Choosing the Wrong Travel Companion

August 20, 2012


It’s not the first time I’ve been underrepresented in a group of non-English speakers for not being able to voice my personality. I guess I get off on being the center of attention or the most interesting man in the room (depending on the room) more than I realized.

I can still remember my goals when I made the decision to start this trip: solidify friendships, search for jobs abroad, and just see whatever happens to cross my path. For the most part, this has worked out: I really enjoyed catching up with family in Washington DC and friends in Toronto. But I think Germany was a mistake.

I have nothing against the country or the people. Heidelberg is amazing, and I hope to see more before I leave on Monday. It’s just… I had a rough night, emotionally.

I met a German Couchsurfer in San Francisco as she was catching up with her family for a few days. She was cute, sweet, had a great laugh, and really seemed to want to see the city. I showed her around for 3-4 days, and she extended an offer to visit her in Heidelberg at some point. I didn’t think it was too likely then, but I kept the idea at the back of my mind.

When I started planing this round-the-world trip, her invitation stood out: why not Germany and France? I’ve never been to either. I wasn’t sure if this was an entirely platonic invitation (most likely me seeing something that wasn’t there), but I resolved to just enjoy the experience and she how she felt.

Landed in Frankfurt. Greeted by a familiar smile. We drove to France the next day, talking almost continuously and seemingly getting along. I left all thoughts of romance behind, and started soaking in the travel mantra once again.

Although we weren’t doing everything I had on my list or seeing the major sights, I was enjoying the company, and learning more about her, France, and Germany. She was the same woman I had known in San Francisco, the same temperament I had reaffirmed over Skype conversations.

And then I started to have doubts about how much time I was spending with her.

I try to minimize the stress I inflict on others when I’m visiting or Couchsurfing. I bring a gift; treat my hosts to dinner; clean up after myself; help out when I can. But I can’t provide a solution to feelings that existed before my arrival. I have to remember that though I may be there to visit them, they have lives and problems to deal with beyond my little trifles, and I’m just passing through and practically expecting them to be happy and gay so I can enjoy a fulfilling travel experience.

In this case, with the kind German girl, it was just too much. She was stressed out from starting a new year of medical school and moving to a new country, and seemingly had no patience for me and my laid-back attitude on the drive back to Heidelberg. I’ve had plenty of embarrassing conversations in my travels, but never have I been talked down to by someone who knows English in such a way to make me feel like such an immature child.

The topic? Health insurance. I can’t afford it. She acted like I chose not to buy it, and I couldn’t convince her otherwise. I’ll never forget that expression of pity and condescension on her face as we walked down the main street in Heidelberg to catch the train north. I hate being reminded of life’s precarious nature when I’m on the road and subject to others’ whims.

A few things I’ve learned: I really suck when it comes to forming solid relationships with women, as I tend to see the physical and then deal with the chemistry. If I had tried harder to read into her feelings and see the chaotic situation unfolding, I might have avoided this situation. Now I’m leaving prematurely. Fortunately I have another friend in France I can visit before my flight to Bangkok. My lack of research in choosing the right kind of travel companion is costing me a train ticket to Dijon. More down the drain, and my diet is shot from all this delicious German black bread.

Still, enjoying the moment. My host is still very much a wonderful human being… but I wish she had been more honest with me when I asked to stay, that it would most likely be a chaotic time and she wouldn’t be in the best mood. Maybe, once again, I just expect too much.

Heidelberg Castle and the Philosopher’s Way are behind me, and I have some transportation waiting for me in a few hours.

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