You’re sitting in a hostel in Marrakech and that perfect curly-headed Coloradan with gorgeous eyes plunks down beside you; a few days later, you’ve agreed to travel together, and a few months later, you’re holding hands and pretending you’re married when you try to check into hotels in India. You’ve traveled together, seen each other drunk, and had some really intense moments…but now the bloom is starting to wear off the rose.
Or it could be that you started a trip with your sweetie, and as the road unfurls in front of you, they’re seeming less and less sweet, until finally the thought of another day listening to them chew makes you want to climb out the hostel window.
How do you end your relationship when you’re a thousand miles from home?
Don’t be a jerk.
Whether you’ve known your partner for two months or two years, you liked them enough to want to spend a whole lot of time with them. Unless something really dramatic has happened, chances are you still care about and respect them. So don’t wait until they’re asleep and check out of your shared hotel room with all your stuff. Don’t have a screaming match in the middle of Barcelona. Don’t act like an asshole in the hopes they’ll break up with you. All classic maneuvers in the breakup pantheon, these tricks can hurt even worse when someone is far from home and their support network.
Furthermore, just disappearing or causing a fight can actually be quite dangerous if you leave your partner stranded in an unfamiliar place or surrounded by ruffians. I had an abusive ex who used to threaten to break up with me while we were out exploring labyrinthine cities and refuse to tell me the way back to the hotel. Seriously uncool.
Value good communication.
While the temptation to just shout “I don’t like you anymore!” and run away is overwhelming, things will actually probably be easier overall if you try to maintain some standards of good communication. Don’t start out with, “We need to talk,” because nothing strikes fear and anxiety into someone’s heart like hearing that from a partner. Try something like, “I have some thoughts I’d like to share.”
That said, speak honestly, and listen actively. You might feel defensive, attacked, or angry — don’t let your emotions color what the other person is saying, and do your best to understand them. Use I-statements (like “I feel like we got too close too fast and I’m not ready for a serious relationship”) instead of you-statements (like “You’re too jealous, that’s why I’m breaking up with you”) — aside from allowing you to clearly state how you feel without assigning blame to your partner, they’re also very hard to argue with. If you say you feel angry, your partner can’t very well tell you, “No, you don’t.” You know how you feel!
That said, if the other person is abusive, or not listening, it’s okay to back away.
If the other person is abusing you verbally or emotionally, or refuses to listen to what you say, just say, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” and leave. Really. No matter how upset someone is, they do not have the right to attack or abuse you. You don’t have to stay and “take it” because you feel guilty about the breakup.
Don’t try to ease things apart by suggesting that you keep travelling together.
Once you’ve had the breakup conversation, you should politely pack up your things and leave — if not the city, then go to another lodging. You can say you’re planning to do this so your now-ex has the option to leave him/herself — just saying, “I’ll move to a different hotel tonight.” is fine. Everyone thinks they can be friends with the person they were in a relationship with, and a lot of people can…but not right away, and especially not in a situation where you’ll be all up in each other’s grill in locations as notoriously intrusive as hostel common rooms.
Traveling together is intimate and personal. Give yourselves some space. If you really think you can be friends, keep in touch by email and revisit each other when you get back to your country of origin. I have a good friend who recommends having absolutely no contact with your ex for two months after the breakup — this is much easier to accomplish when traveling, because you can literally disappear into the mountains of Borneo and your paths may never cross again.
Treat yourself with kindness.
There are many reasons to break up with someone. “I just don’t want to date that person anymore,” is as good a reason as any. Don’t torture yourself wondering if your reason for the breakup was good enough, just because your partner wasn’t cheating on you or beating you up. (If your partner WAS beating you up, you are definitely making the right decision.)
Being the one who instigates a breakup means you get a boatload of guilt over hurting the other person, as well as your own, often conflicted, feelings about the end of your relationship. You’ll probably question your decision, feel like you need to comfort them, or be scared at the prospect of traveling alone. All of these are okay, and you’ll deal with them. Take a few days off and sit in your room and eat snacks. Read terrible novels. Write in your journal.
What if everything goes wrong? Keep the end in mind.
Let’s say you forgot all your good communication skills and shouted or they shouted or threw all your stuff out the window of your second-floor sublet. Let’s say they cried or you cried or you caught them in bed with someone else (if that’s outside the rules of your relationship).
Try to keep the end in mind: The end goal is that you don’t want to be in a relationship with this person anymore. If it all falls apart in a really dramatic, spectacular fashion, or someone gets their feelings monumentally hurt, just get out. Any way you can. Even if it means leaving your dignity or your favorite sunglasses behind. The faster you get away, the faster you’ll be able to move on…literally and figuratively.