get on the same airplane–in record time too, since it won’t take us long to get our small bags through security.