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Travel and surviving long-distance relationships: a personal experience

Travel. Isn’t it great? The chances are that if you are reading this, you too are filled with wanderlust. You have your own personal anecdotes, experiences, desires, impressions of it. You have either travelled, are travelling or will travel. We can all agree how beneficial it is, as well as how influential the places, things and people we discover along the way are in enriching our lives.

But we are human, and as humans, we have a tendency to develop feelings. These feelings can lead to attachments, and when we are deprived of them it can lead to a great deal of pain. Especially when we become attached to another human.

The Japanese philosophy of ‘mono no aware’, which reminds us to appreciate the transitory sensations of the present, can be a useful strategy employed by travellers to combat the knowledge that the relationships we form on our travels are often temporary. Or at least, are unlikely to be the same again once we move to a new location. This fleeting nature can add to the beauty of the relationships we form, giving us the incentive to make the most of the present-tense, and the ability to look back through our memories whilst feeling the warm hug of nostalgia.

Japan is not the only thing I well and truly fell in love with…

This strategy is particularly effective when dealing with missing places, or things; any entity which does not share feelings. But it is certainly complicated when they are a person. It’s hard enough when these feelings are platonic, but when they are romantic? Yikes.

Enter the world of long-distance relationships.

This is a world that I have entered, even though I promised myself I never would. I am currently on a year abroad for my studies in Tokyo. I have well and truly fallen in love with life in Japan, and I cannot wait to go into further details about it in future articles. But Japan is not the only thing I well and truly fell in love with…

My wonderful girlfriend. Before I met her, I was already having an amazing time, experiencing life on the other side of the planet, but she marched into my world and put a cherry on top of everything. I am so extraordinarily lucky to have found her here, she is more than anything I could have ever dreamed of.

But, she lives in the Philippines. She has also already gone home.

Why did I follow this path despite knowing I would get hurt?

I have heard first hand from other travellers and friends how hard long-distance relationships can be, including one who is in Japan with me, away from his girlfriend back home. These situations are a common occurrence for those of us whose passion is to travel. Meeting people and/or leaving them behind in pursuit of seeing the world, is unfortunately part and parcel of what we love.

Seeing just how gruelling the realities of attachment and the deprivation of close contact made me always outright reject the possibility of looking for a relationship whilst travelling. Longing for what is out of reach never looked appealing. Now that I too am in that situation, I can confirm that it is not.

Why did I follow this path despite knowing I would get hurt? I believe that when things are so right, it would be wrong to not pursue them. The head is a useful tool in making rational decisions, but when rationality is thrown out of the window, as is often the case when dealing with matters of the heart, it must be ignored. Matters of the heart should only be decided by the heart, and it is an entity which deep down always knows what it wants. Life is too short to deny it.

I am a firm believer that no distance is too far for a relationship with the right person to work

I try to live life without regret. If I let go of someone so perfect, I would never be able to forgive myself. So even if this could be chalked up as ‘right person, wrong time’, I will make it the right time.

And so, I followed in the footsteps of many others along the depressing, dangerous and lonely path of long-distance. I am not going to pretend like it isn’t horrible, because it is. But I know that the alternative would be worse, since I cannot bend reality and reduce the distance between us, for now at least.

There are, however, methods that I have used to lessen the pain, which I believe other can apply to their own long-distance relationships.

I am definitely not a relationship guru, but I am a firm believer that no distance is too far for a relationship with the right person to work. It just needs these three ingredients:

There firstly must be trust. Jealousy is a powerful emotion, and being far away from one another provides ample breeding grounds for it. But love is stronger than jealousy, and communication is the perfect remedy. There is never a situation where hiding how you feel is beneficial, especially when you are not in each other’s presence. If you allow these feelings to grow, they will only become more menacing. But they can always be sorted by speaking simply to one another. We are very lucky to be alive in 2024; technology has not only made travelling easier, but we can be in constant contact with anyone at all times. A simple conversation can fix almost anything.

The most important ingredient is hope

Each side must also be willing to put in the work to make it work. Just because you don’t see each other in person, it does not mean that the relationship should not be prioritised as if you were in the presence of one another. Complacency and a general defeatist attitude will lead to problems, no matter how much you care for one another. They say there are five love languages, with most people displaying each of them to a certain degree. Physical touch is of course not possible from afar, but there are still four others that can be displayed to both compensate for it and to grow your feelings for one another.

Words of affirmation are particularly important to reassure each other when you are apart. A simple good morning text, or a random compliment goes a long way to making me feel better. You can also spend quality time online. I have found that online activities, like playing games together, watching films or even just facetiming whilst we work, greatly help my feelings of longing. Of course it does not beat being in person, but it is certainly better than nothing. Acts of service, including gift giving and receiving, are also not unique to real world meetings. Sure, they are harder to pull off, but they can still be done. It just requires communication and effort.

The final and most important ingredient though is hope. Don’t get me wrong, just because long-distance relationships are survivable, it does not mean that it is a state I want permanently. The missing love language, physical touch, and the lack of each other’s real-life company, can only be endures so long, hence it is critical that there is at least some hope to be with each other in-person in the future.

I am so thankful to Tokyo for opening my eyes to the world

For my girlfriend and I, we find that communication as well as real, tangible plans that are put into action do a great deal to alleviate our anxieties and give us the reassurance that things will work. We are very privileged to be able to execute a promise of seeing each other in person every four months, with plans to close the distance for good once we both graduate next summer. But it does not have to be that specific for everyone: so long as there are plans, discussions and actions that provide the hope required to get out of these horrible chapters within relationships.

It’s easy to wish that we never developed these feelings and relationships, for it would save us a lot of hurt. But if we did not experience these lows, we would not be able to experience the magic that love can bring. I am so thankful to Tokyo for opening my eyes to the world. I would not have experienced so much and met someone who makes me so happy without travel.

Some view attachment as a burden, but I disagree: it is only a burden if you make it. There are ways and means to manage these chapters, it just requires a little effort. In tough moments I think of the words of a very wise individual, Winnie the Pooh:

‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’



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