I'm a former professional matchmaker who found love while traveling solo - here's why it prepared me for a strong long-term relationship

Olivia Balsinger 1

Courtesy of Olivia Balsinger

The author and her partner in Thailand.

  • Olivia Balsinger is a writer, traveler, and former professional matchmaker.
  • She spent years solo traveling around the world, and it taught her a lot about how to be in a relationship.
  • Traveling tested Balsinger's sense of adventure, bravery, self-confidence, and, most significantly, self-love - attributes that are all extremely important to develop before jumping into a relationship.
  • After spending half a decade counseling clients on love, she found her own at an Irish pub in Bangkok.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Almost two years ago, I sat wearing wrinkled elephant pants and sipping Chang beer outside an Irish pub on Khao San Road in Bangkok. I had spontaneously purchased a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia in an "Eat, Pray, Love," moment of inspiration, typical of my chaotic, perpetually nomadic (and perpetually single) lifestyle. I had been strung along, spit out, and washed ashore again in the romance department and swore I was taking a sabbatical from love. My number one rule for the trip was no romance. However, like most rules, this one was subject to change.

I motioned to the waitress to ask for the check for my beer. She pointed to a tall, handsome man sitting across the room from me, and said he had already paid for my drink.

And that's when the fairy tale began. I was supposed to head to Bali the next night on assignment, and he had only just arrived in Thailand that afternoon on his first solo trip (his name was Jonathan, from Denmark). But from the moment he pulled his chair up to my table, we knew.

Fast forward to today: I have since moved to Copenhagen with him, am in the process of acquiring a new citizenship, and we've explored 17 countries together (with dozens more on our radar.)

When we met, I was working as a successful matchmaker at Tawkify, one of the most coveted firms in the country. I had spent half a decade emphasizing to clients that there is no such thing as love at first sight and that feelings take time to grow and mature. Yet at that moment in Bangkok, everything I thought I knew was squashed. Here's what solo traveling taught me about finding a soul mate.

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You need to love yourself before searching for love

You need to love yourself before searching for love

I remember dreading the holiday season when I first started solo traveling. Inevitably, after the first glass of wine, a distant relative would ask, "Olivia, it's nice that you're exploring and seeing the world, but when are you going to get married?"

Although I was only in my early twenties, these questions would sometimes bother me, and often I started trying to pursue relationships for the wrong reasons. I was looking for someone to sweep me off my feet, or to tell me how wonderful I am and assure me that I'm worthy of love. But these relationships never lasted, because they lacked a solid, meaningful foundation.

But without realizing it, my explorations had already been teaching me how to build a strong foundation. The bravery it takes to be a solo female traveler helped mold me into the independent woman I am today.

When I worked as a professional matchmaker, half of my coaching was explaining to clients that their most important relationship has to be with the person in the mirror. If you are actively searching to be made whole by a partner, you aren't yet whole yourself. Jonathan later told me that I had seemed approachable that night in Bangkok because I looked comfortable being alone. It had taken years of mistakes, failures, and lessons learned while solo traveling to feel confident in my own skin. But once you have it, confidence like that shows.

There's nothing wrong with making the first move

There's nothing wrong with making the first move

Your Instagram is likely saturated with photos displaying your bravery and adventurous spirit when traveling. Yet for some reason, when it comes to our emotions, we tend to hide behind a protective shield. Traveling solo is the ultimate opportunity to break out of your romantic comfort zone, as there is less risk involved. If your smile at the cutie across the bar isn't returned, there's no harm done, and you don't have to worry about running into them at your local grocery store next week. Plus, if they are also traveling solo, there is a better chance they are open to new experiences and engaging with fellow wanderlusters.

When I worked professionally as a matchmaker, I would remind clients not to be intimidated to ask their love interest out. It's better to find out if there is mutual interest before your brain goes down the thought spiral of "what ifs." To develop connections, you must be open to your surroundings and new opportunities, and also continue to know your worth if the relationship doesn't work out.

Travel can make your romance more serious

Travel can make your romance more serious

Frequent globetrotters know that travel isn't always as seamless as social media likes to portray. It can be stressful trying to manage budgets, logistics, and itinerary details for solo traveling, and traveling with a partner can be complicated in different ways. When I met Jonathan and we decided to ditch our plans and travel together, we needed to have logistical discussions that I previously presumed were saved for serious couples, not perfect strangers. Which hotel can we afford together? Should I purchase the plane tickets with my points and you pay me back? And if you think you know your partner, wait until you are traveling with them 24/7 — all of a sudden, both the good and bad are center stage.

When I worked as a matchmaker, I would emphasize to clients that their dates aren't necessarily showing their authentic selves during early interactions. We all put our best foot forward in the beginning. Only time, proximity, and the way you and your partner work through issues can test your relationship compatibility. Traveling together is the ultimate test, as it is unpredictable and sometimes anxiety-provoking. Does she stay calm when you miss your red-eye flight due to traffic? Does he stay by your side when you're quarantined with a bug on a cruise? Most importantly, how does your partner treat workers in the service industry? This is an important litmus test.

Traveling prepares you for a strong relationship, and creates lifelong memories

Traveling prepares you for a strong relationship, and creates lifelong memories

As a matchmaker, I would often plan blind dates for my clients that were centered around an activity. My rationale was that you're more inclined to feel comfortable with your date when you are interacting in a playful setting, such as mini golf, instead of sitting stiffly at a five-star restaurant, nervous about spilling a drop of soup.

If you can explore the world alongside your partner, it makes those memories that much more precious when you reminisce about them years later, curled up on the sofa. With a partner, the stories you make while traveling together can be valued for years to come.

I gained my independence, bravery, and confidence by traveling alone for many years, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. Those solo experiences allowed me to grow to love and put myself first, and prepared me to be a confident and caring partner. Today I am still that person who aspires to tell stories visiting every country I can, and now I can enjoy traveling in the company of an equally independent partner.

Olivia Balsinger is a writer, traveler, PR pro, and former professional matchmaker. Connect with her on Instagram.

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