The Love, Loss, and Lessons of a Solo Female Traveler
Jasmine Thurston has always been a dreamer. When she was just a little girl Jasmine spent her days flipping through the pages of National Geographic, losing herself in all the beauty the world had to offer. Since she can remember, exploring and adapting to new cultures have been a way of life for this bright-eyed beauty. Born in Hagåtña, Guam to parents in the military, Jasmine was destined to explore. Her life started over again and again all over the world until her family finally settled in El Dorado, Arkansas.
It is no doubt that growing up with a vagabond lifestyle certainly made an impression. However, it would take a major life shift to catapult Jasmine into the “wanderess” lifestyle she currently leads. As she put it herself…
“It wasn’t until I experienced the heartbreak of a broken engagement that I really started to travel the world as a means of trying to heal.”
The day of her wedding had finally come and all of her plans for an exotic Caribbean ceremony were in shambles. Jasmine was devastated and at a loss for what to do, but she knew with certainty what she would not do. Staying home and crying was not an option; she needed to get out of her head and out of her house. Decked out in a white flowing sundress, Jasmine packed up her car and headed to the one place she knew could bring her peace and solace, the ocean.
At the exact hour of her wedding that never came to be, Jasmine sat on the sand, gazed out over the waves, and had an honest conversation with God. As a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, she asked for guidance. She needed a sign. She needed to know what she was supposed to do now. In that moment of vulnerability and self-reflection, rather than asking to repair her relationship or bring her true love, Jasmine had a very different request. She told God, “I’m not marrying a person today but I do want to marry my purpose.” That’s where exploration came in, both internally and internationally.
Her engagement falling apart was not what Jasmine wanted at that time, far from it. However, she admits that if things worked out as she’d hoped then she would not have taken on the enriching travel journey that has brought her where she is today. It was only after this heart-wrenching loss and sincere conversation with God that Jasmine’s new life as a courageous adventurer and global citizen would really begin.
“It truly helped me in that it took me out of the world that I was living in, that world of hurt where all I could focus on was ‘What was so wrong with me? Why didn’t he want to stay?’ So just being away, being forced into environments where I had to learn about myself, my place in the world, and the world at large took my mind off all of that. Then I was able to eventually move forward because I was able to find a new outlook through travel.”
Several years and dozens of countries later, no one could imagine that Jasmine had endured this kind of heartbreak. Walking into any room she emits an aura of light and openness, ready to take on the world. The sparkle in her eye and the warmth of her smile haven’t been dimmed, rather strengthened. “I try to find lessons in the different things I experience in life. It took me a while to come to terms with that. I’m finally in a place where I can completely let go of what didn’t work out and embrace what’s coming behind the horizon.”
Breaking Barriers of Borders: Loving and Learning in a New Culture
Following the heartbreak that launched Jasmine on her solo travel journey, she has made countless connections with people from around the world. While many of these relationships have been of the friendship variety, she is no stranger to falling in love abroad. After a short week and a half jaunt to Morocco, Jasmine’s view of romantic relationships would never be the same.
She had been aimlessly walking around in the brutal Marrakech heat for 5+ hours. When she could no longer stand upright Jasmine took the advice of her host and headed to a local cafe to cool down. She sat down for a much-needed rest and peered around the small shop with drink in hand. That’s when she saw him. He was a real-life Aladdin; tall, dark, handsome, and most importantly fully engrossed in a physics textbook.
She’s a lover of a pretty face, sure, but nerdiness on the other hand… Now that’s a killer for Jasmine. As a bold woman of action, she confidently strutted up to the mysterious and undeniably sexy nerd. Then with a smile and Southern accent as sweet as honey, she said, “Hi! I’m new here. I was just wondering what’s exciting in this area.” At this moment, the magic carpet rider turned physics pupil looked up and did the last thing Jasmine expected; he mocked her voice.
After the initial shock of his response subsided they both burst into laughter. He subsequently invited her to join him and she warmly accepted. Then for the next five hours, Jasmine and the mystery man from Marrakech discussed anything and everything from their childhoods to the history and politics of their respective countries. He tells her about the deep pride the Moroccan people exude in spite of their struggles and the profound love he has for his homeland.
While the content and length of their conversation were impressive alone, there was one element of this exchange that made it particularly remarkable. English was his fifth language. For the words they couldn’t find between them, Jasmine would call on Google Translate to fill in the gaps. It was in that moment that their differences fell away.
“What was so revolutionizing to me was that you can be completely attracted to someone who does not speak your language at all. For me, that reaffirmed that attraction and love have no boundaries. If you like a person, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, you will try to make it work.”
They exchanged numbers and planned a date the following day, but there was a catch. He was completely unaware that it was a date at all. As they happily galavanted around the Old City, Jasmine couldn’t help getting stuck on one minor detail. Her new love interest continuously brushed his hand against hers, but at no point would grab hold of it. Questions and doubts began to whirl around her mind like hurricane winds making landfall. She wondered to herself, ‘What is it? Do you not want to be seen with me in public? Is it because I’m black? What’s going on here?’
After a hefty serving of overthinking she finally made her thoughts known. He then kindly but sternly responded, “We don’t date and we don’t do public displays of affection here. It’s just not something that we do in my culture.” He went on to explain that there are also strict social norms against men and women cohabiting in the same room after hours. Marrakech is a small city and everybody knows everybody, so word travels fast. For example, if an older person catches a local man or woman going into a hotel with someone before being wed then they will likely receive a not-so-friendly knock at the door from the police, the riad will be shut down, and they could even be arrested. To put it simply, casual dating isn’t too common here.
In Moroccan culture, it is expected that a prospective couple undergoes a thorough process of courtship. Physical contact before the wedding night is a no-no and it is believed that you should not pursue someone romantically unless you see clear “marriage material” qualities in them. While this new approach to relationships was an adjustment for Jasmine, she grew to appreciate it. “I actually found myself liking their perspective of dating because I felt like it forces you to get to know someone with their clothes on. Because most in the West use dating apps for casual and purposeless exchanges. I feel like it enforces morality by being mindful and intentional about the person that you’re trying to spend time with.”
However, that would only be the beginning of the challenges this couple would come to face; particularly the fact that she is a Christian and he is a Muslim. “What was so profound about that relationship to me was that it challenged my beliefs.” She wrestled with the idea of how they could possibly make things work coming from two different cultures, speaking different languages, and not sharing the same faith.
“After much thought, it forced me to think, ‘Do I absolutely require that someone believe the same things I do?’ I ended up resolving to say that if you have your core beliefs intact and the expression of that is fairness and treating me the way I deserve to be treated then whatever you believe that’s what you believe. I support that.” With that, the couple opted to push past their differences and continue moving forward.
Following her departure back to the States, the two stayed in contact for six months and Jasmine returned to Morocco nearly four times. In an effort to manage the six-hour time difference between Dallas and Marrakech, her love would wake up at 3AM to video chat with Jasmine after she came home from work at 9PM. They were growing closer at rapid speed and he even asked her to marry him that December. Though she was flattered by the gesture and his commitment to her, Jasmine couldn’t help but feel that it was all too soon.
As time went on, the stark differences between the couple’s cultural values and belief systems became as clear as day. Particularly, it was an issue when she realized that the man she had fallen for adamantly denied that a woman has the right to voice her opinions, aka “talk back.” Now that was going to be a problem. Though Jasmine stood at about five foot nothing and was as sweet as can be, she had plenty of opinions and had no problem sharing them.
“I explained to him that I come from a country and culture where women have opinions and strong voices. We’re CEOs of companies. We’re in executive boardrooms. We’re entrepreneurs and creative geniuses. I myself am an opinionated woman and I come from a family of strong women leaders.” However, her clarification fell on deaf ears.
The disagreements and miscommunications began to build up higher and higher until their relationship was a Jenga game mere moves away from crumbling to the ground. As the days went on, it became increasingly apparent to Jasmine that this romance wasn’t built for the long haul, but not because of cultural differences alone.
“I measure all of my relationships, platonic and romantic, by how well we interact in times of disagreement and times where you’re required to be vulnerable because I can laugh with anybody. I require, in another, the ability to share vulnerability and engage in difficult conversations. Then at the end of the day, we know that it’s not personal. We’re just pushing each other to grow.”
Though this particular romance didn’t work out in the end, Jasmine remains a strong advocate of finding love abroad. She wholeheartedly attests that the personal growth she attained by taking the plunge to love someone completely unlike her was far worth the risk. In the end, what she gained within herself was greater than any loss.
Advice for Women Eager to Wander but Wary of Flying Solo
As insightful and eloquent as ever, Jasmine leaves us with this parting thought…
“Ultimately, my greatest hope for the women and girls who follow me is that they know they don’t have to wait on someone else to begin the pursuit of a life well-lived and explored. A lot of the women I speak with will say things like ‘Well, you know I’ve not yet reached your level of courage or level of bravery, but one day I’ll get there.’ Usually, my response to them is ‘Hey, do it afraid. Do it by yourself. Do it hurting. Do it broken. We all have some form of brokenness. Then ultimately, just do it.’ I feel like pursuing your own adventure and feeling safe in the knowledge that you don’t need anyone else by your side is enough. So I tell people, ‘Hey, you’re enough. Just get going.”
If you enjoyed this interview and want to hear more of what Jasmine has to say then check out her blog Give Yourself the World, or follow her on Instagram. Stay tuned for more wanderess wisdom… Part two and three of Jasmine’s interview are coming soon!