Love and Solo Travel

By:  Talor Stone                                                                                                                April 12th, 2018

“Profession:  Nomad”

The dating profile couldn’t have been more clear.  I wasn’t looking for anything serious.  Every photo was of me – alone as usual – somewhere strikingly beautiful but far, far away.  My marriage had failed nearly a year prior, so I wasn’t ready to settle down but I sure was ready to not eat dinner alone. . . again.

I tried to make sense of this strange new world I had entered.  A world where rapid and superficial judgements were passed and people were quickly dismissed by a swipe to the left.  How would I find anyone who could wrap their mind around my unconventional lifestyle?  One where I was here one day and gone the next.  Where a cell signal was rarely on my mind and risk was part of the fun.  And when I came across that person, how would I know it from only a few smiles frozen in time and a carefully curated tagline?

My first two dates went about as expected.  Sure, the guys were nice enough, but when I tried to explain that I’m a solo female traveler, that I live in a tent for months at a time, that I don’t have an address yet am (with a heavy dose of optimism) not actually homeless, I was generally met with a mixture of blank stares and confusion.  This initial reaction quickly shifted into some strange form of misguided attraction.  I was something shiny, new and different.  It was as if proximity to me would somehow enliven their otherwise bland office jobs.  I understand that response and can’t blame them for it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying the signs.  Let’s face it. . . on the surface I wasn’t girlfriend material, but I sure did sound like a good time.

When I first laid eyes on the man I would end up loving, I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see it.  Because of that, I jokingly love to tell the story of how we came to be.  He looked too familiar in the sense that I had seen many “bros” like this before.  Buff, tan and always out with friends.  It was about the furthest thing from what I needed in my life at that moment.  But, in the end, it was the fateful persistence of an app algorithm that eventually pushed us together.  No matter how many times I swiped his smug face away, he just kept reappearing.  Over and over.  Until one day I shrugged and gave in.

The first words he ever said to me. A perfect introduction.

“How’s the nomadic life of a squirrel whisperer?”  It was exactly the kind of introduction that I needed.  He promptly called me notwithstanding the modern social convention that abhors phone calls and real human connection at all costs.  Bohemian Rhapsody lyrics were sung to each other within the first few minutes.  We met the next day and quickly became inseparable.

Being conventional was never really part of the equation.

I never would have picked him for myself.  Of all the traits I thought I wanted in a partner, he was pretty far off the mark.  But, in the face of all of this, he was everything I didn’t know I needed.  What a shock right?  That the girl who has consistently made wrong turns in life didn’t actually know what she needed?  Insert eye roll here please. . . too predictable.

I was planning to head back out on the trail only 2 weeks after we met, but those 2 weeks became 2 months.  But with my house on the market and me crashing between his place and the couches of my other friends, I eventually ran out of excuses to stay.  I was bored in the city and I wasn’t ready to move in with someone I hardly knew.  After all, I had just spent a marriage in captivity.  These wings were ready to fly!  So, with some emotional difficulty, we said goodbye and I moved to Florida to live with my family through the Thanksgiving holiday.  Two weeks later he showed up at my friend’s wedding that I had been planning dressed to the 9s and he shook hands with my dad.  “Move back,” he said.  And so I did.

But the rest is what you came to read about.  How in the world can you have a loving committed relationship and still be a solo traveling Nomad going wherever the wind takes you?  I’ll tell you it’s not easy and we don’t always get it right.  But, in general we have made it work because of an unwavering commitment to Compromise, Communication and Trust.

Relationships are About Balance

Solo travel is an intensely selfish act.  I travel where I want, when I want, on no one’s schedule but mine.  It’s my favorite way to do it because it truly allows me to take the time to explore my photographic concepts.  Sometimes that means waiting 8 hours for the right light or doing the same hike 4 times in a row at 5 a.m. to see if the clouds are finally the way I want them.  Let’s face it. . . most friendships and relationships would never withstand that!  So traveling solo is the only method that makes sense for me.

But, be that as it may, I have to consciously find the balance between my selfish pursuits and my relationship.  I can’t go spend 4 months in a tent without cell service anymore, but that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t go on adventures!  For us, we have agreed that 4 weeks is the amount of time apart that we are willing to accept.  Considering the issues we tend to have with cell and internet connectivity, those 4 weeks often feel a lot longer.  It’s also helpful that he travels a lot for his job as well, so we usually try to coordinate our travel to be gone at the same time.

When I’m on the road this is literally about 50% of our conversations. It’s a constant battle to align schedules and get a signal.

Now all that scheduling is much easier said than done.  In the winter I’m home a lot more.  But come spring I’m off to the races.  Sometimes that means being gone for 3 weeks, coming home for 2, gone for a week, returning home for 2 days, and then being gone for a month!  What a whirlwind!  And it would be a lie to pretend that either of us are totally fine with that arrangement.  Trust me, he’s going to feel neglected to an extent. And I’m going to feel guilty.  That’s just the reality of it.

For the first time, every time I walk out the door there’s a string tugging at my heart that’s pulling me back home.  On the coldest and most miserable nights, when everything has gone wrong, when I feel the most alone, I’ll call him hoping he says “Babe come home.”  But more often than not he gives me the pep talk I need which sounds a lot like “Babe you’re an idiot, but I love you.  You’ve got this.”

And when we are together for only brief periods of time, there is SO much pressure for everything to be perfect.  It’s like cramming all the emotions and time for an entire relationship into a pressure cooker.  Any tiny disagreement or the most gently hurt feelings immediately become monsters there to swallow it all up.  Our time is so limited and so precious that it’s a constant battle to keep it all in perspective, to see the long game, to know that, though our time is temporary, so too is the disagreement.

Compromise.  Finding balance.  Learning what works for you and your relationship.  These are just some of the things required to make solo travel feasible when you love someone.

Talk About Your Needs

Another way that we make this lifestyle work is with solid and honest communication about our needs, goals and intentions.  No subject is ever off the table and no thoughts remain hidden in the dark corners of our minds waiting to boil over at a later date.  From the start, I made it clear that I would never stop traveling.  This is what I do.  It’s an integral part of who I am.  And while it would be nice to have an adventure with him by my side from time to time, I still prefer to go alone.  I need this lifestyle like I need air, so I’m never shy about vocalizing my urge to wander – often as soon as I return from a trip.

If I’m getting stir crazy indoors, then I speak up.   Although often I find that he notices it even before I do.  One of the first times I knew we could make this work was early in the relationship when I was having a particularly bad day.  I was just down.  I had been living in the city for over a month and it was starting to take a toll on me.  Without saying a word, he put me in the car and started driving.  He drove to the nearest state park, pushed me out of the car, and made me go for a walk through the trees with him.  We hardly spoke.  No words were necessary.  He simply understood what I needed and stopped everything to give it to me.

Conversely, he does a great job at telling me when he needs me at home to support him with his work.  If I have been gone for too long or he needs me, I do my best to change my plans and make sure he gets what he needs too.  It’s not always perfect.  And I can’t always be flexible.  After all, plane tickets don’t come cheap.  But we talk about the future and when he thinks he will need me by his side.  The balance can’t always happen, but the point is that we TALK.  We aren’t afraid to tug at one another about our own needs.

There’s never a dull moment when we finally are together!

When we are finally together, he is amazing at planning tons of activities to maximize our time.  We have regular rituals like our Saturday brunch which we jealously guard from any interference.  We get out a lot, explore the city, and revel in the shared joy of being best friends.  He is social and charismatic and he instantly becomes the gravity of any room he walks into.  It’s a true joy to be his accomplice and ensure his need for social interaction is met.  I’m usually happier alone in the woods while he is a night owl at home in any crowd.  Despite these differences, we never try to change the other and we each celebrate the quirks that make us special and unique.

Our needs are very different.  They either wouldn’t be met or would be met inequitably if we didn’t have open and honest communication.  This communication is a perpetual cycle which ensures our relationship remains healthy and that we know exactly where we both stand.

Have A Little Faith

In the end though, none of this is possible without an incredible amount of trust in one another.  He has to trust that I know what I’m doing when I’m out there alone.  That I know how to handle myself in difficult situations and that I will come back to him in one piece.

“I think you’re an idiot, but you’ve got this,” he will say with a grin and laugh.  Before I leave for a trip, he always seems to come home with gear oddities that I will probably never need, but it makes him feel better knowing I have it.  I have a trunk full of them.  He inscribed my titanium cookware by hand with “Talor remember to eat.” God only knows how long that took him to do, but I’m sure it made him feel better.

He still worries of course.  And my track record isn’t the best, to be fair.  A cursory look through my blog posts will put a multitude of situations gone awry on full display for your amusement.  But he knows that being a bit nomadic is a key component of who I am.  My fierce independence is a part of me that he loves, so he is always good about kicking me out the door when he sees me getting bored with domestic life.  He helps pack my bag, checks my gear, gives me a kiss, and knows he will get at least one phone call of me in downtrodden despair.  When that inevitably occurs, he will re-motivate me and tell me that he’ll see me when I get back.  He simply trusts me to handle it even if he teases me relentlessly about my missteps.

My partner in crime…or in this case my torturer on set!

Furthermore, we must have total mutual trust in the strength of our relationship.  I know he loves me and he knows that I love him.  Aided by our completely open communication, this trust means that I don’t waste time alone in my tent wondering if our love is fading as the miles grow between us.  I don’t worry when I know he is going out for a night with the boys or to brunch with his female friends.  If I ever do get even the slightest tinge of jealousy (which is rare), I mention it to him rather than let it swell in my chest.

Similarly, he doesn’t wonder when I make new friends on the road, end up camping with mysterious and interesting strangers, or sleep in the truck camper of another male photographer on a particularly cold night.  The vast majority of my encounters when I travel alone are with men.  Let’s face it, there’s just not a ton of solo female hikers in the locations I’m going to.  But he trusts me implicitly and I honor his trust.

All of these circumstances would be completely untenable in a relationship without a solid foundation of trust in one another and total transparency in our actions, needs and intentions.  We communicate our plans, so there are no surprises. . . and then we just trust.  There’s no other way.

It Isn’t Easy, But It’s Possible

Love and solo travel are a hard combination to make work.  I won’t pretend to have it all figured out, and we still have a long road ahead of us to work on it.  But, somehow, it works.  I don’t know what the future holds for us, but, if nothing else, our relationship is proof that it is possible.  Loving to travel alone doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of loneliness.  It simply requires the right partner and a mutual commitment to Compromise, Communication and Trust.

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