“This sounds like a scam… or prostitution" is what pretty much everyone told me when I first decided to give travel dating a go. And truth be told, I thought the same thing. But I’d made it a personal goal to be more adventurous in my dating life this year… and when a PR firm offers to send you on an all-expenses paid getaway with a cute guy (separate hotel rooms included), you say yes.
Which is how I ended up embarking on not one, but two destination dates last month: the first with a complete stranger named Josh* (who — spoiler alert! — did not murder me), and the second with a guy named Peter*, whom I’d met in Paris and serendipitously found on travel dating site MissTravel a few weeks later (he didn’t murder me, either!).
For those who may not know, travel dating is kind of like Tinder, but instead of swiping right and left, you scroll through profiles — which also include photos and quick bios — and search by trip. In the case of MissTravel, users can create and list trips with a few key details: destination, specific dates, and whether you’ve got an “extra ticket” (i.e. you’re willing to cover your travel buddy’s expenses), have your “own ticket” (i.e. you’re taking this trip and would like for a date to tag along and cover their own expenses), or, most ambitiously, would like someone to “take you along” (i.e. you’d like to head out on this vacation and have someone else pay for the trip).
From there, you can match with and message other users based on how interested you are in jetting off with that person. Conversations are a bit more loaded than those you’d have on other dating sites or apps, with fewer games of “Would You Rather” and more “So, what’s your travel style?” But for the most part, it’s not crazy different.
Naturally, I now consider myself a low-key expert in travel dating. So here’s everything you need to know about foregoing first-date drinks to fly across the ocean with someone you barely know: highs, lows, and jet-lag-induced drooling included.
1. You've Got Options
For starters, you’ve got to decide which destination dating site or app to try. I’ve only ever used MissTravel, which basically invented travel dating, but there are tons of other sites and apps in this space now, including TravelHostDate, TourBar, and YourTravelMates.
Some are designed to help you connect with locals while exploring a new city; others are good for finding fellow vagabonds to sync up with on your next adventure. Your call.
2. Yes, It's Safe
Yes, heading off on a vacation with someone is a way bigger commitment than dinner and drinks. And no, unfortunately many of these apps do not verify users. But think of it in these terms: How often do you get to watch your date stroll through a metal detector or get a pat-down from the TSA? If you’re meeting a person at a far-away destination, be sure to touch base with the hotel staff in advance to ensure they’ve got your information (and I’d strongly recommend getting separate rooms). Many of these travel dating sites and apps also suggest Skyping, FaceTiming, or even grabbing coffee with your potential travel date (location permitting) to ensure you’re completely comfortable with each other before clicking “book.”
Other than that, I’d say follow standard Tinder protocol and you’ll be fine. Just trust your gut, stick to hanging out in public areas, and ask a friend to track your location from their phone (maybe spring for a temporary Wi-Fi pass or roaming cell phone plan as well).
3. And Yes, You Really Can Find A Handsome Stranger
A lot of travel dating sites were initially created for sugar daddy types to find young, hot business trip companions, which has given the whole concept a bit of a bad rap. But fret not — more and more millennials are joining these sites and apps; according to MissTravel, more than 400,000 18- to 35-year-olds have joined its site in the last two years alone.
Sure, you might have to scroll through a few pages of the aforementioned businessmen, but you’ll also find plenty of charming, adventurous gems; I can personally vouch for that. Josh (travel date one) was 28, with two master's degrees and Zayn Malik vibes; Peter (travel date two) was a hot 23-year-old I’d already met and clicked with at a bar in Paris (think Troy Bolton turned New York finance bro).
4. Don't Worry About Being Awkward
The (very) socially awkward side of me was panicking before my trips. Like, breaking-out-in-a-stress-rash level panicking. But both were surprisingly easy, and honestly, way less awkward than most Tinder dates I’ve been on. Because you’ve got so much time together, conversation lulling here and there is not only totally fine, it’s expected. And knowing you have 48 hours to fill gives you a steady stream of topics to cover as you plan your next move — i.e., would you rather have In ‘n Out for dinner, or head to The Mission for tacos? Should we spend the next few hours strolling through markets, or checking out a few museums? Socializing becomes way easier when you’re actually doing things, not just staring at each other’s faces over a charcuterie plate.
That said, Josh and Peter might tell you a different story here. I mean, I sensed virtually no awkwardness, but I’m also happy to chat about my appreciation for Voldemort in surprisingly intricate detail, so…
5. But Worry A Little About Jet Lag
I’ve been flying back and forth across the Atlantic pretty regularly for the past two decades (mostly for school), but jet lag still gets me every. Damn. Time.
Both of my dates involved adjusting my internal clock (the first was Boston to San Francisco; the second Boston to London), and I did a terrible job. As in, I fell asleep and drooled on Peter a few times and aggressively insisted on taking naps. Thankfully, both dates saw the merits of this (especially after the drooling). Keep that in mind when choosing a destination. If you’ve only got a couple of days to spare, maybe don’t travel across too many time zones (and if you do, well, remember that nap time is the best time).
6. You Can Try Out Different Travel Styles
Turning a trip into a first date (or visa versa) also gives you the chance to experience different travel styles. I typically travel solo, end up getting lost down random side streets, and spend an inordinate amount of time filling notebooks with my thoughts on a city. Josh, on the other hand, was all about seeing the top attractions: ensuring we didn’t miss a photo opp in front of the Golden Gate Bridge or hanging from the side of a trolley. And Peter — well, Peter and I were pretty much drunk for two days straight and somehow ended up on a boat. Or, as I affectionately dubbed it, “A magical island pub floating on the River Thames… LET’S GO TO THERE!”
Personally, I didn’t ask either date about their own travel styles before meeting up, as I’m generally pretty happy to go with the flow (especially the flow of the pub boat). But if you’re a more structured traveler, definitely chat through the details with your date to make sure they’re on the same page.
7. It's A Great Escape From Modern Dating
Modern dating is so focused on strategy and scheming, balancing "hard to get" with "I'm definitely interested in you." But the cool thing about travel dating is that it strips all of that away. In most cases (mine included), your dates exist in a vacuum: You live in different cities and have zero mutual connections, so why let the fear of coming on too strong, too weird, too excited about late-night Big Macs keep you from having a great time and enjoying each other’s company? Hold hands and mess with his hair! Knock back tequila shots and check out a burlesque club! Get lost in Shoreditch, London, at two in the morning! Who knows, you might hit things off and find a new lover.
Or maybe, like me, you’ll end up with some new friends, a phone full of photos, and little bit less of your liver.
*Names have been changed.