It’s a romantic notion to date a traveler, one of those free-spirited people who roam after the wind and return home with twigs in their hair and dust upon their cheeks.
But it’s also really hard. And annoying. And painful.
A relationship with the traveler isn’t your standard long distance-- it’s many distances, long and short, and the time spent apart is varied and inconsistent.
Here’s how to make the best of it.
1. Ask him/her out on Skype dates
Skype dates are a given for many couples, but often the “date” part goes forgotten. If you agree to Skype your traveler “whenever they can,” one person is almost certainly going to end up wishing the two of you Skyped more often, and that leads to resentment. But if you hold to a too-rigorous Skype schedule, resentment sets in when your traveler would rather go to bars with his or her hostel buddies than wait by the screen for your nightly chat. So make Skyping a special, planned “date.” Compromise on a number of “dates” you’d both like to have each week -- from one to seven -- and then pick specific times to Skype based on what you’re doing and where you’ll be that particular week. Making Skypes a big event zaps the potential for bitterness.
2. Text, and text often
Apps like Viber and What’s App let you text for free anywhere in the world. So do it! Text like you would if your traveler were living at home with you. Text him or her about the little things, like how your train is two minutes late or how you burned your toaster strudel. He or she might not as frequently text you about their little things, but that’s because they're distracted, not because they're no longer interested in keeping up with the silly tidbits of your life. When texting, take the view that no detail is too small, and keep each other as totally posted as you would if you were geographically together. The energy and monetary costs to do so are very low, and the payoff in strength of relationship is very high.
3. Have your own adventures
You tell people you don’t mind that your boyfriend/girlfriend is traveling, that it’s all going so well, that you’re soo happy they're having the journey of a lifetime on the adventure they've always wanted to take. But maybe -- deep, deep, deeeeeep down -- you’re actually seething in jealousy. He or she carelessly wanders the streets of Paris while you remain loyally shackled to your cubicle like a responsible human, and the contrast is enough to turn any small tiff into a full-blown fight about who’s being responsible in life and who’s not. So be irresponsible. Play hooky and take a day trip to the beach. Go out to dinner somewhere exotic, even though you said you wouldn’t spend money. Sign up for guitar lessons, because you deserve to be doing something out of the ordinary just like your traveler is. You’ll also have much more to talk about when both of you are trying new activities, albeit separate activities, at the same time.
4. Keep in touch with his/her friends
Continue to hang out with your mutual friends while your traveler is out of town, even the friends that are closer with him or her than they are with you. While a traveler is gone, there’s a risk of drifting apart because your different lifestyles mean you have less in common. And if you do drift apart, it’ll be even harder to draw back together if your lifestyles remain different once your significant other is home. You don’t have to hold back from making new friends, but stay plugged in with your old ones so they’re still a part of your life. Having fun with your usual crew will make you less sad that your traveler is gone, too! He or she might feel a little weird about you maintaining close contact with his or her friends, especially if those mutual friends are mostly of the opposite sex. If he or she does feel that way, then respect those feelings. The goal is to boost your relationship, not ruin it.
5. Go on your traveler’s trip with him/her
“Is it hot in Laos? What’s your hostel like? Who have you been hanging out with?” The questions need to be asked, but listening to all the answers can be excruciating when you just want to vent about your boring day at home. Skip the standard fact exchange and get to the fun part by catching up on your traveler’s world before you call each other on the phone. Look up the weather in Laos, so you can ask, “What did you DO all day in 100 degrees?!” Or surf the hostel’s website: “Are you going to the barbecue tonight?” Or casually stalk his/her new friends: “Your new Facebook friend looks like a hoot. Is she that wild in real life?” It’s not creepy-- it’s caring, and it makes catching up less boring. It also it lets you fast-forward through the potentially endless travel tales to the part where you get to share about your day.
6. Send snail mail
Even if your significant other is nomadic, he or she does need somewhere to sleep every night. Make the effort to pick a day, find their address, calculate how long shipping will take, and get a package to the right place at the right time. A small goody box with his or her favorite homemade treat or pair of fuzzy socks shows that you’re willing to do what it takes to keep your relationship strong despite distance, which is comforting for the traveler to know. And a handwritten letter is a touchable, hold-able, kissable token of love that a text or voicemail will never be. How Notebook would it be to have a scrapbook of your correspondence one day?
7. Plan a visit
It doesn’t have to be soon, and it doesn’t have to be long or expensive, but have a plan to visit your traveler at some point before his or her journey is through. Science has proven we get infinitely more joy from planning a trip than from actually going on it. And non-science proves you’ll get infinite joy from curating a Pinterest board of all the beautiful places you’ll go. And you’ll have a fun project to work on with your traveler during your texts and calls and Skypes. And when he or she goes on and on about the insanely amazing wine bar they went to last night, you'll feel not jealous but rather excited about the day you’re going to go there together.