BY MICHAEL GROSS, AUTHOR, WHOSE FIRST WEB SITE WENT LIVE IN 1995
Sometimes the shortest distance between two points isn't a straight line after all. Stephanie, 27, a native Nebraskan living in Colorado, went on-line to Yahoo! Personals one night and found Mike—in Nebraska. Two months later, she was on a plane returning to her home state for a long weekend. "Mostly to see him," Stephanie admitted. Twelve days later, she moved back to Nebraska. She and Mike, 33, were married last July.
Laura, 49, from Ontario, met Allan, a New Yorker, via Yahoo! Canada Personals. "We've been together fourteen months and are planning to get married," she said recently. Tricia and Mickey, two RV enthusiasts, met in AOL's RV Travelers Online community, a group of about 100 members, and have been exploring America in their new, conjugal motor home ever since.
Executives of most Internet dating sites agree that romance on the road is on the rise. "Love is the universal language," says Louis Kanganis, CEO of Spring Street Networks, which provides personal ads to Nerve.com, Salon.com, and Knight Ridder Digital. The company will expand into Europe as well as the travel business this spring when it partners with Lastminute.com to offer spur-of-the-moment vacation opportunities—and possibly even some free trips—to users who make a connection through the service. "This medium allows like-minded people to find each other, even if they're from different races or religions or countries," he says.
Since the advent of the Internet, travel and love have become intimately related. "Travel is defined by freedom, joy, and adventure," says Bill Schreiner, vice president of AOL Community. "The same adjectives apply to relationships." With 26 million people visiting virtual dating sites a month, accord- ing to comScore Networks, which tracks traffic and revenues on the Web, personals accounted for 29 percent of all on-line spending in the second quarter of 2003. In a 2002 survey, Match.com found that 44 percent of singles seek romance while on vacation—and even plan their trips to enhance their prospects. Which explains the thousands of single people logging on to dating sites who are not just on the make but on a quest to see the world—or at least check out another state.
As the on-line dating phenomenon spreads, and Internet giants like Yahoo! Personals, Love@AOL, Match.com, and othersenter into joint ventures with travel companies to offer flesh-and-blood encounters, the global dating possibilities are expanding. Just ask Sallyanne, who stumbled upon MatchTravel.com, a new site that hosts singles trips. Three months later, she boarded Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. "I met a guy I liked the first night," Sallyanne remembers. "He was a gentleman, and we did everything together." She's signed up for another MatchTravel.com cruise—sailing just before Valentine's Day.
Having an on-line presence frees us. It gives us the feeling that we aren't tied down to jobs, houses, or old ideas. It offers us the chance to reinvent ourselves—just as travel does. "The guy in San Francisco is dating someone in Boston, and the next thing you know, they're flying back and forth," says Chris Terrill, vice president of events and travel at Match.com. "If that person is out there, why not hop on a plane?"
6 Inn of the Five Graces
This flamboyant Spanish-colonial compound in the heart of Santa Fe engages all the senses. Classic adobe and river-rock buildings with 20 guest rooms look inward to courtyards filled with ironwork garden chairs and potted geraniums. After a day of gallery-hopping, couples can savor margaritaswhile relaxing on a wooden bench swing. The earthy suites embrace a global détente, with Afghan throw rugs and Turkish kilim-upholstered sofas. At turndown, look for lucky Native American dream-catchers left on your carved teak bed.
150 E. DeVargas St., 505/992-0957; www.fivegraces.com; doubles from $295.
The Sky's the Limit Looking for a more elevated form of love?If the racy reader postings on www.milehighclub.com are to be believed, the infamous Mile High Club is making a comeback. While most commercial airlines discourage in-flight intimate encounters, 7. Virgin Atlantic Airways offers luxurious new Upper Class Suites (800/862-8621; www.upperclasssuite.com; transatlantic flights from $7,644) with fully reclining beds where, according to the Web site, "you can always invite your partner to join you on your ottoman." 8. For a more private affair, Mile High Atlanta (770/301-9339; www.milehighatlanta.com; $249 for a one-hour flight) can make joining the club comfortable in a specially outfitted Piper Cherokee Six. 9. More subdued couples can heat things up in a hot-air balloon floating over the 1,000-foot-high sand dunes—the largest in the world—of Namibia's Sossusvlei desert. Three-hour flights can be arranged through the Sossusvlei Lodge (264-63/693-223; www.sossusvleilodge.com; $412 per person, including champagne breakfast). 10. Across the Indian Ocean, multi-day helicopter safaris offered by Epic Expeditions (61-7/3844-4992; www.epicexpeditions.com; from $4,017, all-inclusive) crisscross Australia's Cape York Peninsula and Great Barrier Reef, hovering over tropical wilderness and stopping for croc encounters, diving, snorkeling, and desert-island trysts.
BY GEORGE KALOGERAKIS, A T+L EDITOR, ONETIME WRITER OF FORTUNE-COOKIE NOTES
It wasn't quite the first date, but close enough. We were in a Japanese restaurant in New York City, and I ordered a lobster dish. I had assumed that my dinner would be removed from its shell by skilled, unseen hands and brought from the kitchen to our table, where my deft way with chopsticks would impress my companion. But, to my horror, the crustacean arrived intact. There was nothing to do but go at it with the primitive tools at hand. This I did over the next hour, stopping often to mop my brow and reassure the rubberneckers—among the staff and customers my labors had taken on the aspect of a slow-motion accident—that everything was under control. (Or fairly under control. Hey, sorry about that shell-shrapnel. And would you mind very much handing me that detached claw, the one over by your wife's elbow?) Meanwhile, at our table, conversation ceased, prepared bons mots went undelivered, my entire charm offensive was put on hold—all sacrificed to the evening's new focus: the dismantling of my entrée. (My date had ordered a few pieces of sushi, and was done in about 45 seconds, which left her plenty of time to watch and cringe.) When we finally escaped into the night, my belly half-empty and a deep but treatable gash running along one finger, the busboys were already upending the chairs onto tables.