How to Fall in Love on the Road
By Ashlee Gatgens
What is Love? To me, it’s something, someone, a place, a time, a stranger; it’s the feeling that sends the biggest fucking grin across my face. The one that has my eyes squinty and makes my cheeks feel like they are about to break. For some reason, and probably similarly to many of my Lost Tribers, I find this more often than not on the road. It’s being a million miles away from anything familiar, where you find a place that makes you feel like home. Love on the road is something only the truly lucky among us understand.
When you travel, encountering new places and new people, being totally out of your depth and relying on the kindness of strangers, allows your heart to truly open. Not necessarily because you want it to be, but because it has to be. Being the whitest girl alive, I’ve found this to be my only saving grace in situations where I definitely should not be, and in places that would have my parents wishing they had raised a daughter who is a little more “conventional”.
Most religions stem from a general belief that we all have a soul, and when our time here is over, we must move on. There is no escaping the fact that our time here is limited. The ability to connect with as many people from as many places as possible, fills your soul by taking with us a tiny piece of each amazing person we meet. In this way, we learn that we can fall in love with a stranger, and pass on what we learned to the next person that crosses our path. Love has become a way to find something outside myself on a daily basis. A way to grow, to be more understanding and more accepting, and to find those people that remind us that sometimes, the world, although occasionally horrible, can be a giving place.
When you are constantly moving and you only have the opportunity to appreciate another human soul for a limited amount of time, you give it everything. You will fall in love, over and over, with strange people who speak a different language; over long nights of outrageous laughs, inappropriate behaviour and introductions to cultures you knew nothing about, feeling entirely lost and out of your depth. You will hold these people, no matter how fleeting, so close to your heart for the pure happiness you felt in a distant place. They become a memory of the best kind. Sometimes, you start a project you are so passionate about, because finally you have time. After a couple weeks you realize that the project is yourself; you have more to learn from the people you set out trying to help than you ever could have imagined.
Perhaps these souls are not so fleeting after all. New friendships can develop over a few hours, during a long night, and even while taking a terrifying plunge into a situation that could easily kill you; several miles from medical care, midway through some shitty bus ride, as you frantically scribble down their details on a scrap piece of paper. When you find these people again in another far away place, it is pure magic. It’s the best kind of meeting of old friends. Somehow, through such a limited period of time, you have given more to each other than to people you have known for years.
Which brings me to the romantic kind of love, whether you are travelling as a couple, or a solo female, there is nothing quite like it. As a couple on the road, you are pushed to be a single person’s everything while you share the best and the worst parts of life in each other pockets. Something about sharing a new place with someone, leaves them imprinted, sometimes on an entire continent, for the rest of your life. Without them, what you saw, who you met and everything you felt, may have been entirely different. And this is the reason you are glad they existed. Because how can you take back anything that got you to where you are now. All the sweaty bus rides with someone to sleep on, the ones who held your hair back after too many mojitos, the reason you weren’t afraid to run head-first into the water, and the only person who will ever know all the joy you found in a place you will never be again. It’s the easiest kind of love, when responsibility except to each other no longer exists.
And for the solo girls who join the “Eat Pray Love” revolution to go find themselves, and inevitably end up finding a man. This love on the road, however fleeting it is, can be beautiful. It is entirely up to you to look for the signs that make meaning, that create a feeling, that become something more than a holiday romance. And maybe it is just a holiday romance, that incredibly good looking man who is way to young for you that spoons you to sleep in a bunk bed in a noisy hostel dorm. Or the guy at your under-paying, shitty job abroad who came in and swept you off your feet, and took you away from a very hard reality even if only for a little while. Where everything was new and exciting, but you knew you would never belong to that world.
Sometimes, they exist to teach you what you’re looking for. On a whim, they took you to your favourite movie set without knowing it, played ‘bright-eyes’ not realizing it would make you cry, let you wrap yourself in a doona and smoke cigarettes while hanging out a loft window over the LA downtown city streets. Those are the instances that make you feel that there is better out there; when you are content. They make you smile for appreciating your brutal honesty, and wearing silly-coloured socks because it made them happy. These are the best kinds of love on the road, purely because they become a chance meeting of something you know you deserve. A possible someone that leaves you realizing that with all the eating and praying that may be a constant, there is always room for love. No matter how short, or how inconsequential.
Then there are the mates, the friends, extraordinary ladies, the women… not girls. You meet these phenomenal people that you won’t ever cross paths with if you are standing still. They are fearless and unapologetic of all the things they have experienced and everything they know. Not your everyday kind of girl, they are who they are. They don’t try to fit into society, because there is no society to fit into. I’m not sure if they have always been this way, but they don’t have conversations about people, they talk about life. They talk about places and things that have left them dumbfounded without an ounce of insecurity or a taint of the insincere. I have learnt more from these women in one night than the ladies I could meet in a lifetime in the cities. They know who they are already. They know who they are to me, and to the rest of the world. I love them dearly, for every story that they shared; the drum circles, stories of abuse, epic swells, heart-breaking relationships, political wins, natural phenomenons they overcame, family histories and all the beautiful things that made them… them. One of the reasons I fell in love on the road, is meeting women who, after all these years, I could relate to. Because they were honest.
The best part, and the most terrifying part, of falling in love on the road is by far knowing that you can never go back. When you finally make it home and realize that what was once your life no longer fits. That you can’t live every day content in the same job, in the same town, with the reliability of routine…routine becomes terrifying. That’s when you know you have truly fallen in love on the road. It becomes all that makes you happy, that excites you. It becomes what you love and, for the most part, it will always love you back. The horrible part in between is all the hours you will literally spend flipping burgers, making coffees, writing quotes, typing away at your office computer; things that ultimately mean nothing to you. Waiting… always waiting to feel how good you know life can be, when you are in love on the road.