What Loni James realized from 34 first dates in 19 nations
Loni James boarded a flight from Washington state to London final yr with a duffel bag, a day pack and an unconventional itinerary.
It was late March, and her plan was easy: To journey the world and go on a date with a neighborhood in each nation she visited.
Days after she arrived in London, she swiped proper on Tinder and met a French and British twin citizen who beloved travelling. Pints of beer with him at a pub close to the Tower Bridge became a five-hour dinner date and lengthy conversations about earlier journeys.
She by no means noticed the person once more. However so started her journey — one with no particular itinerary in thoughts. Over the previous yr, James says she’s used Tinder, Hinge and Bumble to go on 34 first dates in 19 nations, a sequence of romantic rituals filled with intrigue, surprises and cultural firsts.
There was the 13-hour date in Cairo in the course of the holy month of Ramadan — her first date with a Muslim — with a person who charmed her along with his beaming smile and “Pals” TV present quotes on his Tinder profile. Her subsequent date was with one other Egyptian man in Alexandria who blurted out that he was engaged and spent the date craving aloud for a previous love.
“He clearly wanted somebody to pay attention and I used to be a secure house,” James says. “I’ve had extremely intimate and weak conversations with individuals. There’s one thing particular that occurs when individuals know they’re by no means going to see you once more.”
There was a date within the Italian metropolis of Verona with a captivating classical musician who squired her round on a scooter and gave her a nighttime tour of the town’s many historic spots.
There was additionally a disastrous date in Turkey with a person who grew to become offended when she rejected his bodily advances and dropped her off at his paragliding store, promising to return. He by no means did. After ready for hours in a storm, James spent the evening on a bench within the retailer.
Her most up-to-date date was with a South African man in Cape City who whipped out a deck of playing cards over dinner and proceeded to do card methods on the desk.
However James, 40, says that even the dangerous dates have been memorable — and that every one of them have taught her one thing.
“Previously, I checked out courting as a go or fail. If I went out with somebody on a date and it did not finish in a goodnight kiss, or it did not finish within the second date, I thought of it a failure,” she says. “I do not consider that anymore. I now understand the worth of occurring a date and being so grateful that somebody opened up and gave you their time … shared their story with you.
“I’ve realized that romance is available in many types,” she provides. “It does not need to be costly and there is not a sure method that makes romance occur. For me, it is when there’s connection and intentionality. It’s the one who listens to you, who seeks to make you’re feeling particular, who needs to deliver a smile to your face with a considerate gesture and the one who needs to know what you suppose and seeks to actually get to know you.”
Loni James mountain climbing close to Mont Blanc on the French-Swiss border within the Alps. (Courtesy Loni James)
Her mom’s loss of life prompted her to grab the second
James’ choice to go on a solo journey was borne out of tragedy.
She watched her mom battle early onset Alzheimer’s from age 48 to her loss of life a yr and a half in the past at 63. It spurred James to grab the second and launch her adventures.
“My dad and mom had completed the whole lot proper in keeping with the American tradition. They bought married. They raised three children … That they had good jobs … they paid off the home,” she says. “That they had large plans for his or her retirement, however my mother did not make it to retirement.”
James, who will not be married and does not have children, began saving for her journey two years earlier than her mom’s loss of life in October 2021. She moved from Seattle to Spokane, Washington, rented a less expensive condo and bought a roommate. She later offered all her issues and moved in together with her dad and mom to spend time together with her sick mom throughout her closing days.
She did not get an opportunity to share her journey plans together with her mom earlier than she died, however remembers a key piece of recommendation her mom gave her years in the past earlier than Alzheimer’s stole her capacity to speak.
“I instructed her a few boy I favored, and he or she instructed me to ensure he beloved journey as a lot as I did,” she says. “That was actually impactful, that within the midst of her illness, she knew how vital that was for me … when on the lookout for a companion.”
James’ worldwide journey has coincided with a rise in solo journey, spurred partly by the pandemic.
Google searches within the US final month for “solo journey” had been greater than 3 times larger than in March 2020 in the USA.
“The uncertainty of being round others throughout a pandemic made travellers cautious about touring in teams,” says Janice Waugh, founder and writer of Solo Traveler. “Many have continued to journey solo after discovering the advantages of solo journey equivalent to flexibility, freedom, and private progress.”
Whereas it is common for solo travellers to search out romance and friendship, it is uncommon up to now somebody in each nation you go to, Waugh says.
However James has thrown herself into the expertise and embraced the nice and the dangerous. She stays in hostels and Airbnbs or with buddies and even buddies of buddies, at all times leaving room for spontaneity.
“Individuals will simply be on the hostel asking round, ‘Who needs to go right here? Who’s free for seven days? Do you wish to go do that?’ And also you simply find yourself with strangers in a automotive,” she says.
“I noticed that long-term journey is so completely different than simply occurring trip … for per week or two. I actually needed to lean into the tradition, and I needed to have a really completely different expertise by being on the street for a very long time.”
Loni James on the Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo. “Once I write about these locations, I hope it builds a curiosity,” she says. (Courtesy Loni James)
She takes steps to make sure her security
James says she is up entrance together with her dates about her aim up to now somebody in every nation she visits. She guarantees them anonymity, and apart from sharing a couple of pictures, declined to supply their contacts to CNN.
Possibly her most memorable expertise was the 13-hour date final yr with the Muslim man in Cairo. They shared conversations on the whole lot from on-line courting to Muslim tradition and organized marriages. As a result of it was throughout Ramadan, they shared iftar — the meal eaten by fasting Muslims proper after sundown.
“I’ve by no means had a person put a lot effort in a date,” she says of their day collectively, which additionally included visits to museums and a monastery, a experience in a rickshaw and a nighttime folk-dance present within the desert. “There was a lot meals, it was so colourful. I attempted all these new issues. Egyptian meals is wonderful.”
She’s since had dates in Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Italy, Slovenia, Norway, Iceland, the Azores islands of Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Namibia and South Africa.
She posts about her experiences on a weblog and on Fb and Instagram with the hashtag #ADateinEveryCountry, the place quite a few girls supply feedback and recommendation.
As a lady touring alone, James says she is cautious about security. She shares her location with buddies, does not drink a lot alcohol, be certain that her cellphone is charged and makes use of a ride-share app so she will exit a date on her personal.
She communicates with males by way of the courting apps and does not give out her cellphone quantity till after she has met a date in individual. She additionally by no means permits a date to select her up from the place she’s staying.
Waugh, the skilled on solo touring, encourages girls to satisfy dates in public locations and watch out about who they strategy to ask for instructions.
“I meet individuals on a regular basis and I achieve this by taking step one. I believe that it’s extra possible that an inappropriate individual will select me than I’ll select them,” Waugh says. “I select whom I discuss to, the place I’m going, or the place I sit. If I must ask for instructions, my first selection is to strategy a household after which maybe a pair.”
James has not but felt unsafe on a date, however she has had some irritating experiences. Males have stood her up twice: in Paphos, Cyprus, and in Cape City, South Africa.
Then there was the person in Zurich who picked her up in a Lotus, took her to dinner at an costly restaurant regardless of her objections and ordered her meals for her, together with a $84 glass of Chablis. Then he requested to separate the invoice, blowing her weekly price range.
“I do know that it sounds glamorous, and a few of my dates have been glamorous,” James says. “I’ve gone paragliding (in Fethiye, Turkey) on dates. I’ve additionally gone fishing within the Arctic Circle on dates. However I have been on some actually bizarre ones, too.”
Loni James shared this conventional, post-sunset meal on a date with a Muslim man in Cairo final yr throughout Ramadan. (Courtesy Loni James)
Her journey has shifted her perspective on courting
James hasn’t returned to the US since she left within the spring of 2022. She plans a number of extra months of touring in Africa earlier than heading to Asia, Australia and South America.
She hopes to show her world journey right into a e-book that is each entertaining and academic.
“Possibly somebody’s not going to select up a e-book about Egypt or Namibia or Tunisia. However perhaps they might be intrigued by my courting story, and in the event that they occur to study these different issues about this nation throughout that courting story, then I think about that an enormous bonus,” she says.
“I understand Egypt perhaps is not on all people’s bucket record, perhaps Morocco is not, even Namibia. Once I write about these locations, I hope it builds a curiosity … I hope the tales make individuals giggle, dream and cross oceans to satisfy fascinating individuals throughout.”
Till then, she’ll hold touring — for a minimum of the subsequent yr. There’s a lot extra to see, a lot extra to do.
James nonetheless hasn’t discovered a companion. She says she’s open to having a boyfriend who lives overseas. But when it does not occur, she’s relishing nearly each second of her journey.
“I like having the completely different races and religions and music and elegance and information and background,” she says. “There’s simply a lot to be realized once you encompass your self with individuals from all completely different areas (of the world).”
Assembly up with males in several nations has shifted her perspective on courting, she says.
As a youthful girl, she noticed courting as a way to an finish: to discover a husband. However now, she says, she considers it a privilege to listen to somebody’s story and get to know them with out the burden of expectations.
“I’ve realized that the challenges of contemporary courting exist in every single place,” she says. “Persons are nonetheless studying methods to deal with on-line courting, and other people nonetheless get ghosted. Being stood up sucks, even when it occurs on a wonderful island. Your insecurities do not simply disappear once you cross an ocean.”
James says she’s glad she did not postpone touring till she had a companion, like she’d completed up to now. The previous yr, she says, has taught her rather a lot about herself.
“I’ve realized that I am the perfect model of myself after I’m touring — probably the most open and probably the most curious,” she says. “I am fascinated by the way in which that completely different nations strategy the identical issues. I am continuously reminded that there is not one proper solution to do issues.”