Photo Credit One: Prince Roy
It’s easy fall in love when you’re surrounded by beauty. Vang Vieng, Laos, is one of the most breathtaking spots on the planet. My experiences there have been a huge influence on my current work in progress, a contemporary romance about escaping demons from the past and embracing self-discovery through travel. That story—and this one—is set in 2009, when the famous “Death Slide” and big swings were still in full operation along the Nam Song River. They’ve since been removed, so despite the fact that I ended up with a minor injury from a rope swing attempt gone wrong, I feel blessed to have experienced that wild river and all the romance that came along with it.
Strangers to Lovers: Submitting to an Overseas Romance
My first night in town, I was dining with some friends, and this guy walked into the restaurant. He was cute, but in a sea of tanned backpacker hotness, I can’t recall anything in particular that stood out about him. Still, I couldn’t look away. He scanned the room and walked back out. I didn’t think much of it.
My guesthouse was gorgeous.To this day, it’s one of the best places I’ve stayed anywhere on the planet. If you want to check it out, you can do so here. The pictures should give you a good idea of how pretty it was, so you can imagine my happiness when I discovered the random cute guy was staying there too.
His name was Peter—not really, but anonymity and all that.He was an Israeli expat who had been living at the guesthouse for a while. The place had a communal area where everyone hung out and passed around spliffs, so after a few days, Peter and I became friends.
I was mesmerized by his piercing blue eyes and soft voice. There were butterflies in my stomach and all around us, resting on the wildflowers and floating through the open sky. We ate together, explored together, partied together, and after a short time, we moved from our individual rooms on one side of the guesthouse into a shared suite with the best view the place had to offer. Through so much condensed time, intimacy was developing fast. Travel can do that to you.
Lovers to Strangers: Facing the Harsh Reality
I had plans to backpack on through the southern part of Laos and into Cambodia, but the thought of leaving Peter and Vang Vieng was gut wrenching. I didn’t want the pleasure to end, and this river paradise was the coolest place I’d been so far. I fit in there. I debated staying and riding out my time and money, but I never said so out loud. I waited to see if he would ask me to stay. He didn’t.
None of my friends in Laos wanted to go to Cambodia—or as Peter put it, the “Wild West” of Southeast Asia, so I went by myself. I was afraid I would regret it if I didn’t. I spent the next few days alone and depressed. I wandered the city streets, pondering the meaning of suffering. I stared out of bus windows as sad music wailed in my headphones. I vented to friends back home, hunched over in a pathetic mess as I typed away in my own little corner of the computer café. All around me were happy backpacker couples, and only a short time before, that had been me.
I don’t want to feel this way again, I thought. It’s not for me.
A Broken-but-happy Heart: The Lesson from My Travel Love Story
My travel love story marked a huge turning point for me. It was one of many bridges between my previous life, which involved a lot of alcohol and heartbreak, and the life I live now, where happiness is priority and I’m unwilling to settle for less. There was still tons of pain in between, and there will probably be some in the future, but I know who I am now. When you set a standard for yourself and aren’t afraid to walk away, you develop a strong center that no one can take from you. I deserve a guy who is looking to stick around and stand by me long-term.
I got a sweet email from Peter a few weeks after we parted ways, but nothing after that. He didn’t love me, but that’s okay. I didn’t really love him either, and had we stuck together, I’m sure we would have found many reasons why. This way, I’ll never have to discover any of his flaws, and he’ll never know the majority of mine—although I did puke in front of him once, and another time he took care of me through a terrible cold. What a soldier. If he remembers our time together at all, hopefully the yucky stuff has faded more than the good. I know it has for me.
For more love and adventure on the open road, check out Edge of Something More, a contemporary romance set in the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.