Romance on the Road: How a Fling with a Foreigner Changed My Life

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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.

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Photo Credit: Angie

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.

 

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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.

My WWOOF Experience Part Three: Why I Left Early

Before reading this, you might want to check out the first two parts:

Now, the juicy stuff.

Confusion: What Exactly is My Job Again?

The first major issue on the homestead was communication. There was no clear work time and free time, which everyone found stressful. It wasn’t like we were given a list of assignments each morning and could just work on them on our own—that would have been fine.

There were times when we had a clear assignment. But in between, when I had assumed I was free to do as I wish, I would get the vibe like the owner thought I was being lazy. There was some passive-aggressive weirdness I didn’t understand, and at bird-village-animal-countrysidetimes, I almost felt like an imposition. No good.

Even More Confusion: What Exactly Are the Rules, Again?

There were other confusing issues as well. At one point, when my host was in a good mood, she welcomed me to use the shower at the main house. Seems reasonable, right? I would have understood if she didn’t want us doing that, but I’m a clean person, and if someone tells me I can take a hot shower, I’m going to. The only other option was bathing in the pond.

Everything went fine for a couple of days, but then my host suddenly seemed annoyed that I was showering at the house. She said I was doing it “too often,” but she wouldn’t tell me how often was acceptable. I am happy to follow any rules, but when the rules aren’t made clear, it’s pretty much impossible to stick to them. Especially when you get told different things at different times.

There were similar issues with the food situation. I’ll explain that part using an excerpt from a private journal post from that time. If you ignore all the horrific grammar and rambling speech, I think it sums it up nicely:

“at first it was like.. so confusing about wtf we could and couldn’t eat.. and I’d be hungry a lot and not know wtf to do and there were no clear answers.. I think I wrote about it before.. but for example I took some eggs and she was like “You ate THREE eggs?” and clearly it was like I took too much. And then I took an apple and it was like this big huge deal about how they couldnt afford for us to be eating apples.. I don’t know.”

It wasn’t like we were starved or anything. There was usually food, but it was never clear what we could have. Once in a while, they made food special for us, it was never enough to sustain me. I’m 110 pounds and have the world’s fastest metabolism. I need to eat a LOT more than some people, otherwise I get sickly, depressed, and start having blood sugar issues. I appreciated the food I was given, including a whole organic chicken that my host bought just for me. But overall, the way the situation was set up just wasn’t working for me, and when I coupled that with my desire to be back in Asheville, I decided I’d had enough.

I confessed my feelings of discomfort to my fellow woofers, and they were kind and understanding. It turned out that everyone felt like I did about the unclear boundaries and confusion over food. They told me that many other woofers had come and gone quickly for similar reasons. Two girls had apparently even made up a story about how they needed to go to town to get tampons just so they could make an exit without it being awkward.

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Me looking happy in front of a waterfall in the Asheville area.

Longing for Asheville, NC: Heading Off to Start a New Life

I’m socially awkward. So when it came to leaving my WWOOF homestead, I had two choices: make a run for it or say goodbye. There was a road out by the barn that provided another way off the property, so I could have packed my car and gone without notifying anyone. Instead, I decided to do the right thing and let my host know that I didn’t feel like the situation was right for me. I’m glad I did, because she gave me a hug and was very understanding. It’s always nice to end things on a positive note.

Overall, I am very appreciative of the generosity of my WWOOF host. It wasn’t what I had daydreamed it could be, but it was a special experience I’ll never forget.

 

My WWOOF Experience Part Two: Bees, Barns, and Other Good Stuff

When I arrived at my WWOOF homestead in North Carolina, the owner and another worker were busy tending to a beehive. This made things a little awkward, because I couldn’t get close enough to talk to them, and there was no one else there. Being thankful for any act that could help the bee population stay the course with the rest of us, I was not going to complain!

I explored around the main house a bit, the inside of which was as interesting as I’d imagined an old North Carolina homestead to be. When I was done, they were still busy with the bees, so I sat and watched them for a while. That was when a few of the other woofers showed up. I was relieved. Backpacking taught me how to go with the flow, but it was still nice to be officially welcomed. I had just driven four hours, and I was hungry and ready to settle in.

Plucked from my Imagination: Life Imitates Art

As I was shown around the property, I began to see how similar everything was to the book. Of course the layout was different, but most of the elements were there. There were gardens and forests all around. There were hens. The other woofers were all nice, nature-sunny-summer-yellowwell-traveled, and intelligent in the same way I had envisioned my characters.

The place had a main house, a smaller house, a trailer, a few different garden areas, some hen houses, some grassy areas, and a big barn. The barn was where I would be sleeping—with a dude roommate.

I know this sounds like a good setup for a romance novel, but nothing of the sort occurred. The sleeping areas were far enough apart to be separated but close enough where we could still see each other and talk if we wanted. Yeah, super awkward. He was nice, so it ended up being okay. Not romance-novel okay. Just normal, polite okay. Life imitates art, but not that much.

WWOOF-USA: Roughing it … Sort of

There was a bathroom at the main house, but it was pretty far away and unavailable at night. At the barn, we only had the woods or the compost toilet, which I won’t describe in detail except to say that it wasn’t the most private setup ever. I didn’t mind going out to the woods, especially in the middle of the night. It was peaceful.

One of the options for bathing was a pond not far from the property. Pond water didn’t exactly make me feel clean, but the pond was nicer than I had envisioned. I was okay with it at first, but then I started waiting until I could shower at the house, which I was originally told I could do. There ended up being issues with that, but I’ll get into it on the next blog.

I’ll also wait to get into the food situation. It wasn’t as I’d hoped it would be, but it wasn’t like we were starved, either.

WWOOF-USA North Carolina: The Stuff We Did

My duties as a WWOOF worker were a little unclear at times, but when I was assigned tasks, they were always enjoyable. The list includes things like:

  • Caring for chickens.applegirl
  • Harvesting beans and produce.
  • Preparing food.
  • Building or fixing things.

I don’t remember every single assignment at this point, just that most of them were okay. I liked the core mission of the place, which seemed to be promoting sustainable living.

WWOOF-USA: What I Learned from My Host

There’s a lot I could say about my WWOOF host, but since I decided to keep this anonymous, I’ll just say that she’s a person with many great achievements under her belt, and I respected that very much. Once she was finished with the bees and could actually talk to me, she taught me all sorts of things about cooking and canning food, working in the garden, planting, and taking care of animals. It was inspiring to see the life that she had made for herself.

Check out My WWOOF Experience Part Three: Why I Left Early, where I share the negative aspects of my experience.

For what led up to my WWOOF experience, check out Part One: California to WWOOF-USA North Carolina.

 

My WWOOF Experience Part One: California to WWOOF-USA North Carolina

Disclaimer: Part one doesn’t actually detail my WWOOF story. It explains everything that happened leading up to it.

Other disclaimer: I’m going to keep my WWOOF host and all participants anonymous. This was a really long time ago, and I might not remember everything right. Plus, people change, and I’m no longer in touch with this WWOOF host or anyone involved, and I have no clue whether they would like to be mentioned online at this point.

Setting it All Up: Why I wanted to WWOOF

I wanted to go “woofing” long before I started writing Edge of Something More. The book became an ongoing daydream, a process that allowed me to explore what a (highly romanticized) WWOOF experience might be like. I was too locked in my circumstances to try it at the time, so I spent a lot of time reading WWOOF experiences online. A number of things made it attractive to me.

  • I was fascinated with the idea of showing up at a place and being accepted as a member of a community.
  • I was obsessed with the idea of “getting off the grid.” Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m focused on using the grid to build as much success as possible, but back then, I just wanted to vanish into thin air.
  • I always wanted to learn more about gardening, composting, and other “green” things. Composting in particular.
  • I felt like since I had daydreamed about this for so long, actually doing it would surely mean something amazing would happen to my life. Something like what happened to Devin.

CA to NC: The Journey and Not the Destination

Halfway through the writing process, I took a break to travel for a while. I went backpacking overseas first, and then I returned to the United States to do WWOOF.

When I packed my car and said goodbye to California, I figured it might be a long time before I came back. I didn’t know the experiences I had on the way would be so life changing. I left for North Carolina about a month before I was planning on arriving at my WWOOF location. I should have known better, really—a lot can happen in a month.

lightningJust a warning: If you want an epic experience, the universe will give you one, possibly sooner than you had planned.

I’ve driven across the county a handful of times now, but this first trip was one I’ll never forget. There were so many things.

  • Blasting classic rock during a huge, middle-of-the-night lightning storm in Arizona.
  • Coming over the hill and seeing the golden lights of Albuquerque just before sunrise.
  • Meeting some rapper guys outside my hotel who were following the same path as me on the 40 from Los Angeles to Kansas City. They had their car all tricked out and painted with their portraits on it, and they gave me a CD, but I lost it. I wish I could remember their names!
  • Having the entire front bumper fall off my car in Kansas City and fixing it with duct tape.
  • Stopping a couple weeks to hike and explore around Columbia, Missouri, where I experienced mysterious forests, good food, and some romance I had been hoping for.

All of these adventures were amazing, but they were distracting me from my upcoming WWOOF experience.

Asheville NC: I Didn’t Count on Falling in Love

After Missouri, I got back on the road for a couple more days and met up with another good friend in Asheville, North Carolina.

Although I’ve long since left Asheville, it remains one of the prettiest places I’ve come across. As soon as I saw it, I fell deeply in love. The cascading mountains, the lush woods, the waterfalls, the colorful little city, the pretty, crunchy people—it was everything I had been hoping to find. All I wanted to do was start looking for a job and apartment.

However, I had already committed to visiting my WWOOF location a few hours away, and I couldn’t back out now. I decided to try it for a few weeks, and then I would return to Asheville to get set up for my new life.

Check out My WWOOF Experience Part Two: Bees, Barns, and Other Good Stuff.

 

Tips for Traveling Light: What I Brought to Bangkok, Thailand

Backpacker romances are common, but on my 2009 trip, which took me through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, my only long-term companion was a small Osprey day pack.

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My trustworthy Osprey Waypoint Day–next to Vogue and J-Law for comparison.

The feeling of freedom that comes with having everything you need packaged into one small container  can’t be overstated. Your travel plans will play a big role in what you’ll be bringing, of course. Meeting a lover for a romantic trip around Europe will require different elements than an Australian climbing trip. Either way, lightening your load as much as possible will help you be comfortable.

Flying from Los Angeles to Thailand: Things I Brought

What you need for travel can be divided into two categories: official and crucial.

The official stuff is pretty obvious. Passport, cash, credit or debit card, any important paper work or visas.

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Where will you go with nothing burdening you?

Then there’s the crucial stuff. The stuff you need most. For me, these things included:

Basic Hygiene Products

Dental care, maybe a rinse cup, since you can pack smaller things like earplugs (also a good thing to have) or pill bottles inside of it. A good bar of soap (I prefer Dr. Bronner’s) that you can use for a variety of things, like washing your clothes in the sink.

Leave room to buy new products when you get there! I had a lot of fun experimenting with products in southeast Asia, but if you’re picky about your facial cream, your tampon brand, or the type of condom you like, you will want to bring your favorites from home.

A Few Changes of Clothing

I brought about six pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks, and I rolled them down really tight. You don’t need a lot of socks in Asia; flip flops were best for most occasions. My t-shirts were small and flimsy, so they could be rolled down super small as well. I had two skirts and a pair of shorts, and thank God I didn’t forget a sweater. Southeast Asia is warm, but it can be chilly at times. Middle-of-the-night train rides, for example.

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A Combination Lock

This one is really important! I’m glad I had my lock. There were many times when it protected me or gave me peace of mind. A tool with many uses–you will see!

A Journal and Pen

I had two journals, one that I brought from home, and one that I got in Laos. With my journal, I also brought a few pages from the guidebook I thought might be helpful.

Things I Didn’t Bring that You Might Want

I didn’t bring:

  • Protective stuff (pepper spray, etc)
  • The guidebook, at least in its entirety
  • Makeup
  • Pillows/sleeping bag
  • Extra clothes
  • Phone/camera
  • Computer
  • A rain jacket
  • Medication or supplements
  • Other things I didn’t think of (tell me in the comments, please. I will edit them in!)

What Happened and What I Think Now

If I had it to do again, I would bring a camera, and although I did okay that time, I would never travel without my computer these days.

I’m glad I went without more clothes or makeup. The sea water and sunshine were good to me. Life was simple. During the romantic moments and so many others, I felt beautiful.

Thanks for reading! These blogs are a work in progress, so I will update if I can think of anything to add. If you like this blog or found it helpful, please let me know by commenting or following. I follow back authors on Twitter! 🙂 @ms_andiloveall

Andi

P.S.

I cheated and bought a second bag in Vientiane, Laos, about halfway through my trip. It’s purple with beautiful embroidery, and I still use to this day. I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes it’s good to let baggage go, and sometimes, it’s worth taking on.