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Are you a single traveler? TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten is, too. From the newest dating apps to old-fashioned fix-ups, here are his best tips for having fun — and staying safe — while traveling.
If it weren’t for dating on vacation, my parents never would have met. I’ve continued the family tradition of meeting fellow singles when I travel, and though I haven’t found my soulmate on the road (yet!), I have had some good times. Even if things don’t work out romantically, it’s still fun to flirt and see a new place through the eyes of a local.
Whether you’re looking to hook up or settle down while on the road, here are four tips for dating while traveling, plus a special Q&A with a foreign service officer from the US State Department.
1. Use Your Apps
If you’re single and have a smartphone, chances are you’re probably already on Tinder. While the app has a reputation for enabling hook-ups, I’ve met plenty of people for more — it’s always a pleasant surprise to see how many other people out there in the world are on Tinder, too. Adjust the settings to find someone close to where you’re staying, or if you want to start meeting people before you arrive, upgrade to Tinder Plus to search outside of your home area.
Happn shows you where and when you crossed paths with another single person (whether it’s on your street or halfway around the world). Cross paths multiple times? It could be fate! Like with Tinder, you can only communicate with another person once you’ve both expressed interest.
2. Use the Internet
Couchsurfing isn’t just for cheapskates who need a free place to crash, it’s also great for finding parties and group activities around the globe. Many members also make themselves available as ad hoc tour guides and travel buddies. Be mindful that Couchsurfing is not a dating site per se; some people just want to show you the world, not rock your world.
Letting my friends on Facebook know when and where I’m traveling has led to dozens of happier trips for me, especially when they recommend lodging, activities, restaurants and — yes — dates.
Joining Meetup can open up a world of activities to you in places near and far, many of which are specifically designed for single people to meet. Find something that genuinely interests you and chances are there are people all over who want to meet up and talk about it.
There are many tour companies that cater to singles, which works well not just for potential dates but also for lessening your chances of being stuck on a bus with a bunch of screaming children.
3. Use Your Charm
If you know anyone in the places you’re going, let them know you’re interested in meeting other single people. Unless they’re in a culture where arranged marriages are expected, most folks are glad to fix up their friends.
Don’t wait until you arrive to start meeting people. Your seat assignment on the airplane may not have put you next to an eligible date, but maybe next to the parent or friend of one. And remember: Flight attendants know everything. As long as they’re not too busy and you’re not a creep, many flight attendants are glad to advise you of their favorite places to go in your destination city.
No dates yet? Magical things still happen in hotel bars. More importantly though, get out of the hotel and do what you love, so even if you don’t meet your romantic match, you’ll still have a good time.
4. Use Your Head
Nothing is more important than your personal safety, especially when you are dating in an unfamiliar place. How can you be smart about it? I spoke with Victoria Wolf, a foreign service officer with the US State Department, to get her advice on staying safe.
Q: OK, I’m going out of the country and looking for romance. I want to stay safe — is there anything I should do before I leave?
A: Whether you’re looking for romance or not: Get Informed, Get Enrolled and Get Insured. Informed: The State Department website offers information sheets on each foreign country, including local laws and customs. Enrolled: The STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) program makes sure you can be found when someone back home is looking for you. Insured: Travel insurance and medical insurance help keep you safe in case something goes wrong.
Q: Do you get a lot of calls from distressed travelers?
A: We get as many calls from distressed family and friends as from the travelers themselves. We get daily calls about romance scams. There are a lot of unscrupulous individuals who are targeting people who are looking for legitimate relationships.
Q: How can you tell if you’re a target?
A: If you’re not considering yourself a “10” in the US, you’re not going to be a “10” overseas. Be realistic about why people are singling you out and interested in you, so you’re not being set up for a scam.
Q: I’ve heard of scams trying to get people’s money. What else should daters be wary of?
A: Scams transporting drugs or other illegal items. Your love may give you a gift which may be illegal in that country and could get you arrested.
Q: Why are people more vulnerable when dating abroad?
A: The added excitement of a new place may let your guard down. Unscrupulous individuals will take advantage. [In many places] you don’t look like a local, don’t blend in like a local. Trust your sixth sense.
Q: Aside from general dating precautions like meeting in public, what else is advised?
A: You may be thinking you’re doing the right thing meeting a person in public place. But don’t then leave with the person the first time you meet [to another location]. Don’t leave a drink unattended, don’t turn your back. It’s easy for a drink to get spiked. If you’re meeting someone at your hotel, meet the visitor in lobby. Make sure the hotel knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Even letting someone at home know where you’re going [is advisable].
Q: If I know I’m not a threat to someone, what can I do to show it?
A: Stay in a public place. Maintain awareness of surroundings. Don’t pressure the other person to go off somewhere else. Even if your intentions are pure and you want to go off on the beach, it’s probably not good to do on the first date.
Q: How else can I be a good visitor while dating?
A: Being mindful of culture and local laws. In some countries, if a man leaves with woman he didn’t come in with, she’s assumed to be a prostitute and could be arrested.
Q: These tips seem to apply to everyone.
A: Yes. And for LGBT people, err on the side of blending in to general community moreso, until you know where you are and what kind of country you’re in. Be cognizant before doing anything that puts you at risk.
Q: So what do I do if I do find myself scammed or attacked by someone I meet overseas?
A: People are reluctant to come forward because they feel foolish. We need to turn that around and make the scammers feel foolish. The shame should be on the scammers. Travelers can report to the US embassy and local law enforcement. If the crime is Internet-related, the FBI has ic3.gov (Internet Crime Complaint Center) where incidents are tracked. If there’s money involved, not a lot can be done. But until people start reporting it, nothing can be done.
Q: It sounds scary. Should I not bother trying to meet people?
A: No! I’m not saying not to meet people. The whole point is to enable you to travel safely. It’s just a matter of using common sense, relying on your sixth sense and reading information about the country you’re going to.
Q: So the State Department supports love?
A: Love is still in the air! All the time we get happy stories. We process thousands of fiancé visas, so there are very many happy endings. There are also US citizens going overseas for destination weddings. But if people do run into trouble, we are here 24 hours a day. We’re here to protect the lives of our citizens overseas.
We want to know: Have you ever found love while on the road? Share your (safe-for-work) experiences and advice for dating while traveling in the comments below!