How to Survive an International Long Distance Relationship | Guest Post by Ken from LA

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.


Joanna had 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 figured they would 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 I could, but climbing the corporate ladder always took precedence. Having just started a new job around this time, my accrued vacation time was very limited.

Ever tried Couchsurfing?

So I did the next best thing: I brought travelers to me through Couchsurfing. I would give travelers from all over the world a place to crash when they came through Los Angeles.

And that’s how Joanna found me.

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.
  • Heart Circle
    2015: Went on our first official date.
  • Heart Circle
    2015 to 2017: International long distance relationship.
  • Heart Circle
    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 them on its own could have doomed our relationship, but we stayed the course and powered through them.

nomad summit long distance relationship

"Our end goal was to find a way to not only be together, but to stay together"

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.

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 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 would be it.

long distance relationship digital nomad summit

They made it happen

2. Over-Communicate

Now, I have to admit, this is 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.

Final Thoughts

Before I met Joanna, I had been 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’d think 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.

digital nomad long distance relationship

Joanna and Ken are living as digital nomads now

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

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating people in long distance relationships to quit their jobs on a whim. It took us a long while to get to this point. We had 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.

- Ken

If you would like to follow my journey to from corporate life to becoming a digital nomad, head on over to my blog, Ken from LA.

Alexandra Kozma

Alexandra attended the Nomad Summit Conference in January 2017 for the first time, when the term "digital nomad" was still new to her and she didn't even know who Tim Ferris was. The Nomad Summit and living in Chiang Mai flipped her world upside down. She's now helping people become digital nomads by co-organizing the Nomad Summit conference, blogging about the digital nomad lifestyle in Hungarian and sharing her travels on Instagram @alexandrakozma She's the creator of the Morning Mindset journal.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
John Chang - October 20, 2018

While you no doubt know this firsthand, I’m afraid that sometimes people look at the timeline as a neat and tidy path to a successful relationship. What they miss out is the messiness of reality. (there’s a good cartoon to this effect)

There’s the initial hesitations of first romance. Then, the usual uncertain baby flames that can go out at any time. All the while both partners are trying to feel their way out of the fog. Meanwhile, you’re lucky to have one ally in your corner who cheers you on.

Even though the journey is far from over for you both, here’s to celebrating your first years together! (the sun never sets when you’re a nomad, right?) ..and to many more to come!


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