"What happened when I flew to Croatia for a weekend date with a stranger"

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Freelance writer Katie Amey has never been a fan of online dating - but when she was offered the chance to fly to Croatia for a first date with a man she had never met, she was too curious to say no…

I’ve never been one for online dating. It sounds unbelievable, given that I’m a twenty-something living and working in London, but it’s true.

In fact, I’m probably the last person you would expect to jet off on a weekend away to Croatia with someone I had met for the first time at the airport. But that’s exactly what I did. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, no less.

It all came to be after stumbling across a website for ‘travel-loving singles’ called Miss Travel. The site matches prospective ‘generous and attractive guys and girls’ as holiday companions.

I, understandably, had my reservations but I figured that, at the very least, this would be a hilarious story to tell all my friends. Not to mention, a surefire way to win every game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ for the rest of my life.

When it came to choosing my date, I selected Adam, an actor, who just so happened to be starring as Jesus on a television series. Of course, my friends were quick to come up with as many inappropriate jokes as possible. Some of the best included allusions to ‘heavenly bodies,’ ‘immaculate conceptions’ and ‘the second coming of Christ’.

We met for the first time at Heathrow Terminal 2 on Friday 12 February. To say I was nervous would be an understatement.

My first impression? He was good looking and seemed harmless enough – and yes, that was a real concern given that I was about to leave the country with a total stranger – but he was also very enthusiastic.

His overly-bouncy personality provided a relative contrast to my own. I’ll admit, it does take me a while to warm up to new people. I used to live in New York City: that’s simply a means of survival. And it may also be why I find online dating so daunting.

Zagreb in Croatia

Zagreb in Croatia

When we got to the airport gate, I was quickly made aware of Adam's love of aviation. As a freelance writer, I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively for work. Yet his knowledge of tier points, online flight deals and airline reward miles was overwhelming.

I heard a lot more about that particular topic when we inadvertently missed our connection to Zagreb through Frankfurt due to a late departure. The next flight wouldn’t be for six hours.

When we finally made it to the Croatian capital, a car service took us to a spectacular five-star hotel. We had booked two rooms, as per the guidelines on the Miss Travel website, and also because I would have felt very uncomfortable sharing a hotel room with someone I’d met just 10 hours earlier.

In the morning, we took a private city tour through Zagreb’s sprawling Old Town to the Museum of Broken Relationships, of all places, where jilted lovers from around the world submit artifacts and anecdotes. It was surprisingly poignant and certainly provided plenty to discuss. But the most uncomfortable moment was still to come: the hotel had also planned a romantic Valentine’s Day five-course tasting menu for two.

By this point, it had become clear nothing was going to happen between us, and that’s when the awkwardness really set in. Struggling for topics, and several glasses of wine deep, I showed him the extensive WhatsApp thread I had created to keep my friends updated on my whereabouts. It had quickly become a repository of Jesus-themed puns and biblical references (which, to his credit, he appreciated.)

I couldn’t resist addressing the elephant in the room, so I asked him what had motivated him to join Miss Travel in the first place. He admitted he was drunk when he initially signed up and, ultimately, had never paid the subscription fee. He also revealed he hadn't considered how odd the concept was overall... or, at least, he hadn't until I pointed it out.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what the guys on the site are like who have offered to pay for a stranger to come along on an exotic vacation in earnest.

Adam and Katie on their date

Adam and Katie on their date

Since I was definitely not going to be sleeping with Adam, we broke off following an after-dinner drink and retired to our respective rooms.

We were to return to London the following morning - Valentine’s Day - albeit on different airlines. Instead of taking the flight that had been provided, he’d booked and paid for another in order to earn more British Airways tier points. Or perhaps to avoid an awkward airport goodbye.

Either way, by that point, I welcomed some time to myself. Although Adam was nice and courteous, it was tiring to spend more than 48 consecutive hours with someone I’d never met before. Had we gone out in London, it’s safe to say our first date would’ve only lasted an hour or two. But, having recently ended a very tumultuous relationship with someone who has known me for the better part of a decade, I’m actually thankful to have had this experience.

If nothing else, it was a crash course in awkward conversation. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone. After all, spending that much time together definitely speeds up the whole ‘getting to know each other’ process. But, for anyone considering using the site, I would recommend they meet their prospective travel partner beforehand to ensure there’s a spark. In this case, there wasn’t.

And though it wasn’t as bad as I had expected, one thing’s for sure: it was definitely not ‘the passion of the Christ.’

Images: Rex Features, via Katie Amey