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Nick Rowlands comes clean about his relationship with another tour leader in Egypt.
How We Got Together

You know how it goes. We happened to be in the right place, at the right time. In the right mood.

That pretty new tour leader who had been hovering around the periphery of my awareness suddenly snapped into focus, and we found ourselves on a felucca on the most romantic river in the world, huddled close under a blanket as the cold weather played cupid.

Before I knew it, I became one half of a couple. The problem was that we never saw each other– working as a tour leader takes over your life.

You meet a bunch of strangers and try to mould them into a cohesive group. You are responsible for every aspect of their holiday. You organise, advise, inform, entertain, and trouble-shoot. Sometimes you rebuke.

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You are on call 24 hours a day. Outside your group, the world barely exists. Then you say goodbye, and do it all again with another bunch of strangers.

So, passing like cruise ships in the night, my new partner and I formed an early relationship of frantic phone calls– moments of cellular intimacy snatched from the possessive demands of our groups.

The forced separation drew out our honeymoon period. Months down the line, I was still a bundle of nervous excitement, anticipation and endorphins whenever I saw her in the flesh.

We barely knew each other, but we had plenty to talk about: the woman who asked if you could see the pyramids from Luxor, the surgeon who squandered all his money on fake papyrus. Snippets of gossip or scandal from life on the road.

We were constantly comparing our schedules, trying to work out which of our tours overlapped, and when we would next have time off together.

Leaving tour leading is like resigning as head of a cult. You no longer have hoards of worshippers hanging on your every word.
An Attempt at Stability

After two years of tour leading and roughly five months of dating, I decided to quit the life. There are only so many times you can wake up at 3:30 am to go visit old stones.

But I wasn’t ready to leave Egypt. This was the first woman I had ever met with whom I could sense a future.

We found an apartment, and I tried to find some work. We thought with one of us in a permanent base, things would be more normal. We’d see each other more often. No more creeping around hotels whilst on tour, hiding from the staff and our passengers. No more searching for privacy in the scummy flat we shared with the other tour leaders.

But things were not normal.

Leaving tour leading is like resigning as head of a cult. You no longer have hoards of worshippers hanging on your every word.

All of a sudden, you have free time. I tried to build other friendships, tap in to new lives, but part of me was still off in the desert, dancing to tabla and wondering at the stars.

Hearing about her tours made it worse, because I was trying to leave that world behind.

“Tour leader rubbish,” I thought to myself daily. “I’m beyond that now.”

But I wasn’t beyond it. How could I be? She needed to vent her frustrations about tours gone wrong. I needed to hear that her passengers were all horrible, or ugly, or 40 years too old.

Building a Nest Together

After another six months of repeated hello’s and goodbye’s, she sacked off the tour leading and we moved in together full time.

This was what we’d been waiting for. Breakfasts in bed and lazy nights curled up in front of the TV. Putting down shared roots. No bloody tourists whinging about hotel water pressure or dirty whatevers.

But it didn’t work like that.

Living with someone new is often difficult, especially if you haven’t spent that much time together before. Up to this point, at least one of us had been working as a tour leader. Now, we were both thrust back into the real world. The entire context, the setting, of our relationship had changed. Perhaps we had changed.

We always knew we argued, we just never knew how much. Now we had new things to argue about. Washing up. Housework. Coming home late. That these arguments were about such petty, mundane things made them all the more painful.

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We started to question if we really knew each other. Whether, without the common tie of tour leading, we were actually compatible after all.

And then we argued some more.

The Break-up

You know how it goes. We happened to be in the right place, at the right time. In the right mood. We finally admitted it wasn’t working, and that maybe it was never going to work.

The words were said. Before I knew it, I was single again.

The Aftermath

Breaking up with your loved one is pretty shit. She moved to another town. I considered moving to another country. Or joining a monastery. Or running home to my mum.

But I dealt with it in as clichéd a manly manner as I could. I drank. I played a lot of pool. I surrounded myself with people that didn’t know her. Did I mention I drank? I might have cried, too.

Which is another way of saying, I got over it.

Even though the rational part of me knows that she and I were too different – that we would never even have gotten together if we had been living in England – I still miss her. We had each been a rock of support for the other in a city that doesn’t always take kindly to strangers.

This is life.

Community Connection

Have something to say? Leave Nick a comment below!



About The Author

Nick Rowlands

Nick lived in Egypt for six years, working as a tour leader, EFL teacher, city guide editor, and online guidebook writer. He's currently in San Francisco searching for his centre. He (kinda sporadically) blogs at Delicious Chaos, and you can follow him on twitter.

  • Christine Garvin

    Wow, Nick. Thanks for sharing. You say:

    “Even though the rational part of me knows that she and I were too different – that we would never even have gotten together if we had been living in England — I still miss her.”

    I think the point is, you were meant to be together in the place you both landed. And you grew and learned more about yourself in the process. We learn just as much, if not more, from the relationships we have while we travel than the actual places we visit.

  • eileen

    Love your honesty. I’m sure she’s important in your life, if not permanent. Thanks for putting your story out there for us to see.

  • Julie

    “Working as a tour leader takes over your life.” Hell yes, it does. Which is one of the reasons I finally quit- I only saw my husband when I came home with dirty clothes for him to wash while I packed up and took off again.

    But perhaps more titillating than the love between two tour leaders is “love” between two teachers. That happened on one of my trips and man, it was ugly.

    • Juliane Huang

      I smell a dramatic story! haha

  • Turner

    Is it a terrible thing to just take off in some direction and hope you might collide with your soulmate?

  • Marie

    Awww! Sorry it turned out that way. But when you said:

    “We had each been a rock of support for the other in a city that doesn’t always take kindly to strangers. ”

    I felt like you’d found the reason for the experience (meaning why you had to go through that). Onward and upward and good luck!

  • Lola

    Thanks so much for taking us there Nick! Very poignant. Also love your honesty in “I still miss her.”

  • Manu Stanley

    I appreciate your honesty and straight-forwardness when you say “I still miss her.” I also feel sorry that this particular relation didn’t work for you. Don’t be sad that it didn’t work out the way you both wanted; instead, be happy and cherish the nice days you spent together. Every relationship you enter makes you a fresh person, adds something to you.

    Good luck!

  • Candice Walsh

    I gotta say, Nick, I love seeing this personal side of you. What a great story!

  • Nick

    Thanks for the sweet comments, y’all.

    Christine I think you are right. For whatever reason, we were meant to be together for that time. And for whatever reason, the relationship wasn’t meant to continue.

    I didn’t put this in the article, but I consider myself really lucky that we are still close friends. She is still – and I think will always be – an important part of my life.

    @ Julie – relationships between teachers… tell me about it. I’ve been there, too!

    @ Turner – pack those bags, son… I’m sure she’s just around the next corner!

  • Heather

    Nick I really enjoyed the transparency of this piece. I had no idea that working as a tour guide is so intrusive on your personal life. When you said “Leaving tour leading is like resigning as head of a cult” I felt like I understood a whole new aspect of the job!

  • Nancy

    Thanks for sharing this, Nick. I enjoyed getting to see this personal side of you. I had never really considered how consuming tour leading is. And I think all of us can relate to the way you poignantly described your break-up. Great article.

  • Nick

    Hmmm, I should probably add that what I’ve described, about how tour leading takes over your life, was simply what I experienced, working for the company I did. I know the other tour leaders I worked with would agree (and it was a common topic of conversation), and from what I saw of other companies in Egypt, I’d say the same applied to them too. But, that’s not to say it’s necessarily true of *every* tour leading job. (For example, one of my friends is a freelancer, and he seems to manage a much better work-life balance… in that he actually has a life!)

  • maryanne

    @Julie It’s a funny thing you should mention teachers- after years of travel and further years living as an expat in various countries, my current (and most enduring) has been with a fellow teacher. We met when I was the assistant director of one branch of a language school in Istanbul and he was a teacher who was one month shy of the end of his unrenewed contract at another branch in the city. He was going to move to Prague at the end of the month. Instead, we moved in together. We stayed in Istanbul one more year (for me, because I didn’t want to leave) then moved on to other places (for him, because Turkey hadn’t been kind to him). It has worked out for three years now because we have similarly marketable skills and similar wanderlust. None of the guys i’d dated before could handle my impulsiveness and desire to just keep exploring. Also, we know instinctively how the other’s day has been because we’re in really similar jobs (teaching rich Chinese kids in foreign programs).

  • maryanne

    And Nick, what a lovely, honest story. I really enjoyed the insight into the personal side of being a tour leader. Thank you.

  • Kelsey

    Really great piece, and I love that you talk about the positive and the negative – too often folks focus on one or the other. As someone who also started a relationship and then spent a significant time apart, I can definitely relate to your bit about having a hard time living together. My boyfriend and I had quite a tense few months together when I first moved back to the US and we moved in together, though we’re doing fine now that I’ve been back for almost a year. I wrote the first article in this new Matador series, if you want to read a bit about my own travel relationship story:

  • Hal Amen

    Great story, Nick. Thanks for posting it here.

    I experienced something similar–a relationship born on the road that was dead on arrival when we tried to bring it home.

  • nicky

    Of course not! that’s what makes life interesting and makes certain people grab hold of every opportunity in life rather than always worrying or “waiting”. Enjoy it and never look back :-)

  • JRsince1980

    beautiful. this read like a movie. halfway through you begin to sense where its going, but you still hold on until you see those tragic inevitable words in bold, the break-up. and i still love how it ended, not the tragedy part, but the simple statement, this is life.

  • Carlo

    Just read this now Nick. I’m glad you guys were honest to yourselves. You saved a lot of pain down the road.

  • Andreja Jevnikar

    Nick, hi hi I want to talk with you if you want and I also want to share with you something if you have time of course, bye.

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