International long distance relationship

How to Survive an International Long Distance Relationship

It began innocently enough. Joanna and I met in my native Los Angeles while she was on summer vacation from graduate school. We hung out together for only a couple of days before she went back home to Poland. We enjoyed meeting each other and had a great time together. But never in a million years did we think our chance encounter would lead to an international long distance relationship that took us back and forth between LA and Poland, then to Taiwan, and back to Poland.


How It All Began

Joanna set out with a classmate of hers to explore the US, starting in New York and ending in California. The extended vacation was their last real chance to enjoy student life before graduating, so they wanted to make an epic road trip out of it.

I had been working in downtown LA for the past several years. I traveled as much as possible. But climbing the corporate ladder always took precedence.

Having started a new job around this time, my accrued vacation time was very limited. So I did the next best thing: I brought travelers to me through Couchsurfing. I gave travelers from all over the world a place to crash when they came through Los Angeles.

And that’s how Joanna found me.

Taiwan Beach

Enjoying a day at the beach in Taiwan

Relationship Timeline

Fast-forwarding a bit to give you a sense of how we got to this point, below is a timeline of our relationship:

  • 2014: Met in LA and kept in touch periodically afterward.
  • 2015: Went on our first official date.
  • 2015 to 2017: International long distance relationship.
  • 2017 to Present: Living together and splitting time between LA, Taiwan, and Poland.

Being in an international long distance relationship was hard, especially for us. There was no way around the fact that on top of not being in each other’s physical presence, we also had to deal with time zone, culture, language, and work issues. Any of the issues on its own could have doomed our relationship, but we stayed the course and powered through them.

Not to say that we no longer have any issues. We definitely do. But as you can see below, we are consciously aware of them, and we make sure to address them to the best of our ability.


Being from LA, winter in Poland is a tad out of my element

With all that being said, here are some of the ways that allowed us to not only survive, but to thrive, in our international long distance relationship.

1. Begin With the End in Mind

In his acclaimed book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote that in order to be effective in pretty much anything, you should know what your end goal is. Without an end in mind, you can get lost in your journey.

Perhaps we were naïve or too idealistic. From the very beginning, as soon as we decided to be in a relationship, our end goal was to find a way to not only be together, but to stay together.

We hardly ever wavered, through the good times and the tough times. If you ask me what I think is the most important tip to a successful long distance relationship, this is it.

2. Over Communicate

Now, I have to admit, communication was a lesson I learned the hard way. When we first decided to be together, Joanna was finishing up graduate school in Poland, and I had a pretty demanding job in LA. We’d text a lot, but I didn’t make enough of an effort to go on Skype with her.

I was always busy with work or whatnot. By the time I got home, she’d be in bed already.  And if the Skype chat wasn’t on my calendar, I didn’t make time for it.

I’m glad we got through the initial stage unscathed. But if I had to do it all over again, I would have made it a point to go on Skype a whole lot more often. I’d send a bunch of physical cards and flowers on a whim, not just on special occasions. I’d basically make any excuse to show her that I was thinking about her, and not leave her any room to think otherwise.

3. Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try.

The immortal Yoda once told Luke Skywalker that if you set out to do something, you have to do, not try. You have to fully commit to whatever it is that you set out to do. Don’t half-ass your efforts on your way to achieving your goals, giving yourself a soft landing in case you fail.

In other words, be all in.

We didn’t say we’d try to see each other every two or three months. We just did it. And when the long distance thing got to be too straining after two years, we decided to do something about it.

In early 2017, I left my corporate job that had limited my mobility, decided to become a digital nomad, and never looked back.

Taiwan Wedding Banquet

Taiwan wedding banquet

A Happy Ending

Before I met Joanna, I was staunchly against long distance relationships, let alone international ones.

Whenever any of my friends told me that they were dating someone outside of their immediate vicinity, I thought they were crazy. I never understood why.

Well, I guess the joke is on me now. I finally figured out that when you meet the right person that you want to spend the rest of your life with, distance is but a small hurdle to overcome.

Earlier this year, Joanna and I hosted a wedding reception in front of my Taiwanese family. And our Polish wedding ceremony in front of her family is scheduled for next year.


Scenic view of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand

Final Thoughts on Surviving an International Long Distance Relationship

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating people in international long distance relationships to quit their jobs on a whim. It took us a long while to get to this point. We talked about our end goal throughout the entire process. We knew if we wanted our relationship to last, we had to find a creative way to be together. And we did.

I’m also not saying that I’ll never go back to a corporate job. Anything is possible, especially after we get legally married and sort all the visa stuff out. But for now, we’re happy to have multiple places we can call home.

Along the way, we’ve visited more than a dozen countries and road tripped through bunch of states together. And we don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Until next time,

- Ken

P.S. If you're currently in an international long distance relationship or was in one in the past, I'd love to hear about it! Share your story in the comments below.

This post first appeared on Nomad Summit, an awesome place to learn about becoming a digital nomad and meet like-minded people.

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