I was watching television late one night when I happened to fall upon Under the Tuscan Sun, one of my favorite travel inspiration movies. The scene: a solo woman wandering the streets in Rome alone, where rude men whistle at her and follow her and where miraculously she bumps into the perfect Italian gentleman. He whisks her away to a coastal Italian city, where they have a meal and eventually end up having a passionate night of perfect sex. Really? It got me thinking about my own travel experiences and how far off they are from the movie versions.
1. The vacation fling
Yes, beach vacations — especially all-inclusive vacations — are the perfect atmosphere for meeting Mr. Right. Take How Stella Got Her Groove Back as an example. A successful woman in her 40s travels to Jamaica with a girlfriend, meets a young man and has a hot and steamy romance that changes her life. We know the author’s reality was very different, but do beach vacation flings really lead to romance?
A warm climate mixed with sugary sweet alcoholic beverages is the perfect spot to lower inhibitions when approached by the vacation guy. The reality (in my experience) is a short dalliance with a man I will never see again. No romance, no perfect beach filled memories. Just sex and goodbye.
2. The uninvited advances
Travelling alone, I have had my share of scary moments. In Munich one beautiful summer day, I went to a large public park and sat by the water admiring some ducks. A French speaking man came to sit next to me and we struck up a conversation. In broken French, I told him I was a traveller and just taking a little break from my sightseeing. I was in a park filled with people, so there were no alarm bells ringing, until he decided our chit chat was over and he should try to kiss me and lie on top of me.
I let out a scream and looked around the park in shock. I mean, were we just supposed to get it on right there in front of the pond? I realized something about my surroundings immediately and instantly got very scared. Everyone in the park standing around was a man! I collected my things and did a quick speed walk out of the park and back onto the main streets of Munich.
In the movies, even these sinister moments turn to everlasting love. Take French Kiss, where Meg Ryan’s character flies to Paris to get back her cheating boyfriend. The man she sits next to on the plane uses her to transport a vine into the country. Once in Paris, she is robbed and this man decides he is going to help her find her stuff — his intentions were the plant. Somehow, he falls in love with her and the plant doesn’t matter anymore. It turns out that he is just a nice guy despite his illegal intentions at the start of the film. Can this scene really play out in reality? Most men I have encountered on the road either have good intentions or very bad intentions — no middle ground.
3. The sympathizers
Interesting thing about traveling alone: it seems to make some people very uncomfortable. I have been approached by elderly men on my journeys more times than I can count. In Austria, I took a moment to indulge in some schnitzel on the patio of a hotel restaurant, and a man in full lederhosen stopped on the sidewalk to talk to me. “How is it a beautiful woman is sitting alone and eating?” He invited me back to his home to join him for some wine and dinner. I was already eating dinner so I thought this was odd and in fact, the whole time I was thinking am I being punked? If a man more than twice your age, in green lederhosen, stopped to invite you out on a date and take you home, how would you react?
Is it like Vicky Christina Barcelona, where in this instance there are two girls travelling together who get propositioned by a fine Spanish man. Of course, one of them has to fall in love and move in with him during her summer vacation. Am I missing something by rejecting these advances? Of course, none of the men who came to me looked like Javier Bardem — they were more like dirty, old Santas. What is it about a woman travelling alone that sparks elderly men to take pity and invite you home for “dinner!” Do they really mean dinner? Maybe their true intention is to lock me into a room in their basement and never let me go?
4. The businessmen at the hotel bar
For me, going into a hotel bar to grab a drink is an opportunity to be around people. Sightseeing and travelling all day alone, well sometimes it is just nice to sit in a space, talk with a bartender and enjoy some soft music. However, for men, a girl sitting at a hotel bar means you must want sex! The businessman, usually married — too lazy to even remove his wedding ring — will almost always approach with an invitation, like being on a business trip is an excuse to have a fling of their own with no guilt or remorse for their lives at home.
Even in the movies, this type of fling can backfire. Remember in Up in the Air when George Clooney’s character decides to visit the home of a woman he met and had sex with during his travels? She was married and playing out a different life on the road.
What is it about travel that inspires people to pursue sex?
When we remove ourselves from our normal routines and venture out into the unknown, are we shedding a bit of our real personas? Maybe travelling gives people a chance to be someone else for a short time, discover new things, taste new foods and enjoy a quick fling. While my reality has been quite different, I never say I won’t meet that great guy during my travels. In fact, I do know people who have met their spouses while travelling and they are so perfect for one another.
Is it possible that we too could have a Hollywood happy ending after a travel fling? Let’s forget our real lives and dream about that Thomas Crown Affair guy, who will whisk us away to the Turks and Caicos on a private jet for a great weekend of sex — and of course we will fall madly in love with and live happily ever after!