• Ine Vandenwyngaert

‘Love Is Not Tourism’: Shira & Carles’ story

Updated: 2 days ago

The closure of international borders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has had devastating effects on trade, tourism, and service industries across the world. However, in addition to economic consequences, humans have been impacted as well. Banning travel is hurting unmarried couples and families living in different parts of the world. And being separated for months has a profound impact on the mental health and future of relationships.


This is why “Love Is Not Tourism”, a new worldwide social media movement, has gained attention around the globe. The movement has urged governments to change their international travel policies to consider international couples as “essential travelers”. And while many governments listened, others have yet to implement policy changes. Countless couples are still fighting to find a way to reunite and live in the same place together.


As we are an international couple ourselves (from Belgium and the US), we wanted to find a way to support this movement. Thus, we interviewed international couples who were affected by these travel restrictions and found a way to reunite with their loved ones. We hope this article will inspire other couples to keep fighting as well!


Shira & Carles’ story


This is the story of Shira from New York City (US) and Carles from Barcelona (Spain) as told by Shira herself. The international couple luckily found their way back to each other after being separated for almost six months due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The first time we met


Last year I went on my 1st solo European tour. I played 10 concerts in 7 cities. My 1st stop was Barcelona. I reached out to a good Catalan friend of mine who I'd met through Couchsurfing and she invited me to spend a week at her place in Barcelona. Her roommate at the time was Carles. Sparks were flying everywhere the moment our eyes met! He was walking down to help me log my suitcase and ukulele. Five days later and just a couple of hours before my concert, we were home alone and he asked me to play him a song. When I was done he had tears in his eyes and he just blurted out, "marry me". We both burst out laughing and hugged. Sure enough, 3 months later on the roof of my apartment building in Harlem, he open-heartedly and bravely proposed. This is the love I'd always dreamed of. The world kept telling me it didn’t exist, but I refused to believe it.



Our time separated


Being separated like that completely ripped our souls to shreds. The one thing that kept our heads above the water was each other. We would have silly dance parties, exercise together with overly enthusiastic aerobics teachers on Youtube, and just keep each other company while doing everyday things. We recorded a cover for Patsy Cline's "Crazy" (indeed we were...), him on guitar and me on vocals. But the most important thing we did was saying 5 things we were grateful for every night before going to bed. Every night. Especially on nights when it was hard to think of anything good that had happened that day. We always had "I'm grateful that I'm breathing today” and “I'm grateful for you".


In the beginning, we still had hope that the skies would open. Every 15 days we would hold our breaths waiting for the new verdicts, but after a few months we started to lose hope. One day Carles saw a post in one of the "Love is Not Tourism" Facebook groups about someone who applied for a student visa in another European country. We decided to give it a try. I signed up for a Spanish language school and two weeks after applying I got the visa. I couldn't believe it!



The reunion


It took almost 6 months... exactly 174 days to find a way to be together again. We finally reunited in Barcelona. It's like I could breathe again. Before we reunited, I wrote my song "Wait for Me". As I was writing it, I saw the whole epic movie in my mind... the abandoned airports... the masks... my eyes shining with excitement and anxiety. Barely able to hold it all in. When I learned that I got the visa I decided to make that movie I had in mind into the music video for "Wait for Me" and dedicate it to all the couples and families who are still separated.



Today, we are living together in Barcelona. Taking it day by day. We just eloped in Gibraltar. It's not how we planned to get married, but the word "plan" just makes me laugh these days. It was truly magical.



The main life lessons I learned from this experience


Love wins. and I am stronger than I think.


How my perception of travel changed


I'm a touring artist. My passion for travel is all about people. Meeting new people and sharing music with them across the world. It's my purpose. Not being able to do that now is shaking my soul to the core and just amplifying what I had already been feeling. When it's safe again I'm going to be the first one out.


My advice for international couples who are still fighting to be together


Fight for your love. Be creative. There is a way for you to break the barriers and reunite. You are worth it. Your love is worth it.




What efforts can you make to reunite?


Although Shira and Carles were fortunate to find a way to reunite, others are still fighting to be together. These are the things you can do to change this:

  • Share your story on social media with the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism and #LoveIsEssential to encourage governments to ease restrictions for international couples

  • Encourage your friends and family to share your story on their social media to reach more people

  • Join a #LoveIsNotTourism Facebook Group (there are specific ones for countries and general ones) and speak up

  • Take action in your country (contact country leaders, etc.)

  • Sign the petition for your country (listed here: https://www.loveisnottourism.org) and share with your friends

  • Look for other ways to reunite, just like Shira. For example, sign up for a study program in the country of your loved one.


Curious how other international couples handled the coronavirus travel bans? Check out the 'Love Is Not Tourism' story by Angela and Julian, who were separated for 7 months.



Were you and your partner also affected by travel bans? If yes, how did you fight to reunite? Add comments and questions below!


People all around the world have had life-changing travel experiences. Whether it's studying abroad, traveling for leisure, working abroad, or living abroad! Check out more of our Traveler Stories.

Hi! We are Ine & Zac. An international travel couple from Belgium and the US. We created World Wild Hearts to inspire life-changing travel experiences like we've had. Use these tips, stories, and guides to inspire your next adventure of a lifetime!

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