Romance Abroad: The Ultimate in Cultural Tourism

Chile, Couples Travel, Expats Abroad, Extras, Lost Girls, Websites and Blogs — By on June 11, 2009 at 9:12 am

vacation romanceWhen Mindful Tourist Shadia Garrison went to live in Chile for a year, she didn’t expect to end up with a husband by the end of her trip-particularly one who couldn’t speak English, wasn’t thrilled about moving to the U.S., and had never lived outside of his parents’ house. But as she quickly discovered, working through a few cultural differences-not to mention a slight language barrier-was definitely worth the effort.

Here, Shadia shares her insights on dating a local, and how it can make you richer in more ways than one.


If you’re single and traveling, meeting and clicking romantically with a local is an experience that will make your trip even more memorable. Not just because you’ll have a partner to take tango dancing in Buenos Aires or walk hand-in-hand down the Champs-Élysées in Paris, but because you’ll have a unique window inside the culture of the place you’ve chosen to visit (not to mention your own). As you get to know one another, you might find yourself considering-and reconsidering-a few dating and relationship norms you might have taken for granted at home:

• Will your new partner want to smooch in the middle of the plaza or on a park bench? Is he or she more comfortable with PDA than you are? Less affectionate than you’d like?

• Does your partner want to incorporate his or her extended family into your daily life in a way that’s new to you?

• Do you find that gender roles you’ve experienced are reinforced, transposed, or just totally different from your expectations?

• Is language a barrier to intimacy -or do you find other ways to “communicate” without talking?

• Do your values about children, careers and traveling subjects put you at odds? Are these dealbreakers?

You can almost guarantee that you’ll meet new people-family and friends of your partner-through your new relationship. I heard stories from my husband’s parents and parents’ friends about their lives working clandestinely for human rights in Pinochet-era Chile. I stayed up late drinking tea with his mother and listened as she shared stories about her life growing up with eight brothers and sisters, getting married on her 18th birthday, and her travels to Cuba and Las Vegas.

Traveling may feel surreal at times, but remember that your new romance is happening in the real world. Even if you’re head over heels for this new person, you’ll probably have some kinks to work out, especially if you’re from two different cultures.

Ask yourself: Are your differences more superficial in nature (she doesn’t shave her armpits-ew!) or do they speak to larger issues and values (his religion dictates his wife may not work outside the home)? Understanding, honesty and communication are critical as you address these cultural differences, especially if one or both of you is interested in a long-term commitment.

And remember, even if the romance turns out to just be a fling, what you’ll learn about your destination-and yourself-will make the experience worth it. And every once in a while, you could return home with more than just an amazing story of romance abroad. As I discovered: You could end up with the love of your life.

Read more from Shadia at her newly redesigned blog Mindful Tourist.
Want to share your story of overseas love? How you made it work with the one you love back home? Drop us a line at
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