Breaking Up While Traveling: Couples To Solo Travel
The story behind the separation of Lost With Purpose, plus some love and advice about breaking up while traveling.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve made some dangerous life decisions.
I’ve traversed one of the most dangerous provinces of Pakistan, hitchhiked along one of the highest roads in the world, backpacked through Afghanistan. Security forces with Kalashnikovs escorted me through towns, drunken men waving knives gave me a ride in the mountains, and chainsaw-laden boys high on opium led me through the jungle.
Despite all that, I’ve never been so scared shitless on the road as I was a few weeks ago, sitting on my bed in a dingy guesthouse in Calcutta.
There, for the first time in my life, I had to face the prospect of traveling alone.
The end of an era
A couple of weeks beforehand, I broke up with Sebastiaan, my partner and travel companion of almost six years.
I won’t go into the dirty details of how and why we broke up. Let’s just say: it was a long time coming for me.
The things you see on the internet don’t always paint the whole picture. Though our lives and love seemed peachy perfect online, we had differences that would never truly be reconciled, so I decided to end things.
It goes without saying, but please respect my decision.
Breaking up while traveling ain’t easy
It was not an easy decision to make.
I crossed oceans and moved to a new country for Sebastiaan. Together we saved for years, sold everything we owned, and left to travel the world.
During almost two years on the road, we shared the highest highs and the lowest lows. We faced death as we vomited in a toilet for hours after an overdose of Georgian hospitality, and shared the rush of watching a desert sunrise over some of the most incredible buildings in the world.
I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice. Is it wrong to give up on such a significant relationship? Maybe I’m not trying hard enough to make things work? Maybe something is wrong with me?
Eventually, I realized it needed to happen. To put it simply, I was no longer happy.
Life is far too short to spend all of your time with someone who doesn’t make you happy, history or not. After months of deliberation and second-guessing myself, I bit the bullet and did what I needed to do.
At first, I felt free.
I found the courage to do what must be done! I was an empowered woman taking her life into her own hands! I was free to travel the world on my own schedule! Hells yes bitches, fuck the patriarchy!
… but a few days later, reality set in as I sat in a $3 prison cell of a room in Calcutta. Feelings of liberation morphed into to fear about the future.
I needed to figure out how to handle myself on my own. How to tell my family and friends and followers. How to proceed with this blog and business. How to fit my own shampoo and conditioner in my overstuffed backpack.
Most importantly, I had to figure out where the heck I was going next.
Sebastiaan and I were supposed to head to Pakistan for New Year’s. We had train tickets to Amritsar, near the India-Pakistan border, and a visa that would soon expire. At the time, getting a Pakistan visa on the road was a logistical nightmare. Sebastiaan decided to head to Bangladesh instead, but I needed to use my Pakistani visa… right?
I love Pakistan to the ends of the earth and back, but it’s not the best country in the world for women, and not the most ideal place to take my first steps as a solo female traveler. (Update 2020: I’ve since traveled Pakistan as a solo female many times and I love it even more now.)
I wasn’t sure I was up to fending off unwanted advances, hanging out with mostly men, answering questions about my lack of husband and/or children, and explaining that, heh, Sebastiaan and I weren’t actually married after all (sorry if I’ve lied to you in the past).
Especially not while learning to travel solo.
Between indecisive fretting, dealing with a variety of (unfortunately timed) health issues, and fending off my mother’s panicked pleas for me to come home, I meditated on what I really, really wanted in the coming weeks.
Greenery. Peace and quiet. Somewhere familiar and comfortable and easy. Ideally sans creepers.
My train to Amritsar left as scheduled. I didn’t. I booked myself a ticket back to Northeast India instead.
Weeks later, I have never been so delighted with a decision I made. Majuli river island in Assam was my home for two weeks, and it was exactly what I needed.
I spent mornings lounging on the porch of my bamboo cottage, battling inboxes and writing articles I should’ve written weeks ago. Afternoons were for wandering hither and thither by foot or bicycle. Campfires warmed my feet in the evenings as I chatted with locals and travelers alike. Sometimes I was lonely late at night, but I imagine that’s an inevitable part of solo travel… one I treated with rice beer terrible television and good books.
As days passed without my untimely demise (amazing), I realized I’ll be fine traveling on my own. Finding trains, hauling bags, picking holes in the walls for lunch; I’ve been doing these things for years.
Every day my confidence grows, the fear clears. Maybe solo travel isn’t so intimidating after all!
What’s next for Lost With Purpose?
Of course, that doesn’t mean all of the confusion has been resolved. I’m back on my feet on a personal level, but what about next steps for the blog?
Good news: Lost With Purpose is here to stay.
This whole time, I’ve been the voice behind the stories you read on the blog. The hand behind the ramblings you scroll through on Facebook. The eye behind the lens of the photos you see on Instagram. Being alone hasn’t changed that.
You shouldn’t notice much of a change in the content on the blog. Stories, photo essays, travel guides to places no one ever thought about writing a guide for—my mill of a mind will keep chugging away, just as it always has.
The only difference is you might see less photos of me on the ‘gram—I’m too self-conscious to set up a tripod to take photos of myself most of the time! It attracts far too much attention in India anyway.
Sebastiaan may or may not play a role in the blog’s future. That’s something we’ll decide later on, when decisions can be made based on logic rather than emotions.
In the past, he handled the administrative side of things: answering emails and messages, working with businesses, organizing collaborations. I’ll be gradually taking over that department now. If you notice a lag in response time in the coming weeks, bear with me—I’m notoriously bad at responding to messages, though I read each and every one!
Though things are changing under the hood, Sebastiaan is still writing informative guides for places we’ve both visited. Despite breaking up, we both still want to help out fellow travelers in whatever ways we can.
Over time, I’ll transition from a couples blog to blogging about only me #narcissist, but that should be the biggest change you’ll see. I intend to do it in the near future… but I know I’ll probably procrastinate until I figure out what to call myself. The internet doesn’t need another solo female travel blogger!
(Ideas totally welcome. Will show gratitude with dinner and/or beer when our paths cross on the road.)
An end, a beginning
In the end, all that really matters is that I legitimately love running this blog. It brings me joy to share off the beaten track places and people with you, and though my personal life has changed, that love has not.
It’s an honor to know you all read my words and look at my photos and actually think about them for more than three seconds. Messages of thanks and compliments stroke my ego keep me motivated. The crazy amounts of love and support and advice you all gave when I announced the break up quelled my nerves, and gave me the confidence I needed to stop hiding in bed and get out the door.
Don’t think of this break up as the end of the blog as you know it, but rather as the next stage of the blog’s existence.
A final word on breaking up while traveling
If you’re reading this post just to know what happened between me and Sebastiaan… that’s all I’ve got for you. Thanks for making it to the end of this little ramble, and supporting both us and the blog during this tumultuous transition.
If, however, you’re reading this because you’re also going through a break up on the road, I have a bit more love to share.
Breaking up is never easy, and it’s even more complicated on the road when you’re thousands of kilometers away from friends and family.
I received loads of advice from others when I announced the break up, but the best advice I got was to “be gentle with yourself.”
Before booking my ticket to Northeast India, I felt pressured to carry on with my travels as though nothing had happened. To continue to explore adventurous locales and escape the beaten tourist track.
… and that was silly. Sometimes you need to take time to organize your thoughts, figure out your next steps, and give yourself a break.
Don’t hesitate to love yourself, to take things easy. Head somewhere familiar, book yourself a nice hotel room, and hide out and eat unhealthy things and watch bad television for a few days. I sure as hell did.
Whatever you’re feeling, however isolated you may feel, know that you’re not alone. Friends and family are just a Whatsapp or Skype call away. Other travelers understand the hardships being far from home, and can be more receptive than you’d expect. Facebook groups like Girls Love Travel are always there to help a lost sister out, or help you find a travel buddy to keep you company.
And, of course, my ears are always open.
Do what makes you feel best. Just remember to take care of yourself, and know that time heals all.