How to fall in love and start a travel business – Part One

“Let’s start a travel business, it will be fun!” says anyone with the next great idea.

“Let’s start a travel business (or any business), it will be easy!” says no one ever.

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Arnaud Verstuyf, Christy Hey, and Andrew Hussey; owners of Together Anywhere (and Otter the dog)

The development of Together Anywhere is a story of interesting beginnings. As for its ultimate beginning, it starts with a love story. Yes, it is one of those fairytale like ones you read about but never think will happen to you. And know, as sappiness drips from this screen, this is just the beginning. The ending is more akin to reality.

I am Christy Hey. I’ve always been a dreamer, a seeker, a curiosity driven learner asking too many questions and, thanks to Google, finally getting more answers. But in 2015, I was in a dark place. The year before had brought about many losses. My grief was high and my self-care was low. I didn’t like my job. I had a hard time relating to my friends. I had just finished grad school but didn’t want to just get the next job I was qualified for. I just knew there was something else out there to discover first. So I did what I knew how to do best, I traveled.

In the summer of 2015 I found myself journeying across the United States and Europe for 10 weeks, blogging much of my entire journey in the long written, little read, Small Steps 2 Living Large. The trip was fascinating and heartbreaking all at the same time. There were friends who joined at various parts on the adventure but for much of it, I was confronted with the depths of my loneliness. Then, on the night of June 28, 2015, everything changed.

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Me, alone in Bruges just hours before meeting my future husband.

My travel plans had suddenly changed the day before and I made a last minute decision to go to Bruges, Belgium. I took the train early that morning from Brussels and spent the day wandering the shops and streets, sampling the beer, and enjoying mussels and fries, a signature Belgian dish. As it was getting dark, I worked my way towards my lodging for the night, hoping to find some live music and a glass of wine before turning in. It was a Sunday evening, just before the height of tourism season so I felt my chances were quite low. I had just about given up when the sounds from a guitar led me into Est WijnBar, just two minutes away from Hotel Botaniek.

I walked in to notice a man in an orange shirt (the same one he was wearing this morning). Long curly hair, bearded, sitting alone… I knew I needed to meet him. As I was quite used to traveling and striking up conversations with strangers, it didn’t take long for me to learn his name, Arnaud. And to this day, I am still learning how to pronounce it correctly.

Our meeting as told from Arnaud’s perspective on our wedding website:

“This story begins, as so many before it, in a bar: A small wine bar, in a medieval city, in contemporary Europe. Here we find a man sitting at the counter. He’s enjoying a glass while engaged in conversation with other patrons. In the background local musicians are adding to the atmosphere. A woman walks by and pauses in front of the establishment, curiosity peaked by what her ears perceive. She looks through the window and notices the smiling man and the empty chair next to him.”

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June 29, 2015 on the coast of Belgium where Arnaud’s white legs turned bright red.

 

We spent the next two days driving around Belgium, young lovers in search of adventure and connection. Me, a traveler with nothing to lose, and Arnaud, an explorer in his own city. When we left each other on June 30th, I thought we would likely never see each other again. Luckily, Arnaud had a different idea.

On July 1, I returned to the United States and drove the long way back to Oregon from Missouri. Thanks to technology, Arnaud joined me every step of the way. He asked for pictures of my travels, challenged me with perplexing questions and sent me encouraging messages. For the first time in my life, I woke up every morning to the phrase “good morning beautiful.”

Ugh. Sappy, right? I know. My sincerest apologies to those who cringe at this kind of hyperbole. But every bit of it was the exaggerated fairy tale. And I surely didn’t believe it at first. I was 35 years old and had never experienced a love story nor been in love. Most encounters with men up to this point were of the “I like you but ________” experience, and left me feeling as if I should just accept being single. There was no way that after 15 years of failed attempts at relationships that it could ever work out with someone 5,061 miles away. But he was persistent.

In this time of COVID-19, as many are getting used to the idea of increased connections online, Arnaud and I claim to already be experts. We formed an entire relationship using video chat and messaging apps. The nine hour time change made it tricky at times but we connected everyday for months before finally seeing each other again.

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What our first “dates” looked like.

Well, not to jump to the ending but, it did work out. Back to Arnaud for the synopsis:

Six months later they are cruising the French countryside together: From the coast to Paris, and a cottage in between.

Spending New Year’s Eve on the streets of Paris, camping under the largest trees in the world in California, driving through a snow storm in Iceland, being deafened by the end-of-the-year fireworks in Amsterdam, meeting family and friends on two continents. All good things.

And now it is time to write the next chapter in this beautiful story: A home for ourselves and a backyard wedding with those we hold dear.

As he said, six months later I was back in Europe and one year later, he was in Oregon to visit. Two years later we were celebrating our marriage in our backyard with friends from around the world.

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December 31, 2015 in Paris, France.

And in just two days, April 8, 2020, we celebrate our 3 year wedding anniversary.

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April 8, 2017 wedding at Cape Perpetua in Oregon.

Since I titled this post “How to fall in love and start a travel business”, here is my “how to” for the love part:

  1. Jump and take the adventure, no matter how lonely you are
  2. Face that loneliness, accept it, and keep going
  3. Talk to strangers (in safe situations of course)
  4. Be a tourist in your own city with someone new
  5. Be open to the idea of connecting online… especially in this time of social distancing
  6. Allow for the “impossible” at least, what you think is impossible
  7. Reflect on your beginnings as often as possible
  8. Invite others to be part of your journey
  9. Never stop exploring together
  10. Maybe don’t start a business together? To be continued…

We have experienced a lot together over these last five years. Arnaud is my husband, my travel partner, and my best friend. And since October 2018, he is also my business partner.

Next week I will go into Part Two of “How to fall in love and start a travel business” because that is where things get really interesting. It is not a fairy tale, but a tale of twists, turns, and struggles. And that tale still continues to this day.

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