In my years of traveling the world, I’ve had flings, flirtations, and even a couple of agonizing long-distance relationships. Both as a resident and a traveler, I’ve met men (and women) traveling through, as well as locals, that have shaped my perspective on the international dating scene. Full disclosure: it’s a doozy.
Being a digital nomad or expat in a foreign country opens up endless possibilities for dating, especially when the Internet is involved. Actually, the Internet has become a necessary evil in the dating game abroad. In order to meet up with locals who may be outside of our social circles, we have to turn to a more vast means of communication. This is where dating apps and websites (some tailor made for digital nomads), Couchsurfing, Facebook groups and the like come into play.
With such short time spans and so many feelings, many travelers find that their flings abroad either move fast and passionately or fizzle out based on a number of factors. To explore what’s really out there in the digital age of international dating, we asked a few expats and nomads how their flings either flourished or combusted.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock/NataliaDeriabina)
Amy*, an American expat currently living in Prague, explains how Couchsurfing became a part of her dating sphere abroad: “Before I went on my first trip overseas I'd been living at my parents', and my love life was nonexistent. Traveling on my own made me brave enough to try things that I'd never done before. I stayed with strangers, had one night stands, and even rejected a couple hosts because of their intentions…
"I met my ex on Couchsurfing. Somehow we had a connection unlike any other I'd experienced so far. Three months after returning home I made the crazy decision to go back overseas just to see him. I stayed for a year and a half. It was amazing, and it was stressful. I was staying [illegally].
"The relationship was intense, with the highest highs and lowest lows I've ever experienced. Would I do it again? Hell yes. In the beginning we were two wandering misfit souls who happened to find each other. Would we have met without CS? I probably wouldn't have traveled without the Internet period.”
While Couchsurfing provides a place to stay (for free) with like minded travelers, there is the commitment of actually staying with a host. Many nomads, especially those looking for a quick hookup or companionship with an inevitable expiration date, use dating apps to have a little more (or less depending on how you look at it) control over who they meet up with.
The most popular app for this? Tinder, of course.
Essa, an American expat currently living in Shenyang, China explains how dating in a small Chinese city can come with specific barriers: “When I first moved here, I wanted to try to date a local — but it was extremely hard — many of them, in my city at least, don't have a strong English base, and basically told me they only wanted to date me so I could teach them English. A few of my friends were in relationships with locals and they basically use their phones to talk because they couldn’t communicate without a translator.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock/ferrantraite)
"Expat dating is hard too when the community is small. Several of my friends and I who are on Tinder and the Chinese version TanTan have matched with and/or dated the same people.”
Being an expat in a larger city can present a different set of problems. My own Tinder experience abroad was littered with unexpected encounters. “In Prague for a few days” was the perpetual biography of Tinder users in the transient destination city. I got a message from Mateus*, expressing interest in literature, and we started chatting. Portuguese and devastatingly attractive, he told me he was from Porto and that he’d be in Prague “for a few days.”
We never got the chance to meet up during his time in Prague, but we continued talking. After discovering how much we had in common despite the language barrier, and making sure that neither of us were being catfished, he asked me if I would come and see him. I had never been to Portugal before, and knew very little of the language. Still, my gut told me that against all logic, I should go.
Long story short, I spent the most beautiful week of my life in Aveiro and Porto. Seeing a new country from a local’s eyes was intoxicating. We went to places I never would have found on my own. I probably ate my weight in cakes and pastries. And I fell in love. Eventually, the week was over and I had to go back to Prague.
While we planned my move to Portugal, I went back to the States to save. During those three months, the relationship fell apart for reasons I won’t recount. Weirdly enough, I realized I had never felt that way about anyone else.
A reason that expats and nomads, though more isolated in some ways and more free in others, need creative ways to date is because they are dealing with all the stress that comes with dating to the nth degree. They have more obstacles to overcome in terms of stability and an immense desire for freedom and mobility. The intensity in which they approach their relationships mirrors how they approach their lifestyle.
Nomads are often seeking other nomads to make dating easier, which is where specific dating sites for nomads have found their niche. Nomad Soulmates, a group started by German expat Aline Dahmen, started as a Facebook group. Due to high demand, it became a fully-fledged dating network currently boasting thousands of users, and even has plans for retreats and various meet ups. Nomad Soulmates aims to connect those transient individuals hoping to find deeper or more permanent connections while traveling.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock/Drazen_)
Dahmen’s reasoning for starting the site was because of her own dating struggles as a solo traveler, but also manifested after realizing that many others were experiencing the same plight. She explains, “it’s a big problem that a lot of digital nomads share. Not just finding a soulmate, but having deep relationships with people in general in your life…from time to time, it can become very exhausting. There was no other company who did something specifically for nomads. I saw the future in it.”
In the first week of her group’s existence, she accepted 400-600 new users, now it’s grown to thousands. Nomad Soulmates includes the original Facebook group, an app, and a blog, and is slowly becoming a business for Dahmen. Most users are between 25 and 45 and are located worldwide.
Digital nomads, travelers, and expats seem to have the world at their fingertips, an arsenal of cultural experiences, and an innate passion to explore the unknown. For these people, dating actually doesn’t seem to be as big a deal. They are able to connect quickly, take chances and enormous leaps of faith, but are still able to take these experiences as a whole even if they are fragmented, even if they don’t work out. Maybe they’re onto something.
*Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
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