HE HAD DARK HAIR and a cute smile. He was smart, loved babies and animals and had cried when his pet lizard died. He was a good cook, a loyal friend and a truly nice guy. I was in love with him. I was also about to break up with him. Because great guy though he may have been, there was one problem: He’d never owned a passport. Worse, though he lived a seven-minute drive from an international airport in Las Vegas, he’d never been farther east than the Colorado River. Yes, I was dating every traveler’s worst nightmare; I was dating the Non-Traveler.
“This isn’t going to work out,” I said jokingly as we pulled up to his apartment complex. It was only our second date and back then, our differences still seemed funny. I’d just finished rattling off the long list of places I’d lived, finishing off with “And then I spent a year studying in Eastern Germany,” when he’d uttered: “I’d never want to go there. It seems too dangerous.”
I considered arguing with him but then thought better of it. I knew there was no point. Trying to convince a Non-Traveler that the world outside their bubble wasn’t the scary inhospitable place they thought it to be was like trying to persuade a cat to jump into a swimming pool.
“You never want to leave the country and I’m such a travel addict, I’m like the Jehovah’s Witness of travelers.” I paused, imagining myself preaching to a congregation about the wonders of Malaysian street food and the healing powers of a camel safari. “If I could, I’d go door-to-door with travel brochures and read aloud from a guidebook.”
We both laughed. I was exaggerating of course, but there was some truth to that. Many a co-worker, friend and date had politely listened through my “travel changed my life” speech, as I tried in vain to convince them that the path to salvation lay in cross-country road trips and study abroad programs.
Later, after he’d made me lunch and we’d watched the sun set from his balcony, I wondered if I was overreacting. After all, it was just a hobby, a six-letter word not even significant enough to list on a resume. I never would have considered ending the relationship because he didn’t like karaoke or Will Ferrell movies, was travel really all that different? What did it matter if he didn’t appreciate the thrill of flinging open the hotel curtains that first morning in a new country, the promising smell of airplane exhaust on an airport tarmac, or the satisfying sound of roller bag wheels clicking against an airport moving sidewalk? So what if he’d never experienced the pride and enormous self-satisfaction that comes with placing an order for new passport pages? After all, it was just a hobby.
Or was it? In many ways, travel had become a part of my identity. It was in the way my hair smelled like the coconut oil I’d bought in India or in the cherry blossom tattoo I had inked to my ankle in Japan. It was in the foreign language dictionaries that lined my bookshelves, the photos of Prague, the Himalayas and the Caribbean that lined my staircase and in the way that I occasionally caught myself thinking in German or dreaming in Spanish. Moreover, it was in the way I saw the world. My entire outlook had been shaped by years of experiences to which my homebody boyfriend couldn’t even begin to relate.
He, on the other hand, was perfectly content spending weekends in front of the PlayStation with the same friends he’d had since 5th grade. Being a guy who worked in the family business and lived three blocks from his parents, happiness was home. To me, a girl who, in the span of 10 years had lived in 10 different cities, happiness was anywhere but.
The night I broke up with him, we were sitting in a restaurant with a bowling alley and a fire pit in the middle of it. I’d ordered the two strangest things on the menu: mashed potato soup and tequila-flavored tacos. Both tasted incredible.
“Try some!” I offered him a spoonful. He made a face.
“You won’t even try it?” I stared glumly down at my plate. This isn’t going to work out, I’d thought, only this time I wasn’t joking. “I think we should just be friends?” I said, phrasing it like a question.
It’s been eight months since then, and though I’ve tried to tell myself that it was for the best, sometimes I wonder if I made a huge mistake. When you live in a country where only 30 percent of its citizens own passports, sometimes it seems like this “Must Love Travel” requirement I’ve placed on the dating profile of my life has condemned me to an eternity of spending nights watching Anthony Bordain: No Reservations alone.
But mistake or not, it might be too late to do anything about it. He has a girlfriend now and I hear they’re talking about getting married; they’ve even adopted a dog. In two weeks, I’ll be jetting off to a vacation in Jamaica (a country which my non-traveler boyfriend once said he’d never visit because he “didn’t want to get stabbed”). I imagine that while I’m on a plane by myself, he’ll be cuddling on the sofa with a girlfriend who doesn’t dream in postcard pictures. And I’ll be jealous.