Brandon Scott Gorrell questions: is it good or bad to travel with a girlfriend? Is it good or bad to make a girlfriend while traveling?

THIS FROM a relatively large, personable Israeli with a pony-tail and a face of graying stubble who was “26” sitting in front of a campfire in Pai, Thailand:

“Some women, they want me to love them. They want me to love them all day and they want me to tell them ‘I love you.’ They want me to take them to the cinema and they want to call me on my telephone and then they want me to fuck them. I love a bitch in bed. But after I am in the bed I do not love the bitch. The bitch calls me and tells me that she loves me. I tell her I love her because I know it is what she wants to hear and then she is quiet. But I do not love her. I love her in bed. It is because I am a man. You and me, we are men. Yes, We are men.”

We were alone drinking whiskeys, sometimes looking at the stars. It was the king’s birthday, apparently, and the Thais were setting off mini hot-air balloons and we could see 20 or 30 of them floating very high, still moving upward, and from that distance they seemed like floating candles, or UFOs, or something frightening.

I had the conversation a lot, usually after a ‘fellow traveler’ and I saw a man holding a girl’s hand, the two quietly walking through whatever tourist thing we were all ‘gawking’ at, or feeding money into.

“You and I both know that it wouldn’t be the same,” a Canadian said to me as we walked through Bayon, one of the temples of Angkor. “You and I both know that there would be little fights, and you’d always have to look out for her. You could never go out and drink. . . It’d be harder to meet people. You could only go out with other couples. You wouldn’t feel free. You’d feel like you always had to answer to someone, and you could never do anything spontaneous, because you’d have to check first. . . it just wouldn’t work.”

‘Across the board,’ the consensus was basically the same: it was not good to travel with a girlfriend. It was good to ‘do it’ with a girl, and travel with her for awhile, but to end it, preferably within 2-4 weeks. It was good to let the girl know of your expectations, and for everything to be clear, but if she ‘moved in’ on you, then you had to continue to make things clear. It was good to have these things with girls.

And it was bad to lead a girl on. Even to make a semi-permanent girlfriend while abroad. It was bad for the men and the women. It restricted freedom and caused unhappiness.

“I accidentally slept with the English girl last night,” was the one of the first things another Israeli said to me after we met. I had offhandedly mentioned that I was hungry to someone in the lobby of my guesthouse and he had volunteered that we get breakfast together. I had seen him and the English girl around but we hadn’t spoken, and I hadn’t assumed anything about their relationship. I expressed surprise at his statement and laughed.

“Yeah, it just sort of happened,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on it or anything. I didn’t even think about something like that happening until a minute before it actually happened.”

I said, “Damn.” He said, “Now I don’t know what the status is. . . I’ve been trying to stay out of things like this because I don’t want to have to take care of someone. I need to make sure that she doesn’t expect something. . .”

So it seemed that there existed a fear among men. An assumption that a relationship with a woman would lead to rules, restrictions, boundaries to which men did not want to be bound. An assumption that all women travelers a man ‘hooked up’ with wanted was to passively instigate a monotonous, long-term, emotional relationship.

The men had a fear of the women, and it was like playing with fire, and some had more control over the fire than others. If a man started any romantic thing with a woman while traveling then he had seen the first spark, and it was his mission onward to keep the flames at bay.

I’m not sure about any of this. I have not traveled with any girlfriend. I can understand what these men have said and I can empathize with their positions. I can understand how a romantic partner might be restrictive. From a distance, even I have observed the negative consequences of a man and a woman traveling with each other, and each other alone.

But I can also see the benefits of traveling with a companion that you’re involved with romantically, for the long-term. I can see the benefits of not needing to go out and ‘get smashed’ with some bros you just met. I can see how someone might not ‘be into’ Khao San Road (a place where it’d be strange to be a couple), and how it might be a relief to not rely on places like that. I understand why people are together. But I don’t know.

It seems complicated.

Community Connection

Brave New Traveler has published a piece on how to tell your partner you want to travel alone.

And for a different perspective, Pete Olson writes about traveling as a mixed couple in Asia.