Beach at Sayulita, Mexico

My ‘Travel Date’ With A Guy Named Kaji

Derek Bulgaria, Everything Else 44 Comments

Beach at Sayulita, Mexico

Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time traveling would certainly be familiar with the ‘travel date’. This is when we actively seek out another traveler to spend time with despite knowing that we will end up having the exact same conversation, one that revolves around a very typical set of questions, that we’ve had thousands of times before.

However, it is important to point out that there are some key differences between the ‘travel date’ and normal dating.

First, instead of love, travelers are often just looking for someone to hang out with for the day. Second, instead of having the luxury of sifting through thousands and thousands of online profiles hoping to find a good match, we travelers must use a different method to find our companions. We must sit in the hostel lounge, pretending to read a book, as we scan the room out of the corner of our eye, looking for someone that appears interesting and with whom we think we could handle an afternoon of sightseeing or a quick meal.

While there are certainly plenty of days when we travelers are perfectly fine with being on our own, it would be foolish not to admit that there are even more days when we prefer the company of others. Visiting the famous fortress in town or going down to the beach is often a much better experience when we have someone there to talk to and so we spend some time scoping out our fellow travelers in the hostel, eavesdropping on their conversations, just waiting for the right moment when we can suddenly interrupt and say, “Oh, you were in Indonesia last year as well? Sumatra was also my favorite island!”

Maybe we are welcomed into the conversation, maybe we are politely ignored. But if we are welcomed in, it feels great. The other person is interested in hanging out as well! It must be how my friends feel when they actually receive a response from someone they contacted through an online dating site.

From this point on, things usually become much easier. All we have to do now is wait for the other person to say something like, “I was going to walk over to the castle today” or “I heard about a cool pub in town” and then we can respond with, “Me too!”. And just like that, we have a ‘date’.

Of course, these are not dates in the traditional sense. But as you head out the door of the hostel a few minutes later, and those typical traveler questions begin to be asked, it certainly feels like a date nonetheless.

New Years in Puerto Madryn

HUNGRY & DESPERATE IN BULGARIA

Usually, we have many travelers to choose from when we’re looking for someone to spend the day with, but there is always a chance that we end up somewhere that doesn’t offer us much of a choice, such as when it’s the low tourist season and there are only a few other people staying at the hostel. I imagine that such a situation would be similar to living in a town of 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere. When you’re really in the mood for some companionship, you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept whomever happens to be around.

And last week, this is exactly what happened to me during my stay at the Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. On my first night, there were only two people staying at the hostel, myself and a German fellow. The next morning, the German took off in his car to go to a football match in a nearby town, leaving me all alone (the nerve of him!).

So I sat down in the hostel lounge, turned on my laptop and decided to respond to some emails. After about an hour, and just as I started to feel hungry, the door to the hostel suddenly opened, and in walked another traveler. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as this guy checked in, put his backpack in the dorm room and then seemed to ask the hostel staff where he could find a good restaurant for lunch.

Upon hearing the word ‘lunch’, I turned off my laptop, jumped out of my seat and made my move, probably looking more desperate for a friend to eat with than I would have liked. I practically sprinted over to this guy, informing him that coincidentally, I, too, was hungry and about to go eat. So I asked him if he wanted to eat together.

Well, that’s pretty much how I ended up on a ‘travel date’ with Kaji, a 22-year old Japanese graduate student who spoke no more than twenty words of English. In fact, his English was so limited that I don’t even think he knew what I was saying when I invited him to join me for lunch.

He was probably scared of me, the strange guy who started babbling nonsense to him three minutes after he walked into the hostel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he followed me only out of fear.

But even so, the ‘date’ did seem to start off quite decently. Sitting on the terrace at the Ego Restaurant in the center of Veliko Tarnovo, eating pizza and drinking mugs of Zagorka beer, we eventually managed to communicate enough to ask and answer the usual questions – Where are you traveling? How long have you been traveling? What is your favorite country?

Unfortunately though, as soon as these were out of the way and we moved on to the next level of questions, we really started struggling.

Kaji asked me if I like music. I replied, “Yes.”
I asked him if he smoked cigarettes (no idea why this question came to mind). He said, “Yes.” Then he said, “No.” Then he said, “Yes” again.
Kaji asked me what I do for work. I said, “Blog computer stuff.”
I asked Kaji what he was studying. He said, “Chemistry.”
Kaji pointed out that I had spilled some pizza sauce on my shirt.
Ten minutes passed in silence.
I asked Kaji if he had any brothers or sisters. He didn’t say anything, not understanding my question.
Ten more minutes passed in silence.
Kaji told me he liked my titanium money clip.
I told Kaji that I love eating Okonomiyaki.
Kaji went to the restroom.
I tried to think of more questions.

On and on we went like this for about an hour and a half, with the conversation never really flowing too smoothly. It was still a pleasant afternoon in the end as Kaji was a really nice guy and I was certainly happy to not be eating alone, but once we finished our food and we paid the bill, as is often the case with real dating, it was obvious that our relationship was not going to continue beyond this one meal.

We simply shook hands, thanked each other for the company and went off in opposite directions, two travelers wandering the streets alone once again, each hoping the next ‘travel date’ they have out there in the world will prove to be more successful.


Are you familiar with the above type of traveler interaction? Have you had any awkward ‘travel dates’?

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Comments 44

  1. Pingback: Prague & Austria | The Grand Tour

  2. Ryley

    What about actual or “real” dates? Is there no romance in your nomad lifestyle? Have you lived as a wandering monk for the last 12 years?

    1. Earl

      Hey Ryley – There’s definitely romance and actually, over the past 12 years I’ve had a few long-term relationships and a few short-term ones. While I don’t usually go on traditional dates, I am meeting new people all the time, everywhere I go. And then of course things happen and you find someone you want to spend more time with. So in these cases, you simply make some adjustments…such as I did when I was based out of Mexico for 1.5 years (I had a Mexican girlfriend at the time).

      I’m certainly no monk and I find that I’m meeting more like-minded people while traveling than my friends meet back at home!

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  5. Andrew

    ….”we eventually managed to communicate enough to ask and answer the usual questions – Where are you traveling? How long have you been traveling? What is your favorite country?”

    What sort of reaction do you normally get to this Earl?

    Earl: “How long have you been travelling?”
    Date: “A few weeks, you?”
    Earl: “11 years…..”

    1. Earl

      Hey Andrew – The reaction does vary but most people think I’m joking at first. But when I take a minute to explain what I do and that I’ve been working on cruise ships, teaching English and working online, it makes a little more sense to those I meet. Although, sometimes I’ll just answer “awhile” instead of saying “11 years” just to avoid the questions that usually follow 🙂

  6. Sarah Somewhere

    Ha ha ha! Love this, Earl. And also pleasantly surprised that after all these years of solo travel, you are still making the effort to meet other travellers (even when they don’t speak the same language!). Good on you. Travelling with my boyfriend means I am a bit, well a LOT lazy in that department. I am always afraid of getting ‘stuck’ with someone… Better make more of an effort!

    1. Earl

      Hey Sarah – I’ll always try and meet other travelers as well as I do believe that there is much to be learned from everyone we encounter during our adventures. And yes, I do know how it can be much more difficult to interact with others when you are traveling with a partner or even with a friend. It does require that extra effort!

  7. paul | walkflypinoy

    awesome article and really relatable! funny enough. i also spent time in china with this japanese guy that knew little english. so our conversations also went somewhere along the lines you wrote. but yeah, it was totally fine. great guy. at this point though, i think i’ve stopped making too much effort with these travel dates, especially the finding somebody part. like all relationships, if we naturally gel together and there’s that “spark,” then great! if not, then that’s fine. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Paul – That is funny! And I do think similarly to you…I don’t put too much effort into ‘finding’ the right people, instead preferring to let such encounters happen on their own.

  8. Bama

    This is hilarious yet true! Every time I heard other travelers say something interesting for me, I would be instantly engaged in an intense conversation which can last for hours. But there are also times when some strangers just walk toward me and start talking about so many things, then a few minutes later we’re drinking beer together!

    1. Earl

      Hey Bama – That’s how it works…you never know how it will unfold when you encounter someone new while traveling. And to me, that is a great thing about travel…not knowing who you’ll meet or where you’ll end or what you’ll be talking about until it actually happens!

  9. Steve C

    A couple years ago I traveled solo across the US. I stayed in the Chicago Hostel and met several other solo travelers. Eight of us of all ages, representing 6 different countries, became quick friends. We went and did things together for several days as a group. One evening we all went to a crowded pizza joint for the famous deep dish Chicago pizza. We all sat at one long table and had beer and pizza. When we left, we found the locals all around us had been eavesdropping, (as we had been pretty loud), and had enjoyed our “international companionship party” just as much as we had. One lady told me that she wished she was young again and could do things like that. I had to laugh to myself as I’m 62. Language, age, culture and nationality didn’t trump being solo travelers in search of a “travel date”.

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – That’s exactly the kind of situations I love as well! Travelers have that ability to bond so quickly because of their similar lifestyles and the fact that they want to experience the places they are visiting. Okay, we don’t all bond with each other every time but the chances of getting along are quite high. And then nights like the one you describe in Chicago take place and it’s as good a feeling as it gets!

    1. Earl

      Hey Dana – Nothing wrong with awkward moments in the end…it’s only natural that they would happen when meeting so many strangers on a daily basis!

  10. Patricia GW

    “Travel dates” really vary with the people you meet and the environment you’re in. Lunch with Kaji may have been awkward, but it was so nice of you to ask him in the first place. When you first started in ’99, were you as comfortable going up to people and asking them if they wanted to hang out or grab a meal?

    1. Earl

      Hey Patricia – That’s a good questions and actually, I was not comfortable at all when I first started traveling. In fact, I was very shy and self-conscious and would almost never start a conversation with a stranger or other traveler. And even when others would talk to me I was still quite quiet 🙂

        1. Earl

          Hey Patricia – I’m not sure how I overcame the shyness. I think that the more I traveled the more I realized that I would miss out on so much if I kept to myself and didn’t talk to anyone. So I would just slowly try and force myself to talk to others. It took me a while but eventually, it became a little more natural. Also, staying in places that have many foreigners around does make it easy to be more social. You almost have no choice sometimes when you have 10 travelers sitting around a hostel or guesthouse, all chatting with each other. It’s hard to be shy in those situations!

  11. Jill

    The cool thing about traveling with kids is that they do it for us. It takes them all of 5 seconds to make friends. Once we saw John Butler in a park ( cool Australian musician) and we kept telling OUR kids to go make friends with HIS kids, ‘cos we wanted to meet him. Unfortunatly, it was the one time they came over all shy!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jill – Haha…that sure does make it easy! And in many countries, people love kids so much that they approach you out of nowhere and start a conversation, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.

  12. Lane

    I’ve never traveled solo (either my daughter or better half was with me) so I hadn’t considered a scenario like this. Funny. Well, I’m laughing.

    p.s. If you’re in China soon, I promise I speak more than 20 words of English — and would buy you a beer.

  13. Dave

    ^^^ Travel Snob^^^

    good post earl, I agree and have had my fair share of those experiences but ever once and awhile you meet someone magical, and it makes all those akward dates worth it!

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave – I completely agree and I always say that every time I meet someone new it is worth it. You have to get out there and talk everyone in order to find those few magical people that will have a lasting impact on your life!

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  15. Dyanne@TravelnLass

    A good story Earl, but I have to wonder…

    If/when hostel “date” pickin’s are slim – why not just head out to a local restaurant/cafe/pub and… mingle with the locals?

    I mean, sure once in awhile it’s nice to hang out w/ other travelers, but in my experience these usually end up with the same tired conversations (e.g. comparing itineraries, “Where’ve you been?” “Where are you headed”, etc.)

    Conversely – if you make an effort to mingle w/ the locals of a foreign land, you are quite often/very/nearly always rewarded with an interesting experience at the very least. I mean… isn’t that why we travel?

    1. Earl

      Hey Dyanne – That is indeed why we travel but at the same time, some of my closest friends in life are other travelers I met at some point over the past 12 years on the road. So I think meeting travelers can also be as equally rewarding as there is plenty to learn from them as well. Of course, I definitely do plenty of mingling with locals wherever I am too and that is usually my focus, but every now and then, it’s just nice to have lunch with someone who can relate to the traveling lifestyle.

  16. Stephanie

    yup, my weird travel companions also seem to be centered around marriage, or pre-stages of it. I had a French guy following me around Northern Thailand for almost a week, although it was pretty obvious that we didn’t click at all. He kept chatting to me wherever we met and at the end suggested spending the night in his room – although the conversation from my end had only ever consisted of nodding, going “uh-uh” and saying “OK, I’m gonna leave now”. He wasn’t touchy-feely or creepy, but obviously out of touch with reality.

    1. Earl

      Hey Stephanie – Sounds like a lovely situation you had there in Thailand…odd interactions are definitely a part of traveling and usually they do involve other travelers instead of locals!

  17. Matthew Karsten

    Too funny! I’ve had my share of these as well.

    The last time I was in Mexico (before I spoke any Spanish), a local woman invited me into her home. She was very friendly, and introduced me to her large family. But I didn’t understand anything she said, and she couldn’t understand me.

    The next day I asked an Argentinian guy from the hostel to walk around town exploring with me. We passed by the woman’s house again, and I went in to say hello. She insisted that we stay for lunch. This time, my friend could translate for us.

    It turns out the woman wanted me to marry her 15 year old daughter (I was 29). She was dead serious, and we were surrounded by the whole family, all 8 of them.

    The meal got pretty awkward after that. We quietly finished our chicken and left.

    1. Earl

      Hey Matthew – That’s a wild story…are you sure you didn’t stick around and consider the proposal for just a few minutes???

  18. Izy Berry

    HAHAHA! This is awesome. I’ve had a few bits of awkwardness when traveling, actually. After a pretty crappy incident I went to Ubud, Bali to chill for a week and took the liberty of stealing wifi from the back of a restaurant down a side street. The restaurant staff were entertained, and all guys who seemed to like giving me attention. They spoke decent English, and one of them invited me to ride on the back of his motorbike to his village, to meet his family and look around.

    I was flattered, so took the opportunity. And while it was a great experience and it was so kind of him to show me around and a part of his life, there were so many awkward moments where I was desperately trying to keep the conversation flowing by asking random questions. Eventually I gave up and just relaxed into the silence of being in each others company.

    I get so tired of the “Where are you from? Where are you going?” conversation, but I guess it has it’s uses!

    1. Earl

      Hey Izy – Sometimes those questions just need to be asked but I like the fact that you just stopped worrying about the situation and fell into the silence. It’s interesting because I think for many westerners, silence is difficult to handle but in many other cultures, it’s perfectly normal. What we interpret as awkward might not be awkward at all for someone else. Either way, at least you had a unique experience over there in Bali!

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