Falling for someone while solo traveling

I blame it on Lonely Planet

In today’s (very late) newsletter: solo traveling, my love for Colombia, and #FreeBritney. This month, a portion of profits from paid newsletter subscriptions will be donated to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. If you’ve found your way here but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:

This week I binge-watched the Netflix show, Firefly Lane, which — for those unfamiliar with it — is a drama that follows the complicated lives of two best friends. The women — played by Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke — navigate love, heartbreak, sex, pregnancy, and marriage over the course of a few decades. I won’t say the show is good per se, but it did have me remembering the brief-yet-magical encounters I’ve had with people on my travels. We’ve all met the lost souls, romantic wanderers, and adventure-seekers whose company we’ve kept at a certain time and place. Recently, I came across an old story I had written about one such encounter I had.

I was in my mid-twenties and solo traveling for the first time. My life back in New York felt complicated as I was stuck in a career I had no desire of being in, a dwindling relationship that felt entirely wrong, and was running away from feelings I had been suppressing for months. Rather than make any decisions, I boarded a flight to Buenos Aires in an attempt to run away and find myself.

I can still remember the fear I felt as the plane’s engines whirred to life and the wheels pulled away from the jetbridge at JFK. At the time, the only thing scarier than flying to another continent alone was staying in New York and making decisions about the rest of my life. And so, I flew to Argentina for a solo trip that would irrevocably alter the course of my life, love, and career.

When I look back at this chapter in my life, I am grateful to my younger self for having the courage to board that plane. Because of that trip, I have the career I do today, am now six years into a wonderful relationship, and was able to reclaim my life for myself.

During that trip, I had one of those brief-yet-magical encounters that touch your life for a second, before sending you on your way. This is that story.

July 2014

I blame it on Lonely Planet…

If I hadn’t grabbed that Buenos Aires guidebook, I might have never gotten involved beyond a cursory glance and passing smile. Yet, I did get involved. I let myself drink the Kool-aid of a romance found on the road.

I had spent the day wandering the streets of Buenos Aires rather aimlessly. Solo traveling is at once empowering and dumb-founding. I’m constantly torn between congratulating myself on having the courage to come here (I’m in Argentina alone!) and asking myself what I’m doing here (why am I in Argentina alone?!).

Of course, I know why I’m here. After months of avoiding very real adult choices, I’ve finally reached an impasse in my life where the time has come to make a decision. I need to decide what to do about my career, my relationships, my life. So, true to form, I responded to this ultimatum by boarding a plane and flying thousands of miles in the opposite direction.

Since arriving, I’ve felt simultaneously liberated and lonely. I enjoy the mornings when I wake up and realize I have an entire day to spend exactly as I please, yet I dread the evenings when I return to an empty hostel room and have no one to share my adventures with. My mind was in this headspace when I returned from a day of sightseeing and met a handsome Italian stranger. He was absent-mindedly scrolling through photos on his computer while I was flipping through a dog-eared copy of Lonely Planet.

We struck up a conversation, which would lead to a dinner invitation, to a first kiss, to another date, to a night spent together, to now this very moment. It’s a sunny morning in the Palermo neighborhood. The streets are empty, the birds are chirping, and I’m standing outside of my lime-green hostel, tearfully waving goodbye to a man who — by all accounts — is a complete stranger.

As his taxi pulls away, I can already tell I’m giving our brief dalliance too much credit. Truth be told, I could swing my backpack and knock over 10 other like-minded travelers on this very street. Yet, my rationale went out the window as the mix of a foreign land, a charming stranger, a rolling accent, and instant chemistry blended together like a cocktail I knew I’d love at the moment but lament later. How many days had we spent together? Three? Four? It all blends together like a kaleidoscope of malbec sipped beneath twinkling lights and Asado enjoyed with a group of his friends.

I must remind myself why I’m here. I’m in Argentina with the dual mission to both write a story for The Daily Meal and the goal to solo travel, which means no interference from men. Particularly men with a one-way ticket back to their home country. I’m here to find the clarity needed to make decisions about my life back home. I’m not here to daydream about running into this man at a surf camp in Bali or a market in Marrakech one day.

As I watch his cab becomes a yellow speck in the distance, I hear the gentle ping of a Whatsapp message light up my phone. His sweet goodbye pours out like honey across my iPhone screen, taking my guard down with it. Like Harold and his purple crayon, it would be easy to let myself draw up a version of this story where a spontaneous infatuation becomes a life-long love. But already, I know this won’t be the case.

In the days that follow, I’ll find just how quickly the curtain will fall on the story of a romance that never made it on stage. The deafening silence of his Whatsapp pings will taunt me, the miles between us will frustrate me, and the few memories we shared will haunt me. A day will go by — and then a few more — until I one day realize this encounter was no more and no less than a beautiful mirage. 

Soon enough, reality will settle over my shoulders like a warm gauzy blanket as I come to discover exactly what I came to Argentina to find. But in this very moment, waving at a now out-of-sight taxi, I feel ambivalent. I’m at once nostalgic for someone I barely know, happy for having met him, hopeful to keep in touch, but knowing in my heart we won’t.

With that, I turn and hoist my bag further onto my shoulder. Chin up, I move forward into this new day. Although this encounter has ended, I know my adventure is only just beginning.

Get ready to be transported to Cartagena next week

I may be a Colombian immigrant but much to my chagrin, I do not possess the rolling accent, sun-kissed skin, or lustrous hair that one expects of a Colombian woman. I immigrated here as a baby and then proceeded to grow up in the Midwest, doubling down when I attended college in Indiana. In other words, I’m about as Colombian as Olive Garden is authentic Italian. And yet, my Colombian heritage plays a major part in my career as both a travel editor and journalist. 

The first time I booked an international trip abroad sans family was to Colombia. The first major byline I had was a story about Colombian food for Food & Wine magazine. My first investigative story was focused on interviewing ex-FARC members in Colombia. The one place I always recommend when asked about a favorite destination is, you guessed it, Colombia.

So, when it came to thinking about this month’s getaway newsletter I knew exactly where I wanted to transport subscribers: Colombia. Each month, I transport paying subscribers to a new location. Last month was Vietnam and this month, I’ll be transporting subscribers to the cobblestone streets, balmy air, and flower-covered buildings of Cartagena. Not yet a subscriber? You can unlock perks, the monthly getaway newsletter, and more by becoming a paid subscriber here:

#FreeBritney, cat filters, and Reese Witherspoon’s book club

Download the new Reese Witherspoon book club app and relish in the joy of connecting with other female book lovers. Bake your boyfriend this sticky apple cake by Alison Roman, as a thank you for listening to your monologues about plot twists and book characters he knows nothing about. Pick up the book, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which — if you must know — is also a Reese Witherspoon pick. I now get all my book recommendations from Elle Woods, thank you very much.

Because you need to get pissed off about something other than the ongoing stimulus package negotiations (um, where is my $2,000 check?), watch the New York Times documentary, Framing Britney. Spend the next hour fuming at the paparazzi, the entire media industry, and especially Justin Timberlake. Oh, I see you now JT. Walk away from the doc as a newly minted and radicalized #FreeBritney activist.

Watch this video of a Zoom meeting gone laughably awry and debate having all of your future Zoom meetings with a talking cat filter on. Read this story about a guest from hell who refused to vacate this woman’s West Village apartment. Thank your lucky stars that your biggest apartment issue is the copious amounts of pet hair on all your knit sweaters.

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