I was seventeen years old, alone, and very anxious as I stood in line at JFK airport, gripping my passport and plane ticket that would eventually take me to Iceland.
I'd signed up last minute for this backpacking trip there to have an adventure before I started university in the Fall, but it didn't hit me how big of an adventure it truly was until I stood alone in that line.
I had made it to JFK despite multiple, silent existential crises, and my unbearably itchy wool sweater despite it being mid-July, and after my 8-hour layover, my mind was racing as I finally boarded the plane.
I was so nervous that all I was worried about were trivial things, like sitting next to someone who snored or worse, had kids, for the six-hour flight—it would definitely push me over the edge.
I made my way to my aisle seat (hallelujah) and as I was praying to Jesus, Allah, and Oprah that I would survive those two weeks, I was interrupted by an, “Excuse me, I think I'm 14E“.
I looked up, and my mouth dropped. Literally.
Damn. This guy was gorgeous.
I knew he was perfect in the first few seconds that I was aware of his existence in that aisle, but it was confirmed when he saw I was still clinging to my carry-on for dear life and offered to stow it in the overhead bin for me.
After we sat down, he turned to me and asked my name, and I struggled to reply in enough English to not be confused with a fish out of water (which I was).
“Nate” was on his way to do a EuroRail trek for six months with his best friend. I asked him where he was from and he replied San Diego (all my family is from San Diego, and that's where I was born. Another heartstring pulled).
The rest of the flight I was completely consumed by him. Our conversations quickly evolved past casual as I told him how I was going to Iceland as a personal challenge to myself, and he talked of how travel had forever changed him as a person (swoon, again).
When the dinner cart came around, we ordered the same thing and ate together like we were at a rooftop restaurant in New York City and not in Row 14 of a Delta flight. Travel romance was in the air.
He told me that he was 23 years old, a recent graduate, and that after backpacking Europe he would move to Ireland to earn his master's degree. Then, he asked what I was studying.
I couldn't tell him that I wasn't even old enough to vote yet!
So I said that I was 22 (reminder, I was 17) majoring in Biomedical Engineering (technically true, I had just been accepted to the program) and that I was a sophomore in college (technically, untrue).
Before I could worry about if my lie would catch up to me, he grinned and told me that he's always loved smart girls. I died again.
The rest of the flight we talked, laughed, and watched in-flight movies together. He offered to buy me a drink, but I declined (bullet, dodged). So he made me share his Skittles with him instead. We both felt something mutually that was startling and amazing, and very unexpected on a six-hour connection flight. But it felt so fated!
As the pilot announced our descent into Reykjavik, he told me he had a secret to tell me and to lean closer. I leaned in, and he grabbed my face and kissed me softly on the lips.
But as I was reeling in bliss and trying to survive the multiple waves of cardiac arrest, he asked me a question that made my heart really stop.
“Can I see you again?”
I froze. I was still overwhelmed by just being in Iceland alone at 17 years old, let alone trying to finagle this flight-fling further than Row 14.
More importantly/devastatingly, if I gave him my Facebook information (WhatsApp didn't exist yet back in the day), he would find out that I lied about my age!
And though I was mature, I wouldn't blame a 23-year old for having doubts about being interested in a person 6 years younger…
So after a long pause, I told him that I didn't think that was a good idea, and before he could respond the captain announced that it was time to depart the plane.
We walked together to the luggage terminal and after we grabbed our bags we both knew it was time to go our separate ways. His eyes looked very sad, and I could tell that he didn't understand why I had said no, but we were star-crossed!
It broke my heart, but I gave him a hug goodbye and I told him that if it were meant to be I would run into him in Reykjavik.
In the next few days exploring Reykjavik I held onto a small hope that I would bump into him on the Strætó (the Reykjavik bus system), or at a big tourist attraction like the Hallgrímskirkja.
But after the third day, I knew that Nate would already be on his next flight, and I would very likely never see him again.
Now that may sound like a (very) depressing end, but I don't consider it one!
That six-hour connection flight is one of my dearest memories, and I consider it a huge milestone in my journey as both a woman and a traveler because:
1.) Being 17 at the time, I was still very naive at the complexities of romance, so my range of romantic experience was definitely broadened lol! Basically my first PG-rated one-night-stand.
2.) From the beginning, lying about who I prevented any chance of progression regardless of what either of us wanted. I learned it was better to just be honest about my age and accept however he felt because at least we could've kept in contact and still have been friends!
3.) I learned that the most exhilarating moments are usually fleeting, and it's important to know the value of enjoying a moment and also letting it go.
So while it was sort of a sad way to end such an unexpected romance, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
It's been four years since that flight and I still believe that if it's truly meant to be I'll run into “Nate” again in the future.
If I do, I hope he's more open to the age difference, at least. 😉
** This story is a real account. I've changed his name
because god-forbid he ever sees this embarrassing recount for anonymity, but every event and feeling is as accurate as possible and straight from the depths of my first travel journal! Of course, written back then with a haze of seventeen-year-old romance.
Have you ever had any crazy travel romance stories? Flight connection flings or hostel love affairs? Share with me in the comments!
Gabby this is so cute and so well written! My mouth dropped while reading this story. I’m so glad you shared it. And yes I have stories from many different places (some interesting & funny) but not getting kissed on a plain!
I’m like smiling while reading this! <3 Such a cute (and a bit sad, for me at least) story. I'm a sucker for happy endings! hahah. And, you're quite right. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be! I hope you'll meet Nate again. 🙂
Aww hahah thank you! It was a bit sad but a great lesson! Yes I hope I meet Nate again one day!
[…] See also travel romance post by Gabby. […]
What an amazing story, Gabby! I really loved reading through it and as it is sad, it is also quite exhilarating. I agree – if you were meant to be, you would definitely meet somewhere. I bet he’s reading your story now! Aren’t you, Nate?
As regards my experience, I met a Chinese girl in Geneva randomly in the hotel we stayed at with my parents as a stop-over point from a Euro trip we did some years ago. I just asked her for the Wi-Fi password and then we had the most amazing conversation for 2 hours straight.
I then visited her, some months after that, and we had our kind of fling for the couple of days I was in China. Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue it, but I also learnt my lessons. 🙂
Thanks for reading Svetoslav!
(If Nate is reading this I still love you email me, LOL!)
Love that you have a similar love story, these little flings may not amount to more than a good memory but to this day it’s still one of my favorite memories I’m sure yours it too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Sigh, the innocence of youth 🙂
“I learned that the most exhilarating moments are usually fleeting, and it’s important to know the value of enjoying a moment and also letting it go.” That is a beautiful, and essential, lesson to learn and you learned it at a very young age!
I love this post! I have a similar story but it wasn’t on a plane it was in the train station and our trains were delayed…. Funny how these things happen huh?
Mine ended slightly different as he actually (believe it or not) lived two streets up from me! CRAZY! but we didn’t stay in touch, it was a fleeting romance as well 🙂
Loved reading this post!
Wow! That is a crazy story!! I appreciate you reading it and that you liked it haha, even they weren’t long term loves they’re still so fun to have as little memories, right?
This is so funny! I actually had a really similair experience – though mine is much more embarassing than yours! I met this guy from AUSTRALIA at an international conference in Montreal and we hit it off right away, despite the fact that I was 17 and by far the youngest member of the group. He ended up staying at my house a few hours away for almost a week and then we dated for almost seven months. Woops. Let’s just say I got a little head over heels, despite the fact that he lived literally on the other side of the world and we were very opposite people. Now I just deny the entire thing ever happened. I can definetly relate to your pain.
Hahah that is so funny! 17 is obviously a vulnerable time for us! I hope you learned lessons from your little stint just like I did mine though!
Don’t deny it happened, thats what being young and dumb is all about 🙂
Aww I was reading this story in excitement too, what a flight! *winks* Perhaps one day you guys might even cross paths again!
I’m hoping so! Hahah almost a true love story, but I was young and dumb ;P It was quite an experience though!
Awww what a sweet story! I hope one day your paths will cross again!
Oh I love this story! I was grinning from ear to ear and my stomach was fluttering like that of a teenage girl upon seeing her crush. Lovely composition! You got me hooked right away!
What if you see him again on your next great adventure? :p That would be a great follow-up story to this one.
Hehe cute 🙂 I love it ! I’m soo over dating travellers or hooking up with them for a longer period, maybe I’m just not there yet with this easy letting go if you have emotions developed 😀 But it’s def true that it’s lot of fun while it lasts 😀
Aww I really feel for you. What a sweet story, I hope you get to meet him again one day.
This post makes me so happy and inspired. Love that you shared with such honesty and vulnerability. When you’re 17 everything seems like an “earth shattering” affair. I so remember that! And the line about the best moments being fleeting.. Perfection.
This seems like such a beautiful memory. And it reminded me of one of mine as well (and, even though I didn’t lie about my age ;), I ended up making the same decision as you to let it go). I feel like encounters like these are what remind us of just how human we are. Of course you will always wonder what would happen if you were to meet again 🙂 Who knows – maybe “Nate” will stumble upon this post 🙂
Such I cute story 🙂 Do you still check out other passengers on flights to see if maybe…? 😀
This was such a cute memory you’ve shared, Gabby! How cute that you had a little snuggle! Whenever I board a plane I think about having some Hollywood-type whirlwind romance with some deathly hot Mr. Darcy kind of guy sat beside me who falls instantly in love. More often than not, I end up beside a 60-year-old woman telling me about the contents of her trail mix.
What a meet-cute! That’s such a cute memory that will stay with you forever I’m sure! I love the feeling of butterflies when you first meet someone you click with 🙂
Awwwww! That is so romantic! Well if you guys are meant to be each other, I’m sure you will cross paths again! 🙂
Ha ha wow! I thought this only happened in the movies!
Wow, nice 🙂 A friend of mine met her husband on a train! I guess fairytales do happen!
Sounds like a version of the ‘Serendipity’ script, just that this one has a lesson on ‘be practical I say!’ way of leading life… Nice!
I am sharing this read on my timeline for sure. It will definitely rekindle memories for my ‘nearing 40year old’ pals!!!
Such a cute story 🙂 Though u didn’t see him again it is still nice to have a fling once in a while
So, never give up to see him on another flight 🙂
All of me is SO hoping he comes across this and gets in touch and it’s a happily-ever-after… HOW AMAZING WOULD THAT BE?!
I enjoyed so much reading your story! It reminded me of a “Mr Lude Law” lookalike from seat 12C, whom I shared a flight with, from Stockholm to London. His big blue eyes, his blondish hair, his long fingers on his big book filled with musical notes. And how we bumped into each other several times in the baggage claim area, shyly smiling at each other each time. 🙂
Well, as I said the first time I read this on the collab post, I definitely understand what you went through and that maybe the fact you were young made you think that the age was a huge hurdle. It might be definitely true, but looking back now, if this guy was totally mature he would have understood. I even believe that if he noticed that in fact, even though you were young you were definitely a real smart girl, he would have still been totally interested. Even though, I know is not easy, and many scenarios come to mind when you’re trapped in the situation.
I definitely hope he gets to read you someday and notice that you still remember that flight. I have never been that lucky to have real cute guy next to me on any flight, so it must be an experience!