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By The Way

19 stories of strangers who found love while traveling

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, By The Way readers share their tales of missed flights, alluring accents and the magic of hostels.

You can’t force a travel fling. The stars must align for such twists of fate to change the trajectory of your trip or, in some cases, your life.

But the pandemic has robbed us of stumbling on those lucky opportunities. We’re at home instead of, say, meeting our future spouse on a ferry in Greece or talking until dawn with an alluring stranger from the hostel common room.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we asked readers to share their travel romance memories. Some ended with the trip, others continued in love; here are several of our favorites. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, share your own in the comments below.

Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

“An inner voice said, ‘Go to Seattle!’”

Jodi and Paul Kimmelman at Baker Lake in Washington state in 1980. (Courtesy of Laura Perz)

After graduating college in 1978, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me. Distraught, I wondered what to do next. An inner voice said, “Go to Seattle!” I hadn’t before or since heard advice like that, but six weeks later I hit the road for Seattle where I had never been and knew no one.

Right after arriving at the Sea Haven Youth Hostel, I struck up a conversation with a cute guy I noticed. He had just moved there from Dallas, also knowing no one. We became good friends, friendship turned to love, and we got married 2½ years later. This summer we’ll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. — Jodi Kimmelman

“You should move to Europe with me.”

Keri and Jake Setnicka take a selfie at the Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport before flying to Europe, on April 3, 2012. (Courtesy of Keri Setnicka)

On Valentine’s Day 2012, I was living in Hawaii and having breakfast with a friend when I met a handsome Californian who lived in Spain. Unfortunately, Jake was on his way to the airport after a three-week surf trip. Before he left, he said, “You should move to Europe with me,” and asked for my number.

We talked on the phone for a few days, then Jake said I should “fly up to San Francisco.” I traveled to California for four days, and before I left, we decided that I had to move with him. My parents thought I was crazy — my mom even had a background check done! I told Jake that I couldn’t come to Europe before he met my family, so we spent a week with them in Maryland.

After the next three months living in Spain, France and Portugal, we moved back to Hawaii, and nine years later, we’re married with a beautiful baby girl. — Keri Setnicka

“Gay was absolutely not okay in my little corner of the world.”

Just after college, I spent seven days in Paris alone before traveling with one of my best friends. I had long known I was into men, but I grew up in a super conservative, Christian household. Gay was absolutely not okay in my little corner of the world, so, needless to say, my experiences with men were very limited.

Giovanni and I met in the common room on my first night at my hostel. He spoke broken English, and I knew some Italian. We spent the next five days strolling Paris and falling in the kind of love-y lust that only 21-year-olds can manage. He was the first man to ever hold my hand in public; the first man to kiss me in public; the first man to be there in the morning. It was literal magic.

Alas, he left and I got his email, but I lost the piece of paper in the shuffle moving from hostel to hotel. That was over a decade ago now, but he literally changed my life. It’s because of him that I started grappling with my secret, and it’s led me here. — Trenton S.

“We ended up going out for coffee, one thing led to another, and I was flying to Beirut every other week.”

Mohammad Sharife and Courtney Bonneau at Aaliya's Books in Beirut in 2019. (Courtesy of Courtney Bonneau)

I am a conflict photographer and was in Beirut photographing the protests in 2019. One day editing photos at a restaurant with WiFi, the manager struck up a conversation with me. We ended up going out for coffee, one thing led to another, and I was flying to Beirut every other week.

It was all so romantic: Outside of my work at protests and refugee camps, we strolled around Beirut admiring architecture, having late dinners out and lazing around in historic, beautifully appointed Beirut Airbnbs in the Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze and Achrafieh neighborhoods. Sadly because of covid, we are no longer together but remain good friends. — Courtney Bonneau

“Ed bought me another ticket just to stay for four more hours.”

On the last night of a work trip to New Zealand in early 2020, I ended up at Pasture, a six-seat fine dining restaurant, talking and laughing with the chef, Ed, the way you do with a close friend you’ve known forever. After 22 courses, the restaurant emptied, and it was just us.

We talked until the morning, and my phone alarm went off letting me know it was time to leave for my flight to Australia. Ed bought me another ticket just to stay for four more hours. Saying goodbye felt unnaturally difficult for both of us. So much so, that he followed me to Melbourne one week later, the day before I was supposed to travel back to L.A. After less than 24 hours physically together, we found ourselves telling each other, “I love you.” A month later he flew to see me in L.A. As covid started, I decided to take a chance and move to New Zealand. We’ve since opened a bar together and have a new place on the way. — Hillary Eaton

“We made it back to the hostel at 4 a.m., and she had a 7 a.m. flight.”

Eric Moorer and Antonia on their night together in Milan in 2012. (Courtesy of Eric Moorer)

The very first time I went to Europe was a random five-week trip with a high school acquaintance who wound up becoming my favorite person to travel with. At the end of our trip with no plan, my friend was napping at our Milan hostel so I ventured into the common area and really hit it off with this young German lady named Antonia.

We wound up spending the entire day together, riding bikes and walking all over the city. We were immersed in an interactive Marina Abramovic, stopped for wine at a place that filled bottles for you, sat along the canal in Navigli, smoked hash with strangers and made out for hours. We made it back to the hostel at 4 a.m., and she had a 7 a.m. flight. Never spoke again. — Eric Moorer

“We met with luggage in hand and couldn’t deny the sparks that were flying.”

How did a French guy and a California girl living 3,000 miles away hit it off in Kentucky? Strangers at the time and both classical musicians, we traveled there for the biggest classical guitar festival in the U.S. We met with luggage in hand and couldn’t deny the sparks that were flying.

Ten months and thousands of airline miles later traveling between BWI, SFO, CDG and YUL, we packed up my tiny VW Golf to the brim and hit the road for a country road trip. Travel brought us so close together that Thomas proposed on a beach in Delaware, and we were wed in D.C. this past July. — Alexandra Viloteau

“We eventually got around to the one question every backpacker in 'love’ hates to ask: How long are you here for?”

After finishing a working holiday visa in Australia and New Zealand, I was at the YHA Lake Tekapo hostel when I heard someone speaking with a beautiful Southern drawl. In one of those rare moments of pure hostel magic, he and his Arkansas accent ended up sitting by me in the common room later. On a balcony under a bajillion stars, we talked until the sun came up, and he asked if he could kiss me.

We eventually got around to the one question every backpacker in “love” hates to ask: How long are you here for? Much to my disappointment, he said he was catching the bus to Queenstown later that afternoon. We vowed to meet up again in a few weeks, but we both knew it would never happen. Though I never saw him again, it was a beautiful thing to find a kindred spirit in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of the Earth, and I’ll never forget our magical night under the stars. — Kaeli Conforti

“A flight attendant asked me to come up to first class and handed me an envelope.”

I met Adeeb, a British traveler, on a ferry from Athens to Mykonos on a trip with my college friend in 2011. It was a fun fling for the week, then we went our separate ways.

Three years later, that same friend begged me to go to London on a few days’ notice. I said yes, and because Adeeb lived there, my friend asked him if we could stay at his place. I was mortified, but he said yes.

As soon as I saw him again, we just clicked. Two years later, I got my job in New York to approve a trial period in London. On the day before my move, Adeeb secretly flew to New York to ask my parents for their blessing in person, then he sneaked onto my same flight the next night.

Once I boarded, a flight attendant ushered me to first class and handed me an envelope. Inside was a note from Adeeb talking about our life together, ending with, “I’m on this plane right now … can you guess what happens next?” I look up, and he’s there on one knee.

Fast forward four years later: We got married on the Hudson River, live in London and have an 18-month-old son. — Anna Burgan

“A life full of travel and adventure remains core to who we are.”

My husband and I met on the first day of our 2009 semester abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand. We bought a used car with two other students and spent the semester traveling around the country backpacking, repeatedly getting stuck on the side of the road when our car broke down.

After being travel companions for five months, we knew we could tackle what life had to throw at us. Twelve years later and now a family of three, a life full of travel and adventure remains core to who we are. — Laura Harrington

“Cake catastrophe what? We danced ’til almost 1 a.m.”

Sarah Roepke and her now-husband, Thomas Latrille, celebrate the new year at a friend's apartment in Paris in 2021. (Courtesy of Sarah Roepke)

On my first vacation solo to a French friend’s 2017 wedding in the U.K., I was tasked with making the wedding cake, as I am a baker.

The cake was a (personal) disaster, but as I was letting the defeat loose on the dance floor (with the help of some gin), a handsome gentleman started dancing with me. I forgot everything that had happened. Cake catastrophe what? We danced 'til almost 1 a.m.

He canceled his flight back to Paris and stayed until I left. Two-and-a-half years later, we got married in November 2019. I applied for my French visa and arrived in Paris one week before their first coronavirus lockdown. — Sarah Roepke

“We stayed in touch; I nicknamed her Cowgirl and she called me Stranger.”

"Cowgirl" and "Stranger": Rhys Morgan, right, and Rhonda Lott stop at Six Flags Over Texas during their road trip through Texas, in 2011. (Courtesy of Rhys Morgan)

In 2010, I flew from Sydney to the U.S. for my first solo trip and ended up jet-lagged in a Denver hotel bar. After a couple of drinks, I worked up the courage to talk to the woman beside me. She couldn’t understand my Aussie accent, and said “One more time?” in a thick Mississippi drawl. I was instantly hooked. She was a poet and I worked in books, so we chatted and drank for hours. We spent the next two nights together, then parted.

We stayed in touch; I nicknamed her Cowgirl and she called me Stranger. Eighteen months later, we road-tripped across Texas for a week. It was a great experience, but we never captured the spark of the original two nights and lost contact after I got home. — Rhys Morgan

“Two years later, he came to D.C. with a box of love letters in tow.”

In 2018, I escaped cold Washington, D.C., for a month in the Chilean sun with a host family I had stayed with a year prior. Jet-lagged on night one, I matched with my soon-to-be “pololo” (boyfriend) on Bumble. We went out for sushi, and the next night stayed up until 4 a.m. gazing at the Santiago skyline from his house in the foothills of the Andes.

He met my host family; I met his real family. We said goodbye after three weeks with a “te quiero.” Two years later, he came to D.C. with a box of love letters in tow. He said he’d been waiting to be with me in the U.S. after all this time; however, I thought we were better off being friends. We still keep in touch, but the real cliffhanger is he was just offered a job in D.C. — Camille Ramasastry

“Our first date was a hike to a glacier, and the rest was history.”

Stephen and Grace Barrus pose for a photo at the Great Basin in Nevada last year. (Courtesy of Stephen Barrus)

In 2016, I went to Juneau, Alaska, to be a whale watch tour guide and travel. My second week there, I met a bus tour guide at a social function and made a move. He said in passing that he’d like to make an apple pie with me sometime, and that was that. You don’t get much better than a man who moved to Alaska for a summer and wants to bake you pies.

Our first date was a hike to a glacier, and the rest was history. One year later we were married, and we’re expecting a baby girl in April. — Grace Barrus

“I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Bangkok, so I used the Couchsurfing app to meet people.”

Etty Liu and Chris Schalkx with their son, Oliver, near their first apartment in Bangkok on December 12, 2018. (Courtesy of Sonia Piyaphan Boonphen)

I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Bangkok, so I used the Couchsurfing app to meet people. In 2013, Chris was just another European who had a gap year during his studies, and I was a Taiwanese student living in Thailand getting my master’s degree.

Our first meeting at the train market was boring and awkward. We had a lot to talk about, but didn’t have any chemistry. Chris continued his eight-month trip around Asia, and we kept texting on and off. Then it became something different.

When Chris came back to Bangkok before the end of his trip, we just decided to be together. He finished school in Amsterdam and came back for an internship in Bangkok in 2014. We’ve lived together ever since, got married in 2017 and had our son, Oliver, in 2018. — Etty Liu

“I don’t know if it was love or the excitement of finding someone else who loved to see the world, but I have not had this sense of excitement since.”

Tinder matches Sarah Fay and Matt enjoy Bourbon Street shortly after meeting in New Orleans in 2019. (Courtesy of Sarah Fay)

Instead of going home to Orlando after a trip to Texas in 2019, I skipped my flight and took an $11 overnight Flixbus to New Orleans. My first day there, I matched with Matt on Tinder and planned to go to a jazz festival.

Within a minute of meeting, he made me laugh so loud I felt comfortable immediately. Day turned into night, and once the date was over, he kissed me.

Matt came home with me to Orlando, then we rented a convertible and drove to Miami. After Miami, we decided to go to Cuba together, then meet up in Panama a week later. I don’t know if it was love or the excitement of finding someone else who loved to see the world, but I have not had that sense of excitement since. — Sarah Fay

“We met on a mega yacht in the middle of the ocean called ‘The World.’”

Former yacht crew mates Andrei Mocanu and Antonia Hornung on a climb up Huayna Picchu at Peru's Machu Picchu in 2018. (Courtesy of Antonia Hornung)

When people ask us “Where did you guys meet?” our standard answer is, “We met on The World.” Yes, we obviously met on this world, but also on a mega yacht in the middle of the ocean called “The World,” the only ship with full-time residents that circumnavigates the globe every two years. During orientation 10 years ago we realized we were both born in Romania, both studied hotel management in Switzerland, and both grew up abroad (Canada for him, Germany for me).

Even though fraternizations between co-workers were forbidden, we started to fall in love. A year after our contract ended, we got engaged in Mexico, were married in Mykonos, and are now the general managers of Golden Rock Inn on Nevis Island with our little one, Leo. — Antonia Hornung

“For a while I was too shy to dance.”

Back when I was 19, I went with two of my straight friends to this multistory gay club in Buenos Aires called Amerika. We found the floor that played American pop music, and for a while I was too shy to dance. One of my friends pushed me into a stranger who looked interested in me.

Luckily, he was very charming and attractive, and we danced for hours. After I executed a perfect twirl to “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” by ABBA, he kissed me. We exchanged numbers at the end of the night, but when I messaged him the next morning, he never opened my message. — Dillon M.

“We exchanged numbers when we landed. A little over a year later, we got engaged in Barbados.”

I was at [Chicago] O’Hare airport in 2018 to fly back home to Boston when I got the dreaded email that my flight was delayed. While I was waiting on standby for a new flight at a crowded gate, suddenly I was talking to a handsome man whose direct flight from L.A. to Boston had been diverted after the plane malfunctioned. Neither one of us recall who was the first to speak.

After several more delays, gate changes and about six hours of conversation, we boarded the same flight to Boston. When we landed, we exchanged numbers, and a little over a year later we got engaged in Barbados. We were married this past November. — Carrie Sylva

Read more on travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Updating documents

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on planes | Fly or drive? | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive

Destinations: Hawaii | Puerto Rico | Private islands | 10 covid-free spots | Caribbean | Mexico

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