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Handle With Care: Protecting Yourself From Emotional Abuse While Traveling

by Claire Litton Jan 15, 2009
Travelers often yearn for connections and dive into them headfirst when they arrive, twining our fingers through someone else’s and sketching in their journal. But how do we protect ourselves when it gets weird really fast?

IN MOROCCO IN 1999, I fell for a guy who was gorgeous: piercing blue eyes, an amazing smile, and a dusty backpack. I was madly in love with him. But as it turned out, he was manipulative, abusive, and horrible.

You don’t see a lot of information about how to deal with terrible relationships when you’re on the road – it’s all about love-sunsets-beautiful-backdrops-for-our-never-ending-amour.

So what do you do when you’re 19, far from home, and subjected to abuse?

Standard anti-abuse messages focus on physical and sexual abuse, leaving adolescents mostly unaware of what constitutes emotional abuse; yet more women are emotionally abused than physically abused by their male partners. And emotional abuse often leads to physical abuse and sexual assault.

Emotions run high on the road and the nature of travel means you’re often separated from your support group. Be open to new experiences, but also be aware that not every experience will be a good one. Be trusting, but remember that not everyone is worthy of trust. Remember that emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

The same signs of abuse occur when you’re in Tuscany as when you’re at home:

  • Does your partner try to control your actions or feelings?
  • Does your partner belittle or insult you, or use threats to coerce you into doing what he wants?
  • Do you get mixed messages, like he is only hurting you because he loves you so much?
  • Do your needs and wants always come second?
Doubt and Responsibility

It is easy to doubt yourself, especially if you haven’t had a lot of experience with relationships before. An abuser may cause you to doubt yourself and your desires, and require your constant, unwavering attention.

Healthy partnerships, while requiring some amount of compromise, do not involve constant giving in. You should feel loved and supported, not uncertain. Relationships are built on trust and communication; if something happens that hurts you, that your partner refuses to talk about, or denies, this can also be a sign of abuse.

You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness. Only your own.

Just because you have watched the sun rise from the first class coach on the midnight train to Bangladesh, or ridden an elephant in the jungles of Borneo together, that does not mean your new sweetie is absolved if he starts acting like a jerk. Jerks are jerks wherever they are and wherever you meet them.


Traveling while also maintaining a relationship can be a tricky combination. Check out How To Beat the Back-Home Relationship Blahs or Hostel Love: Why Relationships On the Road Never Last.

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