The Dos and Don'ts of Vacation Romances

How to find and fine-tune exotic love affairs while abroad.

Image courtesy of Corbis.

I'm writing this from a state park in rural Ohio, where I'm vacationing with my family. Between the high-school lifeguards, shuffleboard octogenarians, and blood relatives, my chances of romance on this trip are, to put it mildly, slim.

For you, however, an August getaway is a ripe chance for a fling —if you know how to find one, keep it, and let it go. Here are some tips to make the most of your next "vacationship."

Don't scour the globe for a chance romance, but do put yourself in a position to find one.

Your trip's priorities should be, in this order: Eat, vacay, love. Relax first, then strategize. Put yourself in places to make chance meetings happen. Choose a location frequented by the adventurous and available (Buenos Aires, for example), not a Noah's Ark of paired-off honeymooners (like Tuscany). Before you go, see if friends of friends or relatives live in your destination. Let them recommend local color and introduce you to local folks. Sign up for day trips, hikes, or yoga classes with like-minded (and limber) vacationers.

Don't lie about who you are, but do play up who you want to be.

During a month-long backpacking expedition across Thailand, a friend of mine, also named Ben, indulged in an intense, four-day fling with a French woman, Margot, who worked at a nearby hotel. Traveling by himself, Ben said, forced him to adopt a more intrepid outlook.

"She was outrageously attractive. Normally I'd never have the confidence to sit down and ask if I could buy her a drink," he says. "I was able to go outside my comfort zone. When there's no judgment, no expectation, no history, there's kind of this simultaneous vulnerability and confidence you have. Anything can really happen."

"Vacation You" can be more interesting and self-actualized than "Nine-to-Five You." As Ben told me, "You choose the narrative. You get to redefine yourself." And, you're already doing better than you think: To, Margot, a concierge from the South of France and fresh off a year in Bora Bora, Ben, a suburban American seemed downright exotic.

Don't ditch your entire itinerary, but do ditch your inhibitions.

Your best friend will not appreciate you skipping his bachelor-party weekend to chase some Vegas peacock up and down the strip. But if you've got some flexibility, as Ben did, go ahead and spend a few extra days motorscootering with your Margot.

My mom always tells me, "Tell the pilot he or she has precious cargo." Be safe in your travels, lest you end up in some Stockholm-syndrome situation among the gun-cocked and corn-rowed, like those coeds in Spring Breakers. That said, if you have the opportunity to do things you'll never do again with someone you'll never see again, treat it like your last chance. An impromptu weekend in Berlin? Sure. An underground burlesque show in a seedy part of town? Why not? Cliff jumping? You bet.

Don't be selfish, but do be self-centered.

Your vacationship can be as self-involved and hedonistic and escapist as the rest of your excursion. It can also be, as Ben noted, a valuable experience of self-discovery.

"I didn't consider as much how the relationship affected her, because I was on this month-long trip where I was focusing on myself and reflecting on how I was feeling," he says. But, "I don't think she was looking at it from my perspective. I think it was exactly what she needed, too."

Remember: This is about you. You're not required to process emotions or manage logistics like in an at-home relationship: Fornicate fervently and feast fancily; forget feelings or finances. You can be a bit clingy (offer to share a hotel room) or even flakey (solo spa day in order? Go for it!). There's also room for uncharacteristic tomfoolery and general impulsiveness. And by that, I mean skinny-dipping.

Don't expect it to last, but do enjoy it while it does.

Your vacationship may be fleeting but intense. It's like putting popcorn in the microwave for three explosive, transformative minutes before the popping abruptly stops. That's the beauty of "expiration dating," the kind of relationship cushioned and catalyzed by a definite, determined finish line.

"You know where you're going to end but don't know how you're going to get there," Ben says. "It's fun to see spontaneously how you're going to experience that ride."

Don't fear the inevitable expiration date; instead, cherish and maximize the relationship confined to your proverbial (or literal) island. After four days, Ben left the town and Margot. When he returned stateside they exchanged a few e-mails. Then that was it.

"I wouldn't want to change anything. Even though it was only four days, it was really powerful," he says.

Actually there is that one thing he would've done differently: "Maybe I would have used a little more sunscreen the first day. I got really burnt."

Ben Kassoy, who just completed a thousand-piece puzzle with his sisters and granny, is planning a trip to Thailand. He tweets @bkassoy.

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